For much of the twentieth century, Americans co-existed with the country’s armed forces in a way we don’t anymore. In the 1940s and ’50s, millions of Americans served in the fight against imperial Japan and Hitler’s Germany, as well as Kim Il Sung’s North Korea and its Chinese allies; in the sixties, millions of boomers wore the uniform in the jungles of Vietnam or on large bases in Europe, Asia, and in the States. Service, or the possibility of service, was a way of life.
After the draft was abolished in the 1970s, the military increasingly became an institution apart from society at large, a process that was hastened by the “peace dividend” that followed the end of the cold war, which allowed for a significant downsizing of the armed forces. While those who served continued to pass along the tradition to subsequent generations, those who didn’t hardly gave the armed services a second thought. It was an arrangement that seemed to work well for both groups as long as peace prevailed.
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, among the seven-hundred-odd journalists who embedded with combat units were few who were familiar with the military in any intimate way. To many critics, especially those with military experience, this revealed itself in the press’s coverage of the war, which they felt often missed the mark when it came to explaining the hows and the whys of the fight, as well as the mundane realities of military life and culture. It wasn’t long before a rash of blogs—dubbed “milblogs” and written by soldiers in the field and civilians back home, many of whom were veterans—emerged to describe life in a military at war and complain about the press’s failings, real or imagined. Anyone familiar with the way milbloggers...
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