War is Hell, So Do Without MySpace, YouTube

It’s time to put into perspective this kerfuffle over the Defense Department barring access to MySpace, YouTube and other video and social networking sites.

Yes, "War Is Hell," and that means troops in an all-volunteer military sometimes just don’t get everything they want or what is readily available to people in civilian life. Or, to update the best recruiting slogan ever hatched by my branch of service, the U.S. Marine Corps, “We Never Promised You a Rose Garden or Internet Access.”

The firestorm over DOD barring access to Web sites was kicked off by a tear-jerker of a lead in an Associated Press article carried by us and newspapers around the world from London to Perth, which said that a change in DOD policy barring soldiers’ access to social networking and video-streaming sites meant “soldiers serving overseas will lose some of their online links to friends and loved ones back home."

Somewhat true, but balderdash.

We have the most connected fighting force in the world. Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen today can communicate with their loved ones by email, cell phones, regular phones and computers in Internet cafes not hooked up to military networks. They also can go the old fashioned route: Write a letter via snail mail.

The only thing they can’t use as of this week are bandwidth hogging sites for the simple reason that no one, even DOD, has an unlimited amount of bandwidth to fritter away on social networking streaming video sites. There is a war on.

This wide range of communications options available to troops today stands in stark contrast to my experience in Vietnam, where a letter took days to reach home, or the experience of my father, who served in the Philippines during The Big One, and who had to wait weeks for his letters to reach home. U.S. military personnel today (including sailors and Marines floating around the bounding main) are far more connected than I or my father ever was.

The caterwauling by the chattering class about DOD and MySpace (The Washington Post declared this week that MySpace was “A Casualty of War”) also ignores one of the real harsh realities of war: The troops who most need access to creature comforts â€" the grunts who do the dirty work â€" have the least amount of access. Based on my experience, grunts don’t have high-speed Internet access, let alone access to essentials such as soap, water and hot meals. But, instead of focusing on that, folks such as Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) are beating on DOD about barring access to MySpace over military networks.

Finally, I suggest anyone wasting time blogging or bloviating over DOD and MySpace in the greater Washington area can put their time to much better use by driving to Baltimore Washington International Airport to greet the soldiers coming off the charter flights from Iraq, look the soldiers in the eye, shake their hands and say, “Thank you for your service.”