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Phi Beta Delta: The Media and the Military

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Phi Beta Delta sponsored a talk by ONU alumni Colonel John Smith on the relationship between the military and the media throughout American history. Colonel Smith saw combat during the Gulf War (1991) and has taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He is currently the editor of the Military Affairs, the professional journal of the U.S. Army.

Smith told the audience that the relationship between military and media has evolved over time, from outright censorship to cooperation. Censorship lasted from the Spanish American War (1898) to World War II (1941-1945) but in the wake of the Korean War (1950-1953) the relationship shifted to openness with no restrictions during the Vietnam War (1965-1972). Since then, the military has attempted to control access during the Gulf War, but has finally settled on cooperation, embedding reporters in military units during the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Technology has affected the relationship and presented challenges to the military. Smith mentioned an instance when U.S. and Iraqi special forces attacked an insurgent stronghold, killing 16. By the time the forces returned to base some 45 minutes later, the insurgents had taken the bodies of their dead to a mosque where they posed them for an Al Jazeera report that accused the army of attacking a holy site. In an age of instantaneous communication via cell phones, the army must also deal with soldiers having the ability to report what they see almost directly from the battlefield.

His solution for the issues that the military faces is that while the enemy is not bound by the truth, the military must be.