VADN J. C. Harvey, Jr USN OPNAV, found his way over to the United States Naval Institute blog over the weekend and left some very interesting comments. Information Dissemination is the largest naval blog in the United States and potentially the largest unofficial naval specific website on the internet, it would be irresponsible to assume he is not speaking directly to me, the other blog authors, and contributors in this community.
With respect to your comment concerning participation in the blogosphere and the upcoming milbloggers conference, let me speak pretty plainly - most of the blogs I’ve dropped in on and read on a regular basis leave me pretty cold. Too many seem to be interested in scoring cheap, and anonymous, hits vice engaging in meaningful and professional exchanges. There is also a general lack of reverence for facts and an excess of emotion that, for me, really reduces the value of the blog. Incorrect/inaccurate data and lots of hype may be entertaining for some, but just doesn’t work for me.I think it is a very good thing we are seeing some honest criticism of the blogosphere, feedback is hard to get. As I have mentioned in the past, my target audience in the Navy is at the 0-6 level and down, not up to level of VADM Harvey. This may sound strange, but I'd take one 0-5 reader over any three Admirals reading the blog. Why? Because if one of the bloggers here happens to be suggesting something intelligent, my experience has been the 0-5 is more likely to consider the thought than an Admiral is.
My best example of a truly worthwhile blog, worthy of our time and intellectual engagement, is the Small Wars Journal. The tone is always professional, the subject matter is compelling and the benefit from participating is significant.
All that said, here I am - I recognize the reality of the blogosphere and the potential that exists for worthwhile exchanges that enhance our professional knowledge and overall awareness. My intent is to continue to participate when I can and where I see I can make a contribution to a professional exchange, but my view today is that the bloggers generally see their activity as far more meaningful than I do right now. I do, however, remain hopeful.
The criticism hits on several points, first regarding being anonymous. I use a nickname, but the Navy knows exactly who I am and hit that link, you can to. I intentionally came out from behind the cloak to insure I was not anonymous on the USNI blog. While Yankee Sailor doesn't make a big deal of who he is, I have done a really terrible job keeping any secrets, and quite frankly he has too. Feng and The_Custodian are both anonymous by request. The_Custodian is in contact with CHINFO, so he is not anonymous with the Navy. As for Feng, his reputation as an analyst of the PLA Navy is well known among many professionals and has been long before either he or I began blogging. This is one of many good examples (PDF) where his credibility transends an anonymous nickname.
The second point is relevance of facts. Couple points on this. First, it isn't unique to see an Admiral question the facts, Admirals constantly question the facts of both CRS and GAO. The irony is, those organizations show their homework, the Navy does not. I welcome fact checking, the question is where can I find such a service?
I get it that VADM Harvey, and I am absolutely sure you can add VADM McCullough among others when it comes to Information Dissemination, see what is suggested on this blog as "Incorrect/inaccurate data and lots of hype" and quite frankly, I won't apologize if it looks that way to them. To be blunt, a lot of the official statements we see coming from Admirals in the Navy today qualifies as "Incorrect/inaccurate data and lots of hype" so this is hardly a unique phenomenon to the blogosphere. What is the blogosphere supposed to say when the Navy goes before Congress and suggests the DDG-1000 can't employ the Standard missile, then a casual look in the FY09 budget reveals the Navy is paying for Standard integration for the DDG-1000. Which is more offensive, "Incorrect/inaccurate data and lots of hype" under oath in Congress or when it is written by an alias on a blog?
VADM Harvey makes a good point regarding professional contribution. I welcome anyone from the Navy, Congress, Think Tanks, or Industry who wants to contribute an article that counters something written here, I will publish however they desire. If someone would like to call me out specifically for an error I have made as part of that process, you won't offend me and I'll run the complaint as is. Unlike a lot of folks in the Navy discussion, the authors here write in full knowledge they are engaging in a debate and ideas will be contested. As the owner of this blog I always welcome the addition of accurate information, and we will correct any inaccurate information we post. When I sat down with Admiral Frank Thorp, he made it clear he wants the most accurate information about the Navy in the public. He asked if I would help insure accuracy in information. I told him I would, and my word is good.
But here is an unavoidable truth. No one from the Navy has ever contacted me to suggest information I am presenting is inaccurate, but both the industry and members of Congress have. If the Navy is frustrated about the accuracy of information on blogs, then quit conceding the conversation to others; engage it. It isn't like the authors on the blog are hard to reach, the email address is posted on the top of the blog.
Finally, VADM Harvey says something in the comments at USNI I'd like to address.
I take as gospel the ideas of Samuel Huntington in his seminal Proceedings article of May, 1954, National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy. In this article, Huntington highlighted the absolute necessity of the service to develop the national support for securing the resources, human and material, required to carry out the service’s missions.This is a brilliant observation, one I completely agree with. If you are unfamiliar with what Samuel Huntington wrote, I quoted it here last August. I added some observations and suggestions, and I believe my comments apply as much today as they did then. I also quoted Huntington's advice to the Navy in 1954 from that article, and I think it applies to the Navy 2008 just as much as it did to the Navy in 1954.