…than in the Foreign Service

There’s a famous saying (at least among us FSOs), attributed to Colin Powell, that there are more people in military bands…

I want to take a break today from the usual subjects of this blog to talk a bit about that.

One of the small pleasures we have managed to provide here in Benin is access to a limited number of channels of the American Forces Network (they have…like 10 or so).  We get three – One News, one sports, one general interest.  It’s the go-to place to watch baseball, or close to current American television (although it may be airing at 3am), but it also provides a window into the U.S. military and how it sees itself, and how it sells itself to the captive audience of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving overseas.

I find it a bit disturbing.

Where you see it for the most part is in the “public service announcements” which fill up the space where the commercial breaks would be in U.S. commercial television.  Some are innocuous and what you might expect — Don’t drink and drive, report fraud and theft, stay in shape, don’t shake your baby.  But then there are those which seem to have the goal of separating the military community from the civilian community, or as you might call it, the rest of America.  “Civilians say the strangest things” makes fun of people who don’t know technical Navy terms. Another ad tries to get people to reenlist by minimizing the difference between military and civilian salaries (and overemphasizing benefits, as if civilians don’t get them).  There are military-produced PR pieces (as well as full “newscasts”), about Afghanistan and Iraq, always emphasizing the community service, rather than the warfighting, aspects of life there, full of locals with smiling faces.  Then there is the team that goes around the US (probably a bunch of them) to get people to “thank you for your service”.

There is a propaganda slant to all of this that really doesn’t fit the American model of a free and unfettered marketplace of ideas.  A slant only made stronger by the fact that Fox News Channel dominates the split of networks on the news channel.

I think there’s a question to be asked of how much all of us are paying in taxes to support this propaganda arm of the military, and what effect it is having on the people for which this is their only source of television.

Entertainment and information could be made available to the military without all the PR and propaganda (although State, and USAID, and the Peace Corps, and everyone else serving overseas doesn’t have anything like it).  At a time when our participation in wars overseas is a major political question, at a time when budgets are tight and cuts seemingly inevitable, the maintenance of a full-blown propaganda arm aimed at our own people overseas seems fiscally questionable.  At any time, it seems questionable in other ways.

Next week – back to travelogues, recipes and discussions of my impending departure.



Filed under Foreign Service Stuff

4 responses to “…than in the Foreign Service

  1. Military wife here 🙂 We are about to enter the FS world for a couple of years and I found your blog through the FS blog list…as a TCK that had only the armed forces network to watch growing up and a current military wife, I found your article interesting. The military IS propaganda, specifically to their members. Some branches are more brain-washing than others (cough, couch, USMC) but there are a million things that are offensive, limiting and slanted toward a particular viewpoint. I will not give excuses for some of the military behavior but I can offer this response to you.

    First, while the FS, Peace Corps, etc.WATCH the armed forces networks, they aren’t designed for them. They don’t care about providing a balanced news program so you can be prepared for diplomatic duties. They care about not losing their investment (the military member) and like unions/businesses/etc. do everywhere in the States, they slant toward the positive nature of staying a member. Secondly, most military members don’t buy the slant. They develop their own political viewpoints. They look at the personal impact of whether they stay in the service or not. While some military people can be swayed by this stuff, most military members are smart, independent thinkers.

  2. rkolker


    Let me start with two things: I appreciate your comments, and a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I served in the military, although never overseas.
    Not quite as long ago I worked as a journalist. I know the power that a slant in story selection and story angle can have on the set of facts with which people can draw their own conclusions. I think it was Sen. Moynahan who said “We can all have our own opinions, but we can’t have our own facts.” Even if a story is written “down the middle”, the choice of which stories to cover and which not to cover, the inclusion or non-inclusion of facts, even if all included are accurate on their face affects the ability of the reader or listener or viewer to reach an accurate conclusion based on them.
    I’ll stop now, except to say again that I appreciate your comments and drop in here anytime.

  3. Doug Wilder

    An important question that does need to be answered: “…how much all of us are paying in taxes to support this propaganda arm of the military, and what effect is is having…”. What if (scary thought) no taxes go to it but instead corporations like Boeing, Haliburton and other major players in the military industrial complex foot the bill?

    Thanks for highlighting this as well as noting the dominating presence of FNC in the broadcasts. Of course, that would need to be verified but I imagine it’s true.

  4. rkolker

    FNC is a plurality but not an outright majority. CNN is second. Everyone else after that.

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