Make “military” your second language
Journalists cannot dimiss their responsibility for being the watchdog of the military and veteran affairs. They are a vital part of our coverage. And in the wake of Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s firing for his comments in a July 2010 Rolling Stone article, covering the military has become more difficult. As of this writing, the Pentagon has instituted tighter controls on the entire chain of command in speaking to the media.
Nevertheless, this book contains some of the more common words and phrases a journalist will likely come across. Knowing these will add credibility and authority to military and veteran stories. No longer will readers think “snafu” when a reporter describes a destroyer as a battleship.
Just as the English language is dynamic, and meanings change over time, so does language in the military; shell shock is now PTSD. “Kilroy” is out; “haji” is in. New words come into the military lexicon all the time, and eventually are adopted by civilians and pop culture.
The completion of this stylebook and guide comes on the 20th anniversary of the Gulf War. Yet a quick scan at headlines across the country showed little a mention of the greatest military operation by the U.S and coalition forces since World War II.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, about 25 percent of the American population were either in the military or had served. Today, it is about 10 percent. The military estimates that by 2040, only five percent of the American population will have served in the armed forces.
Since the end of the draft in 1973, fewer journalists have served in the military. Thus, many reporters lack the ability to understand and write competently about the institution.
This book is for the civilian journalist who needs to familiarize themselves with basic terms and background. This is the journalist’s opportunity to get to know the military and veterans, learn their language and get the story right.
The French soldier turned journalist Jean Larteguy wrote: “That which is most endurable in war, the awful, ordinary daily routine of war is delegated to those dim regions where men hide all bad memories. But those memories survive, no matter how deeply buried, and sometimes, they emerge.” It is the journalist’s job to help with this process.
Aug. 2, 2010