The Mountain of Military Knowledge

I got this link in a Vice newsletter today: “Air Force Video Explains What a Penis Is.” 

Image from the U.S. Air Force via Vice.

Ha. Nice, Vice. That’s a funny one. It practically clicks itself. 

When I was through laughing, though, I started to wonder. If you surfaced all the information and knowledge the United States military has amassed, described it, and made it accessible, how big would the resulting library be? Would it rival the Library of Congress? What if you included the literal mountains full of classified information? 

Doctors in fatigues offering up a straight-faced explanation of the penis makes for a funny video, sure, but think about the context of that video. That penis video–a remarkably well done bit of public health information, I’m not too cool to admit–was likely produced as part of an overall health information strategy that included other videos designed to meet specific training goals for Air Force personnel. Someone had to draw and render that 3D phallus. Someone wrote the text, someone storyboarded the video, someone cast the doctors. Someone set up the studio. Someone made arrangements for the doctors to come and record their parts. Someone filmed the segments. They did multiple takes. Someone else–probably more than one someone–edited the video. Someone else posted it on the web. On and on it goes, every day, and that’s just videos. The Army and Navy probably have their own versions of the same thing, and each of them is just one example of hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, manuals, SOPs, videos, audio recordings, books, specifications, and other resources the military produced in just a single year. Multiply that by seventy-five years and you would have the Alexandria multiplex of knowledge accumulation and dissemination the modern American military has undertaken since the end of World War II. 

That’s not ephemeral information, like emails and phone logs, but strategic media created for the express purpose of knowledge transfer and managed according to long-term retention and preservation policies. Where is all of it? Vice mentions DVIDS, the “Defense Visual Information Distribution Service,” but that’s just visual information. The various service “doctrine” websites are another source, and of course the National Archives and Library of Congress have millions of items. Much of this knowledge is accessible, but it is extremely decentralized. What would we do with it all if it were described and catalogued? What if it was semantically linked? Would we just make fun of it, or would we make use of it?

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