What’s in a Name? Blogging under a Pseudonym

Fezzik: “Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid or something?”

Westley: “Oh no. It’s just they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”

-The Princess Bride

Ever since I started writing under the guise of Angry Staff Officer, I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “Why do you blog under a pseudonym?” Or, more belligerently, “Why do you hide behind a pseudonym?”

These are fair questions, since the vast majority of military bloggers write under their actual names. And while I’m inclined to respond that I’m living out my true desire to be a masked superhero – or the Dread Pirate Roberts -, there can be only one of those in the military community, and I can’t compete with Doctrine Man.

There can be a whole litany of reasons why writers choose to don a mask in their online interactions, and there are even more for military writers. We live under a vast network of complicated rules and regulations that govern online interactions and publishing. It is often a battle between being an individual and being in the military; we do not want to be seen as being the voice for our organization or even the Army, hence why we plaster, “views do not represent or reflect those of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense” all over everything. Yet we also want to contribute to the conversation. Many of us also have concerns that what we do online could be mistaken for being subversive or going around the chain of command.

In fact, that is the very reason that I put a mask on in the first place. While we would hope that most military leaders are open-minded and supportive of critical thinkers, there are many out there who cannot hear any criticism of how things are done or of the Army in general. They do not understand that many of us criticize because we love the Army and want to make it better, not because we are somehow subversive terrorists trying to undermine the authority of our leadership. Simply put, toxic leaders are hell on military bloggers.

This is nothing new in the Army at all. When George S. Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower were troublesome young majors between the two World Wars, they managed to invite the ire of the Infantry Branch on their heads by advocating combined arms warfare. This was counter to U.S. Army doctrine at the time, and they would told to cease writing about it or face court martial. Today, the Army is far less draconian and there is growing support for military bloggers and using social media to engage larger audiences. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, in particular, is doing a lot to set the example on social media engagement. But every chain of command is different, and so writers have to gauge the waters and determine how much risk that they can take.

Aside from fears about pushback from leadership, there are other concerns. One such concern is the way that we see rank in the military. Senior officers could see my rank and dismiss me as not having the experience needed to address certain topics. Peers, junior officers, and NCO’s might see me as being a high-minded elitist prick who is just trying to get a better evaluation. Hopefully, readers will engage with the content and not care too much about the authorship. As the author behind The Military Leader put it, “I want the content to rule, not me.”

Which feeds into my last reason: my ego. First and last, I’m an Army officer, not a blogger. I am paid and trained to lead troops – or, in the case of staff officers, to support troops via PowerPoint slides. I am not paid and trained to create a brand, get a big head, and somehow think I know better just because I have generated a social media following. The whole idea behind military writing is to generate a conversation, engage with ideas, and continue building towards a more perfect organization. As I am somewhat self-aware, I know that I have a problem with ego and in getting too caught up in myself. Many, if not most, military bloggers can separate themselves from their writing; but that is still a skill I am working on. By staying behind a pseudonym, I can separate myself from my brand and not allow it to have undue influence over me. It also keeps me from attempting to use my writing or other online endeavors to push my career along. However, given my writing, it probably would only push it towards the inevitable Cliffs of Insanity.

Man, I really cannot shake the Princess Bride References today.

Every person has different reasons for a pseudonym, that vary with their job, the type of unit they are in, what they are writing, and their command climate. A pseudonym offers a reasonable way for many military service members to contribute their voices to discussions of leadership, training, and world events without compromising their privacy, position, or job security. Obviously, most of us would like to drop the pseudonym and come out into the world of normal bloggers. And at some point, maybe I will. But for the time being, it is better for me and my chain of command for the veil to stay firmly in place.

And why “Angry Staff Officer” as a nom de plume?

Well, have you ever met a happy staff officer? If you have, they are a) lying, b) clinically and mentally deranged, or c) they actually like being a staff officer in which case refer to item b. because that is just positively inconceivable.

Do you or have you blogged or written under a pen name or pseudonym? Why? Or what cause you to stop? Engage with the author on Twitter or Facebook.

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