Saturday, February 9, 2008

Superhero Ops

Here's the kind of creativity we need in our information operations. We need to institutionalize this by pushing the decision-making authority and thus the innovation authority out to the edges. And not just in the military, but in the civilian side of our information operations as well. Of course we shouldn't stop there, strategic citizens could produce comic books and every other kind of media as well. Our larger conception of info ops must include private enterprise, "civilian information support teams" to complement our "military information support teams." But for now let's just appreciate the initiative and creativity of our troops:

One of the unique products used in psychological operations in the southern Philippines is the comic book “Barbargsa — Blood of the Honorable.”
About 600,000 copies of the 10-part series have been distributed on the Sulu islands, a chain that was once a terrorist safe haven, and still suffers from skirmishes.

U.S. special operations forces have used comic books in information campaigns. But the characters were based on well-known American superheroes. Two years ago, two Army officers decided to create one from scratch to tell the children of the Sulu islands the story of what was happening in their homeland.

The project was the brainchild of Maj. Edward Lopacienski, military information support team commander for the joint special operations task force Philippines mission, and the non-commissioned officer in charge, Master Sgt. Russell Snyder. The pair sat down in January 2006 and outlined the basic idea.

The plot follows several basic comic book storyline conventions — most notably the battle between good and evil.
The comic book focuses on Ameer, who left his home island to work overseas, but returns to find it racked with violence. Ameer is a practitioner of kuntao, which is a local form of martial arts. Like Zorro or Batman, he dons a mask and vows to protect the downtrodden and innocent victims of terrorists.

The Philippines military are also portrayed in a positive and heroic light while the villains are the terrorists or “bandits.” The creators were careful to accurately illustrate the Sulu region, and use character names, clothing and mannerisms that reflect the culture of the Tausug ethnic group. There are versions in English and in the local dialect.

It depicts real events that took place on the islands and at neighboring Basilan — specifically the Sulu Co-Op bombing in March 2006, which killed five and injured 40 and the Basilan hostage crisis when members of the Abu Sayyaf Group took school children and used them as human shields against Filipino troops.
“Essentially what we’re doing is showing all the atrocities that the Abu Sayyaf Group has done,” Lopacienski said.
One subplot shows how terrorists manipulate a boy into becoming a bomber.

The production of the comic book was farmed out to a Manila-based marketing firm. Two experts on Tausug culture were brought in as consultants to make sure nothing offensive was put in, and that everything was culturally accurate. It took about 2,000 hours to create the 10 comic books.

“In the end you see the hero and the community rising up to turn over the terrorists,” Lopacienski said.
It was important that the series be reproduced on high-quality paper as slick as any graphic novel found in U.S. bookshelves, he said, because that shows respect to the culture.

Lopacienski said there is anecdotal evidence of the comic book’s popularity. When some areas missed delivery due to security concerns, children “were ripping out the pages and trading them like baseball cards,” he said. Local stores have printed unauthorized T-shirts portraying the hero Ameer.

Via my comrade-in-pixels Cannoneer # 4

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