Situated on a wooded bluff overlooking Verdun, a city in
northeastern France, is the Ossuary of Douamont, a huge limestone vault
with a 150-foot tower that resembles an artillery shell. Though this
monument serves to honor the 700,000 French and German soldiers killed
in the 1916 Battle of Verdun, it has another purpose. Those who visit
see the endless stacks of human bones, the remains of soldiers unidentified
after the 1918 armistice. The monument explains why the French constructed
the Maginot Line (Chelminiski, 1997).
The Maginot Line was an intricate network of fortifications built to be an obstacle to any future German invasion. The electrically-powered units were equipped with everything from a kitchen to a morgue, making them self-sufficient. Secret underground tunnels connected the units where men, equipment, and munitions could be transported.
This wall of technology was designed to cover the Italian frontier, the Franco-German separation along the Rhine, part of Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium to the North Sea, but it fell short due to money and time. The line was still under construction in 1939, when World War II began, so the French left gaps. They believed the Rhine to be a natural barrier and the Ardennes Forest impenetrable. The French also reasoned that the Belgian border could remain unfortified since it would take at least eight days for German soldiers to reach it by foot. By this time, the French would have planned their defense (Chelminski, 1997).
Though the Maginot Line was a model of engineering and technology, its builders neglected to take into account how warfare had changed since the Battle of Verdun. First, German soldiers no longer traveled on foot, they were mechanized. Second, the French failed to consider how the Germanís modern tanks, Stuka dive-bombers and high velocity 88s would affect their defensive planning . In response, the unfortified gaps became paths for the enemy. Six weeks into the battle Franceís military collapsed (Chelminski, 1997).
While the Maginot Line has become an important lesson in military history, it is also a metaphor to explain military public affairs. PA professionals put great effort into controlling information flow to the public, while forgetting the media can go around them and acquire the information by other means.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of public affairs as gatekeepers of information and how this gatekeeping role affects the way stories are told by external media. First, the gatekeeping role of Public Affairs and Department of Defense (DoD) policy will be explored. Next, comes discussion of case studies and an analysis of theories explaining misconceptions on the diffusion of military information. Finally, new theory is applied to show how reframing public affairís role can allow the most accurate military story to be told.