War is hell. But you might never know it from watching your nightly news or picking up the morning paper.
If you really want to see how violent, disturbing and outright terrifying war can be, all you need to do is log on to the Internet and stop by any of the Web's many community video sites such as YouTube, Ogrish or Google Video.
Armchair generals, current, former and wannabe military service people, jihadists, snuff seekers, the curious and the political are all posting and watching both tame and graphic videos or life on the battlefield.
"Mainstream media has traditionally constrained themselves or have been constrained from showing really graphic images," said Brian Marcus, director of Internet monitoring for the Anti-Defamation League. "Now there's technology out there that's made things so easy -- anyone carrying a cell phone these days can take a picture or a video and post it on the Internet and within minutes it can be viewed all over the world."
The Internet gives anyone with a computer the ability to speak to the world, but that power cuts both ways. It gives users the power to choose how to supplement the news they get from their TV or newspaper, but it also acts as a soapbox for propagandists to spread hate, fear or just confusion.
For the U.S Department of Defense every day presents a new challenge.
With U.S. military power spread thinly across Iraq and Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq becoming less popular, a new warfront on the Internet is an unwelcome addition to a war that already has too many fronts.
As insurgents and terror groups seek public sympathy and try to exploit more advanced methods of warfare and recruitment, videos of attacks on U.S. troops, hostage beheadings and worse popped up all over the Web.
"We are aware that this stuff is out there. We know the enemy is going to try to put propaganda out there," said Capt. Rebecca Goodrich, a spokeswoman for the DOD. "As the Secretary [of Defense] has said, we just need to make the public aware that this is out there and that they're [the enemy] trying to manipulate the media."
Though aware of the existence of jihadist propaganda on the Internet, and even with the assistance of many site owners and operators in bringing much down, Web sites that allow their visitors to anonymously post videos leave the government relatively helpless in defending itself against them.
Though it's virtually impossible for the layman to differentiate between what is surreptitious propaganda and what could just be a compilation of news footage strung together by a teenager in Cleveland, there are hundreds of such videos circulating the Net, and more are posted every day.
Many of those videos are not for the faint of heart. Images of beatings, shooting, explosions and other battlefield horrors thankfully beyond the imagination of the average citizen are accessible with just a click or two of a mouse.
But who would want to view such disturbing material and why?
"We simply offer people the option of seeing what really goes on in these places," said Hayden Hewitt, co-owner of Ogrish.com, a site known for its explicit videos. "We don't think it should be compulsory in any way, but people should certainly have the ability of seeing the true scope of war and how horrific it really is."