Five years later: Iraq war goes online

The black-shrouded website opens with a soldier's silhouette and the pounding rhythm of Nine Inch Nails: "Into the fire you can send us," the words go. "From the fire we return."

This is the Unlikely Soldier's blog, where a young infantryman known as The Usual Suspect rants and shares his experiences in what soldiers call The Sandbox.

"One year ago," when his unit first arrived in Iraq, "we were nervous and excited and apprehensive. Ready to do this. Green as snot. I was all sorts of optimistic, thinking we were going to do great things and kick lots of ass, GI Joe hero type (expletive). That we could be cool with the people, and bring the hammer down on the baddies."

Then, every soldier's nightmare: "A low rumble shakes my Stryker (armored vehicle), and two of our guys are killed by an IED while they were dismounted.

"People emerged from their houses and cheered."

This is the war in 2008 — coming to a computer near you.

Wars have often been defined by the new technologies that shaped them. The Civil War was the first photographed conflict in U.S. history, news of World War II was delivered by movie news reels, television made Vietnam the living room war and Desert Storm was the first war broadcast live by satellite.

Historians will likely remember Operation Iraqi Freedom as iWar v1.0. The Web has done more than quicken reporting from the battlefield; it has made war interactive.

Al-Qaeda militants, conservative bloggers, peace activists, Iraqi civilians and the U.S. military all use the Internet to distribute their versions of the truth. They often engage in e-mail debates, but more often sink to slurs and threats when challenging an opposing point of view.

U.S. soldiers return from battle to their rooms or tents, boot up their laptops and log on to let their friends and family know they've made it through another day. If their base is large enough, the Internet service provider offers broadband, and they can make a video call home, watch news reports on the war or post their own versions of life in Iraq to their blogs.

"I blog for the same reasons soldiers wrote letters and diaries during previous wars: to communicate with family and friends, (and) to maintain an honest record of our daily existence," wrote 1st Lt. Matt Gallagher, in response to an e-mail about his blog http://kaboomwarjournal.blogspot.com. "Blogging is simply a 21st century tool for a new generation of soldiers to utilize."

Gallagher's account of his life as a cavalry scout shares not only the gritty details of fighting in Iraq, but also the universal experiences of every soldier who has fought with any army, anywhere.

"Let's just say that if LT G were Lord Protectorate G of the Desert Cavalry of Pure Raw Awesomeness, things would be a little different," he wrote in one entry entitled "In My Army ..."

"Staff officers would have a little comprehension of history, and realize that 'winning over hearts and minds' is more than just a poor choice of words when discussing the local populations temperament towards American military forces," he wrote.

And the "warrant officer who barked at my soldiers at the chow hall ... for not having haircuts, needing showers, and wearing their Army-issued fleeces over their uniform after we rolled back after 15 straight days of patrolling would still be eating mud, three days later after it happened."

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