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.
War on the Web
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?
Disturbing but Necessary?
"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."
At Ogrish.com expect to see war in its rawest form. The site does not shy away from posting even the most explicit and disturbing videos and makes no distinction between what side the victim -- or victims -- may have been on.
To Hewitt, it's about honesty.
"It is right to operate without any bias and show the simple, brutal, truth no matter how upsetting or offensive it might be," he explained. "It is wrong to try and brush things under the rug in order to convince your countrymen a war is something other than it is."
During the Vietnam War, TV journalists were credited with turning the tide of support back home by showing the realities of what was happening in the jungle in Southeast Asia on the news every night. Images of young American men suffering and dying on TV every day caused some to second guess the U.S. strategy there.
Many believe, though, that sites like Ogrish don't simply report the news but instead appeal to the most salacious of appetites, calling the videos that appear on such sites as "snuff" or "war porn."
"Part of me understands that this is the other side of the wart, and you run the risk of having an antiseptic view if you're not exposed to that," said Ward Carroll, editor in chief of Military.com who was a Navy pilot for 20 years.
Carroll admits that Military.com is a pro-American site that serves U.S. military men and women. But he said that's not to say that he thinks sites like Ogrish.com or others like it are un-American.
He said it is important for people to have choices and therefore doesn't oppose the existence of such sites and videos. Carroll said that in a democracy it's the responsibility of every citizen to be informed and the many viewpoints the Internet offers make that easier.
"These days with the Internet, if you want to be informed, if you really care as a consumer of media, there are lots of places to go to be informed," he said.