The sergeant stationed just west of Baghdad was once again
recounting the dangers of being on the front line - sometimes with
dark humor. He referred to how the "muj" (mujahideen or insurgents)
were the gang that couldn't shoot straight, but still represented a
"They're horrible shots," he wrote in an e-mail to his family,
"but every once in awhile they get lucky. We lost another Marine the
This is the first war in which American GIs and military families
can communicate freely and in real time via e-mail and cellphone,
while gathering endless amounts of information about the situation
in Iraq via the Internet - some of it trustworthy, much of it
Countless soldiers - some recently returned from the war, others
still there - have set up their own Web logs or "blogs" and chat
rooms, communicating their day-to-day war experience, complaining
about the brass (as all soldiers do), and looking for support. All
of which raises a question about war in the Age of the Internet: Is
all this electronic chatter good or bad for morale and discipline?
Soldiers are able to have direct and frequent e-mail exchanges
with friends and families at home as well as check out websites
providing a view of how things are going in Iraq that may differ
from official accounts. One well-visited blog is written by a 25
year-old Iraqi woman in Baghdad reporting on civilian life.
Personal e-mails and blog entries from Iraq detail what it's like
to live in a world of regular mortar attacks or, as one described
recently, the weirdness of coming upon a rosebush in full bloom in
the midst of the rubble, and smelling the flowers' fragrance
bursting through the diesel smoke of battle tanks.
In some dispatches from the front, one hears echoes of the
classic GI humor of Bill Mauldin's cartoon characters Willie and Joe
back in World War II. For instance, the sergeant west of Baghdad
noted with wry humor the timing of insurgent attacks.
"It seems to happen whenever I'm trying to make my way out to the
head," he quipped, referring to what sailors and marines call the
toilet. "I'm beginning to take it personally."
But his tone quickly sobers when trying to explain dealing with
the stress of losing troops. "It's very strange how people react,"
wrote the sergeant. "We are all shaken, but at the same time, we
just keep going. We still laugh and joke about what we were doing at
the time of impact, things like that. I imagine outsiders would
think us callous. I guess it's just how we cope. At first it was
exciting. Now it's just annoying."
A modern twist to war journals
Personal diaries and letters have chronicled war since before the
American Revolution. What's changed is the immediacy, the easy
access to high-speed Internet connections and phone service in Iraq.
As recently as the 1990s - the Gulf War and the conflict in Somalia -
this wasn't the case.
"The Internet and digital communications devices have
democratized the global flow of information for friend and foe
alike," says military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington
Institute in Arlington, Va. "Whether you think that's good or bad,
there's no question that it is a revolution with profound
The impact on morale has in fact had both positive and negative
impacts on the "good order and discipline" that the military demands
in its regulations and traditions. Morten Ender, a sociologist at
the US Military Academy at West Point calls it a "double-edged
It emboldens and gives more voice to a range of soldiers, leads
to closer scrutiny of the battlefield, and provides better
communication with families and society, says Dr. Ender, who studies
how military personnel communicate with their families and with each
other. But, says Ender, "It also creates new leadership challenges,
an explosion of information fostering multiple truths, information
overload, and the potential for operational security issues. …