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Web Warriors

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted March 17, 2006

The great Baltimorean H.L. Mencken once quipped, "War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands." We remain unfortunately stagnant in our progress towards Mencken's horizon, but our contemplation of the belligerent institution is now a new source of profit.

The Internet has manifested itself as a tool for release of warriors' observations and emotions, and also as a receptacle of the battlefield's most gruesome images and sentiments.

Webmasters, who can turn six-figure salaries from operating Web sites, should take on this martial content with great care and an eye open to more than just click-thru rates.

Often, the offerings of images from the field cater to the basest bloodlust. Among the most outrageous in this carnival of carnage is a Web site called (fill in the asterisks with your imagination) www.nowthatsf***edup.com. Consider these facts about the site:

-Its original and stated purpose is to function as a showcase for men to post lewd pictures of wives and girlfriends for the pleasure of others.

-Active military personnel are offered free access to the otherwise for-profit site...if and only if they post gory photographs and digital videos taken in the field.

But men and women in uniform are not represented solely in these dark corridors of the Internet. Web logs ("blogs") like http://docinthebox.blogspot.com/ make trenchant and often touching points about life in the "Sand Box," as Iraq is called, Afghanistan, and the home front before and after duty calls.

Corralling the Content?

Gen. John Abizaid, Chief of Central Command, is not pleased. Before the House Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life this Tuesday, he had this to say:

"It brings me great sadness when I look on an enemy Web site... and I find out that its server is based in the United States; and that the pictures that they are showing about the vulnerability of our tanks are taken from some young sergeant's personal Web site that he posted back home to his folks to show what happens."

The General's vexation is understandable. In this generation (my generation), where we honed our typing skills with smiley faces and clever abbreviations, not the old lazy brown fox, sending an e-mail is quicker than writing a letter, and much more dangerous as troop movements can be given within hours or minutes of their execution.

So every G.I. is in a position to give away as much information as a Vietnam officer, with any e-mail recipient able to search on Google Maps for the exact latitude and longitude of their child, friend or spouse. As loved ones can, so can the enemy.

Notes on Flash Paper

We know that al-Qaeda and other antagonistic operatives have made widespread and skillful use of the internet in planning and communication. In order to avoid e-mail tracing, jihadists and other fighters use free accounts like MSN Hotmail or Yahoo! They save messages as drafts rather than hitting "send," instead sharing passwords and using the "drafts" box to pass messages like a computerized version of the chess piece in the WWII film classic Stalag 17.

Web profiteers like the scum who operate nowthatsf***edup.com should pay heed. So should Microsoft, Yahoo, and of course Google, who have already had search records subpoenaed as part of a Justice Department appraisal of child pornography seekers.

Though Google won a tempered victory, only having to give up 50,000 records out of millions originally sought, the lesson we should take away is that if the federal government deems information valuable to the public welfare and/or national security, they will take action whether that data be on paper, silly putty, or silicon.

Especially in these days when the War on Terror is paramount, I expect that there will soon be guidelines in place in order to keep soldiers from complaining on the net about insufficient armor, exactly what kinds of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are effective, and other facts that could be construed to an advantage by hostile forces.

Freedom of speech is sacred to Americans. British soldiers are also taking advantage of the forums on Web sites such as the above, even trading quips like "Yanks can't fight" as the nightmarish pictures of successful suicide bombers make the rounds.

But this freedom is questionable, and must be evaluated through the prism of wartime. Here are a few captions accompanying photo dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan:

What hapens (sic) to Iraqis who mess with the USA...saddam chilling...FRIED insurgent...Here are the fresh kills you asked for...die raghead die...

Paired with the question, "Is this good enough to get access to the porn?"

Well, is it? And is sex the only real visual stimulation sought on these sites?

This witches' brew of the Information Age is still unknown and at best poorly understood by most of the powers that be. Ultra-violent video games like Halo, in which players from around the world can trash-talk over Internet lines as they use computer-generated plasma blasters, turn sober when recently returned war veterans muse that "this doesn't do it for me anymore."

We are privy to some of mankind's most beautiful and unsound advances, able to converse across continents while dispatching missiles at the touch of a button.

The internet commerce and exchange of information that we now take for granted has changed even the nature of war. It is no coincidence that decentralized terrorist cells and ruptured intelligence chains coincide with the development of peer-to-peer download networks that no longer depend on central servers.

With that dispersal comes greater potential for good and evil, greater responsibility to others and ourselves, and mountains of questions that are yet unanswered. All the while our adrenal glands grow larger still.

- Sam Hopkins
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