The War in Videos, Live Now on the Web

Myspace.com hosts many montages of battle footage, video diaries and messages from soldiers. The postings are a highly personal and often ambiguous part of the war's historical record.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

During World War II, many Americans watched history unfold through newsreels like this one.

(Soundbite of newsreel)

Unidentified Announcer: Iwo Jima is conquered. Only isolated snipers remain. Its airstrips are already in use by American super-fortresses.

ELLIOTT: Today, Web sites like myspace.com are changing the way people understand the experiences of soldiers fighting abroad. Armed with handheld cameras and high-speed Internet connections, soldiers can record history as it happens. NPR's David Nogueras explains.

DAVID NOGUERAS reporting:

The social networking Web site MySpace is a natural match for the geographically scattered but tight-knit world of the military. Users have a free Web page where they can upload photos, music, blog entries or videos. The video clips might be footage they've shot themselves or just something they want to share with their friends, both military and civilian. If you do a video search on myspace.com for Iraq or Afghanistan, you might see this.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Woman: This is where Saddam got caught, and this is the dog and this is Trisha.

NOGUERAS: Or this.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #1: So we were ordered by the 56th brigade combat team to blow this bitch up. You guys ready?

Unidentified Man #2: Ready.

Unidentified Man #1: All right. Blow it up.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Unidentified Man #2: Yes!

NOGUERAS: With nearly 100 million user profiles MySpace has become one of the most visited Web sites in the U.S. That popularity has included members of the military. Jeff Berman is a senior vice President for public affairs at MySpace.com. He says MySpace can show the real lives of soldiers in a way you won't see on the nightly news.

Mr. JEFF BERMAN (Myspace.com): And in large part that's because it's unfiltered content. The soldiers are able to post about their own experiences for their friends, for their family and for everyone else who comes across their page. If you're posting compelling unique content, people are going to find it and you're going to find your audience.

NOGUERAS: And sometimes that audience is larger than expected. This sleek combat music video has been posted hundreds of times on My Space and across the Internet.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #3: This is what people join the Marine Corps to do. You might be in the Marine Corp for 20 years and never get this chance again, to take down a full-fledged city full of insurgents.

NOGUERAS: What follows is a rapid-fire visual assault of combat imagery, Marines kicking down doors, overturning mattresses, jumping over walls, blowing stuff up. Despite the explosions, there's a noticeable absence of blood. It's edited together from footage Sergeant Jan Bender shot in November of 2004 while he was a combat correspondent in Fallujah. He intended it to be a gift for his fellow Marines.

Sergeant JAN BENDER (U.S. Marines): I wanted something for them to take home to their - take home to their families because it's - just like it's hard for me to sit here and try to explain it to you. And so much of it can be taken out of context because when you're there it's a different mindset, it's a different world.

NOGUERAS: Videos posted by other MySpace users show a less idealized side of the war. David Jumper is a former Army private from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was stationed in Iraq between March and August of 2004. In a video titled Future Terrorist, he speaks with an Iraqi child who looks to be about 12 years old.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. DAVID JUMPER (Former Army Private): Your father was a soldier for Saddam.

Unidentified Child (Iraqi citizen): (Unintelligible) American shoot him. Why?

NOGUERAS: In another video Jumper films from his Humvee as an explosive ordinance disposal team prepares to detonate an IED. They're interrupted by a nearby explosion.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. JUMPER: That wasn't RPG.

Unidentified Man #4: Hey get in the truck, get in the truck. Let's move it. Let's move it.

NOGUERAS: The soldiers detonate the IED.

(Soundbite of video)

NOGUERAS: And then are ambushed by incoming small arms fire. Jumper drops his camera but he continues to record the sound of the battle. He says he tries to show in his videos what a soldier going into combat might expect to see.

Mr. JUMPER: People are going over there, you know, right after basic training, you know, haven't been in the military six months and going into combat. I think that they should be aware of what's going over there. I think that awareness might even help kill complacency, which is a big cause in soldiers getting killed.

NOGUERAS: But some videos might offer too much information. In one posted by a soldier named Corey, a camera on a dashboard of a Humvee captures an IED attack on a convoy.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #5: Our first vehicle just got hit by an IED. I was at the front of the vehicle.

NOGUERAS: The soldier who's now holding the camera shows the effect of the blast, but also the design of the equipment that protected the Humvee.

Major TODD BRAZIL (Multinational Corps): That is so wildly irresponsible.

NOGUERAS: Major Todd Brazil is the spokesman for the Multinational Corps in Iraq.

Maj. BRAZIL: When we find that sort of thing we prosecute the soldiers who do that sort of thing. Every time someone puts any information about IED's, you're either serving to enrich or empower the enemy.

NOGUERAS: Brazil says that while the disclosure of this kind of sensitive material is most likely unintentional, it can still do harm. Another video that can be found on MySpace appears to be shot from the inside of an attack helicopter. Filmed with thermal imaging, the three and a half minute clip shows two men meeting next to a field. They appear as ghostly featureless figures, glowing like the pickup trucks they stand beside. As a third vehicle arrives on the scene, none of the men seem to notice they're being watched by the helicopter's crew.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #6: He just went to his truck. Now he's running off into the field. You see this?

Unidentified Man #7: Yep.

Unidentified Man #6: I got a guy running, throwing a weapon.

Unidentified Man #8: Smoke him.

NOGUERAS: The helicopter gunnist fires his weapon. The man below seems to disintegrate on the screen, leaving a bright glowing patch on the ground.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #6: ...take the other truck out?

Unidentified Man #8: Roger.

Unidentified Man #6: Wait for movement by the truck. Movement right there. Roger. He's wounded.

Unidentified Man #8: Hit him.

Unidentified Man #6: All right, hitting the truck.

Unidentified Man #8: Hit the truck and him. Go forward of it and hit him.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man #6: Roger.

NOGUERAS: Some of the versions posted on MySpace cut out the first few minutes of the clip and many offer conflicting descriptions. One says the events took place in Tikrit in a mission carried out by Special Forces. Another claims the attack is on a terrorist convoy in Afghanistan. Yet another says the men are innocent farmers.

Mark Glaser has written about online war videos like this for the blog PBS Media Shift, which covers a change in media due to Internet and technology. Glaser says the clip's sometimes murky origins invite the people uploading them to fill in the blanks themselves.

Mr. MARK GLASER (PBS Media Shift): It's almost like found media or something. You know, like finding a photo. What happened in that photo? When was it taken? It's almost like an artifact and people are passing it around and kind of coming up with their own stories around it.

NOGUERAS: A clip posted on the MySpace page of Specialist Daniel Watts shows a man on top of a building aiming a rocket propelled grenade off the edge. His face appears to be obscured by a head scarf. He steadies the weapon over the spirals of razor wire and sandbags.

(Soundbite of video)

NOGUERAS: He fires his rocket down into a cluster of buildings.

Unidentified Man #9: I can't believe you...

NOGUERAS: As the camera turns to the point of impact, the damage can only be discerned as a pixilated puff of smoke. Watts says he got the video from another soldier while they were stationed near the Syrian border. He says the video was filmed in Tal Afar in 2004, and the man firing the RPG was a member of the Iraqi police.

Mr. DANIEL WATTS (U.S. Soldier): The guy's name was Ali. And he just got drunk and fired an RPG off into the town. We don't know what happened to him, but I know he got arrested for it, because that area of the town was being occupied.

NOGUERAS: Many MySpace videos are posted without any context, explanation or even attribution. Mark Glaser of PBS Media Shift says they're more like postcards than journalism.

Mr. GLASER: A view that's edited by different people than you're used to, not the mainstream media. This is, you know, allowing people to really tell their own stories about what's going on in front of them.

NOGUERAS: Glaser says that means people should view these clips with a certain amount of skepticism. The people uploading videos for their group of MySpace friends probably don't see themselves as citizen journalists. But for Jan Bender, the creator of the music video of Marines in Fallujah, his training as a combat correspondent has made him aware of the power certain war imagery can have.

Mr. BENDER: Bad images - you'll remember one horrific photo before you'll ever remember 200 of them with flowers and bunnies on them, you know? They just have a more lasting impression because they stick with you and maybe twist you a little bit.

NOGUERAS: But regardless of the intentions of their authors and the people who post them, these short clips have become part of the historical record of this war. And they present a portrait of the war that's both farther reaching and more ambiguous than the black and white newsreels of 60 years ago. For NPR News, I'm David Nogueras.

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