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EDITOR’S NOTE: The comments in this story all appeared in the online chat rooms and bulletin boards cited; they are attributable only to the aliases the writers utilized online.

tomasmikula1: “We definitely are not helping any one. The Iraqi people never said they wanted to be liberated.”

beachhoppr: “Just when I thought you had outdone your own blithering idiocy, you come up with THIS crap. Pay attention to the TV, if your trailer park allows antennas.”

Welcome to America’s electronic water coolers: the Internet’s military chat rooms and bulletin boards, which have hosted brisk battles ever since the bombs started dropping on Baghdad.

If you want to find out what veterans, active-duty servicemembers and their families — or people who represent themselves as such — are saying about the war in Iraq, these online talk shops may be among the quickest sources of news. All major free e-mail services, including Yahoo! and MSN, offer chat rooms devoted to a range of military-related topics. Specialty Web sites, such as Military.com and MilitaryCity.com, also host their own forums.

Television and newspaper war coverage, already approaching saturation levels, also spill over onto the Internet: Most major newspapers and networks reproduce war reports on their Web sites.

Portals such as Yahoo! and America Online also compile this news in many forms (text, photos, graphics, audio and video clips) from many sources, then ask their communities of users to express themselves.

Several interesting threads, or single online conversation topics, were active on Military.com (http://www.military.com) during the fighting’s first week.

Many forum members conveyed distress at news reports of Iraqi soldiers faking surrenders. “War criminals!” wrote Echo 17. “These acts are cowardly, and now, our troops are ready to deal with this treachery.”

“Before, the Marines (and Army, etc.) were just doing their duty,” replied Agent Rhoads, adding that the Iraqis have now managed to anger them. “Good going [expletive]. Nothing like kicking the hornet’s nest to make things interesting. We should do our best impression of the Iraqis and show no mercy.”

Other postings, however, defended the Iraqis.

“Whatever gave you all the idea that Iraqis wanted to get rid of Saddam?” asked witko1. “He has been in power for 24 years. You think they were too scared to go up against him? Perhaps, given the choice between the U.S. and Saddam, they consider Saddam the lesser evil. Just because we love our way of life doesn’t mean all people do.

“I’ve seen reports that say Iraqi soldiers are dressing up as civilians to ambush Americans. And we know they are really soldiers because??? Why can’t we realize that some Iraqi civilians may be just as loyal to their country as we are to ours? Some of us may despise Bush, but we’ll sure as hell defend him and our country if we’re invaded.” Witko1 continued, “Just for the record, although I’m against this action (can’t call it a war, since Congress didn’t declare it), I absolutely despise those protesters who say it’s OK that Americans are being killed. Our soldiers didn’t choose to go to Iraq — there just wasn’t any legal justification for them to refuse.”

On the Yahoo! news section covering the war (http://news.yahoo.com/iraq), each story contains a link that takes users to a list of comments logged by previous users and also asks for the current reader’s thoughts.

A story headlined, “U.S. forces pound Nasiriyah with rockets,” drew a brisk response. “The assessment of the campaign should be reserved for post-battle analysis,” wrote Yahoo! user megods1. “Thus far, the general running the show has proven vastly more competent than all the armchair quarterbacks employed by the news media.”

Another story originated in San Francisco after 75 monks, priests, rabbis and other clergy were arrested during an anti-war protest there.

“Well at least,” said sempergumbee, “it seems as though this is an equal opportunity religious war. We can oppress all religions.”

In support of the anti-war protesters, myer wrote, “What part of ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ do you not understand?”

On Military.com, some users joined in a chat about embedding journalists with military units.

“There have been many situations where the embedded reporters have stated that they will not report their current location,” wrote Echo17. “The ones I have seen seem to be conducting themselves well, and seem to be accepted by the troops. The embedded reporters also serve as a credible source to the outside world as to what is actually going on.”

Embedding reporters with units, “is merely the next step in the evolution of combat,” Eriveros wrote. “... Personally, I like seeing the action up front. Maybe it’ll remind some people of the horror of war ... maybe it’ll do nothing more than just give us a better understanding of things.”

He ended his post with a paraphrase of a quote from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee: “It is well that war is so terrible ... lest we become fond of it.”

Discussion threads at MilitaryCity.com (http://www.militarycity.com) were a bit more personal.

“My son was deployed to the Middle East last week and I have been a nervous wreck ever since he left,” wrote Mom-In-Georgia. “I am glued to CNN and can’t stop worrying and crying. Any suggestions on how to cope during this difficult time?”

“Has the local family support group contacted you at all?” asked AprilAnn. “It may not seem so, but they can be an excellent source of support during this time, and they can keep you informed of anything that is going on.

“My husband was sent out about the time our son was a month old. I keep in touch with family and air my fears to them. I do have the opportunity to have a relatively good-sized support group for a good crying shoulder. It was a great help, being in El Paso, when I heard about soldiers from [Fort] Bliss being captured.

“If you can get together with any of the other moms, that would be a great start for you.”

“I am glad to hear I am not alone!” wrote Mom-From-Colorado.

“I am now starting to feel physically sick about all this. I have now cut down 80 percent of the time watching the news and am using that time to do other things to keep my mind from going crazy,” she wrote. “This has helped some. I pray a lot throughout the day asking for peace to finally come so we can have our children back home safe with us.”

Others writing on MilitaryCity.com forums offered words of support for the troops.

“Thanks for your service to this great country of ours,” wrote Cobil. “Regardless of what the liberal media reports, the vast majority of Americans support you all and are indebted to you. Be safe, be proud.”

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