YouTube Offers Soldier’s Eye View of Iraq War

    by Mark Glaser
    January 25, 2006

    i-1e6a8bc57a2e3da90ae040d837cbb955-YouTube soldier.JPG
    The American public’s interest in the War in Iraq has waxed and waned over the years, from intense debate to complete disconnection. So too has the media’s interest, as Iraq goes from the front page of the newspaper to someplace buried deep within. But there’s one viewpoint of the war that has never diminished: that of the soldier.

    If you’ve been paying attention online and in the blogging world, you’ll know that soldiers have offered some of the most gripping first-hand accounts of the war, keeping daily weblogs, posting photos and even video. So it was no surprise when a friend pointed me to a relatively new site called YouTube, and showed me what looked like videos shot by American soldiers of live combat in Iraq.

    YouTube lets people share their home videos with friends or with the world — for free. You set up an account, and can then easily upload your digital video, and then decide whether you want to store it privately or publicly. The site makes money by selling some text advertisements, but so far, they’ve kept the design pretty simple and uncluttered.


    What’s striking about the videos of Iraq combat is how well produced they are. There are titles overlaid on the action, as well as soundtracks with gangster rap or heavy metal music. Much of the footage portrays the soldiers as heroes, suiting up to go into combat, and then showing a series of explosions or gunfights. One video titled, “US Marines handling business in Iraq,” even includes credits, with “footage shot and edited by Cpl. Jan M. Bender, combat correspondent, USMC [U.S. Marine Corps].” This video was shot in Fallujah during November 2004, but it’s difficult to determine how old the other videos on YouTube are, or who really shot them.

    While many of the videos look authentic, it’s hard to tell for sure, because there is no verification system on YouTube other than the online community’s trust. As with other user-generated content such as blogs and photo-sharing sites, a healthy dose of skepticism is necessary.

    While many other sites and video repositories online have video from Iraq soldiers, YouTube makes the process simple for uploading video and finding video by searching. You can also filter your search results by most recently uploaded videos, most watched videos or highest rated videos by viewers. And there’s also a comments section for each video, so people who watch them can give feedback.


    Rock music + war?

    On one of the more produced combat videos, Battleforce 3/327, a commenter named Nirvana563 makes a good point about putting combat to a rock beat. “The worst part of all is the music, DON’T PLAY ROCK MUSIC WHEN IT COMES TO WAR!!! I [won’t] explain that any more simply, it kills all effects.” Even if the music follows in the tradition of films like “Apocalypse Now,” and various hard-hitting MTV music videos, it’s horribly dehumanizing to turn mortal combat into an entertainment video.

    But for soldiers seeing death and destruction for months and perhaps years at a time, the videos could well represent a way to deal with the anguish, to rationalize what’s going on around them. In other cases, the videos reveal the soldiers’ stark view of the enemy as being less than human. In one rap-tinged video, a lyric from the song — “we eat pieces of s—- like you for breakfast” — is overlaid over a bombing in the distance, and audio of soldiers celebrating in the foreground. This video has been viewed on YouTube more than 4,000 times, with a rating of 3 out of a possible 5 stars.

    While the comments on the Iraq combat videos often devolve into anti-war and pro-soldier diatribes, the YouTube service itself takes no stand and wants to allow soldiers the chance to share their videos.

    “Users of YouTube have been documenting their first-hand accounts of world events ever since we started the service,” CEO Chad Hurley told me via email. “We’ve seen videos of hurricanes and dangerous airplane landings become popular on the service, so it’s no surprise that soldiers in Iraq would actively document their lives and provide their perspective on one of the most important world events today.”

    Military brass approve?

    I have written about soldiers sharing gory photos from Iraq, and in those cases, the U.S. military said these photos should not be shared with the public because they go against the Army code of conduct. This would likely be a similar case, especially with some of these videos showing the names of soldiers and noting where they were stationed.

    U.S. Central Command spokesman Chris Karns told me back then that it’s the soldiers’ First Amendment rights to carry cameras into combat and photograph their experiences — as long as they don’t share photos that give away sensitive security information or defame dead bodies. And outside of the Abu Ghraib scandal, most of the imagery and video that comes from soldiers has a very pro-American, pro-soldier slant. So it follows that the military would have a hands-off policy on these music videos of combat.

    I did query the military about YouTube and haven’t heard back from them yet (but will post their reaction). One military blogger, Colby Buzzell, whose My War blog has been turned into a book, told me that he thought these videos on YouTube were authentic, based on his experience in Iraq, and he had seen some of the same videos online at other sites. As for the reaction from the military brass, Colby told me “they probably don’t even know it’s going on — they have other things to worry about.”

    YouTube’s Hurley says the online community polices itself for inappropriate videos and copyright violations. The Terms of Use for YouTube requires that people have the permission to use copyrighted footage and music. But almost all the well produced videos on the site use copyrighted music and it’s highly doubtful that anyone got permission from music publishers.

    Plus, when you upload a video on YouTube, “you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, fully paid-up, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform and otherwise exploit the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.” All that means that YouTube could make a commercial video with your work without compensating you.

    For all the excitement that a concept like YouTube brings — and Hurley says 10 million videos are viewed per day with 20,000 uploads per day — the site engenders a weird cyclical exploitation loop. People upload videos they may not have the copyright to upload, while the site then gets the rights to material it shouldn’t have in the first place.

    What do you think about YouTube, and its Iraq combat videos? Does this service have the potential to rival the photo-sharing site, Flickr? Would you use it? What for?

    UPDATE: The U.S. military responds to my queries, and believes these videos don’t violate military policy but might just be considered to be in “bad taste.”

    UPDATE 2: If you’d like to learn more about the subject of soldier videos posted on the Internet, I’ve since followed this article up with a roundup, Your Guide to Soldier Videos from Iraq. Plus I interviewed Deborah Scranton, the director of the largely soldier-shot documentary, “The War Tapes.”

    Tagged: mtv soldier videos youtube
    • As a clinical social worker, and blogger, and citizen concerned about the Iraq war and the soldiers there, this gives me the willies. It’s bad enough that so many of our soldiers are coming back with major PTSD, and that the rate of suicide and mental illness for soldiers from this war is extremely high. Now we are adding to this the possibility that people can get videos of combat directly from soldiers. I can see why this would be against the army code of conduct. I can also see how this could make for more traumatized individuals in the world. It seems like, as you remark in the your post, this will mostly lead to further dehumanizing of the enemy. I guess this helps us understand just how sick the mind needs to become in order to fight in war, but other than that, I don’t see the point. Also, are there any precautions to prevent children from downloading and watching these videos?

      Okay, I just went and watched one — Iraq Fallujah. All I can say is, this is wrong. It’s way too easy to get exposed to something totally heinous. Especially I think we need to have something in place to keep children from being exposed. It’s good that it’s being documented, but where and when these videos are viewable is a big issue that is not at all being addressed here.

    • Michael

      If there is any group of people who deserve to blow off steam, it is the military. As the article said, it can help release anguish and keep their sanity. It is pointless to complain about soldiers making these videos, they will continue to make them regardless of what we think. The worst thing us civillians can do is overanalyze this and call it “wrong”. It has little to do with dehumanizing, for they are merely expressing their thoughts and feelings. Although I doubt i need to say it, it must be said. If you do not like the videos, simply don’t watch them and dont take away a soldiers freedom to express themselves no matter how wrong we think it is.

    • Cynthia Levy

      I for one am glad to see youtube transmitting videos of combat…someone has to make the US public aware of what’s going on in Iraq. The media is full of information provided by government officials and embedded journalist…it is hight time we hear the truth about what’s really going on in Iraq…that’s what the 1st Amendment was made for!

    • John

      The footage from Cpl. now Sgt. Bender is entirly authentic. The men he made that video footage loved him for it. He lived with these men and shared the ups and downs with them. Along with the rest of the footage added to sites by other service members. These men are proud of their time served and what they accomplished in Iraq. How is it any different than what is shown on CNN or Fox News. This is real footage from the men on the ground living the life as warriors. It’s not wrapped up in the political aspect and trying to sway votes. It is hard corps footage straight from the horses mouth and it’s what America needs to see is ACTUALLY go on in Iraq.

    • 123

      ITS COOL

    • Tatiana G.

      Everyone should at least see one of those videos to be aware of what’s going on in Iraq. The reason nothing was done for so long is because people are so clueless about what’s happening in Iraq. And how could we? We have never been in a situation of war, we don’t understand the stress of hearing gunshots when we try to sleep, when we try to rest, we don’t know what it’s like to fear the near bombings around us. And most of all, most of the people out there don’t know ANYTHING about the opposing party! The videos about the Iraqi kids being repeatedly beaten with what is at best large sticks makes ME want to become a terrorist! How can this possibly make anyone ( the gov’t, the soldiers, or civilization) believe that this stupid invasion is going to bring about something good in the end? I don’t think the soldiers should be to blame either, they didn’t chose to be in Iraq and be messed up by the rage of war. All I can say is, you reap what you sow. If there is another attack on this country, don’t act so surprised…

    • Sgt. Matt Bailey

      thats me in that pic. thats goodtogo and very real. Al-Qa’im, Iraq 2005. USMC thanx, i have more videos where that came from, hit me up

    • Sgt. Matt Bailey

      thats me in that pic. thats goodtogo and very real. Al-Qa’im, Iraq 2005. USMC thanx, i have more videos where that came from, hit me up

    • zaddza

      Bomb USA !

    • heather

      first of all it is their rights to post these things if they are not “currently” in the military and if they are not violating military code of conduct if they are serving “currently”. if anyone should have “these rights” its the people that actually fought for them. infact that ability to post this blog- thank your US military for that priviledge. On the topic of the whole entire blog i find it kind of interesting while the blog is full of personal oppinions slanted in the writers own oppinion on what is right and wrong, even names specific posts on tube along with a few of the internet names of the people that post them, readers of this are not being allowed in the comment section to respond in the same way the article is written. if a clearly personally slanted article is written, how can it not be taken personal, and how can a person not have a personal reaction to the writer of it?! comments are being censored in attempt to only show supporting oppinions and to spread writers own personal oppinion. thank you.

    • gaston arg

      Puto that is good killing innocent people

    • Michael

      My son is in Iraq and I check every day to see if I can catch a glimpse…or anything from 1/75th CAV or Patrol Base Thrasher…

      I think its good to have this available…the MSM is wholly invested in America’s defeat…from what I am seeing and hearing from my son, realityis quite the opposite.

    • Michael

      I believe the video’s are a good thing…My Son is in Iraq and I look every day for a glimpse of anything from 1/75th CAV or Patrol Base Thrasher…the MSM seems wholly invested in America’s defeat but according to my son (and everything I see in the video’s) reality is quite the opposite from what the press prints.

    • no comment now

    • ebet


    • evelin

      que dios conseda el milagro que todas las tropas regresen a casa

    • Jestine

      the pic. looks good

      kom as soon as possible
      we need your speed
      haha godspeed au


    • mike

      i think that these videos help us to get a glymps on what is reallu happening in the iraq war

    • Lizzie Ballard

      Im 15, And very intrested in enlisting in the United States Air Force. I want to go into combat and Visit iraq at some point in life. Yes im still a kid/child, but the videos and pictures help me too see what enlisting really means. Combat videos i like to watch. They help me know what to excpect. I think they are great.

    • i want to became an American soldier thus what is good for me to do?

    • iwant to fack you do you agree with me if you agree with me i shall see in my inbox

    • mario


    • arton

      pa lidh pas dal ahahhahahhahhhhahhahahahahhahahahhahahahahahahhahahahhahahah ggeggeggeggeggeg

    • ntt420

      Stop murdering people and repent before you are condemed by your creator for all eternity. You pay check does not give you the right to trespass on the other side of the planet and kill innocent people. It is sick and wrong and you are hated and dispised by the world and even your own countrymen. Why have you allowed satan to posess and control you? Go home.

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