Brad Knickerbocker

Fishermen Hit Hard by Closure of West Coast Salmon Fishing

These are dark days for a Pacific icon. Up and down the coast of the United States, from Mexico to Canada, wild salmon are dwindling -- steadily and, in some cases, precipitously.

Federal officials this month canceled the salmon fishing season from southern California to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon. The cause: an "unprecedented collapse" in adult chinook ("king" salmon) returning from the ocean to their spawning grounds in the Sacramento River and its tributaries.

Farther north, salmon in the Klamath River, which angles northeast through California and Oregon to high desert ranch country, are barely holding on as well. Multiparty talks about removing four small hydropower dams, which prevent migrating fish from reaching much of their traditional habitat, have dragged on for years with no resolution in sight.

And up in the Columbia River Basin, an area the size of central Europe, annual salmon runs that once reached an estimated 16 million fish now total fewer than 1 million. Thirteen evolutionary-specific salmon populations are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act there. US District Judge James Redden has rejected plan after plan for Columbia Basin salmon recovery put forth by federal agencies, and he threatens to order stricter measures for dam operations as he waits for yet another recovery plan due next month.

Regarding the recent news about the Sacramento River salmon fishery closure, Zeke Grader puts it starkly:

"It's going to be devastating," says Mr. Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in San Francisco. "We're going to be asking for federal assistance and looking for alternatives to keep our fishermen afloat for the next year or two until we get a chance to fix salmon problems."

The economic impact of the California and Oregon coastal commercial and sport salmon fishery varies. According to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, it averaged $103 million per year between 1979 and 2004, then dropped to $61 million in recent years due to declining fish runs. Many commercial fishermen can get income from other seafood species, but the number of commercially licensed fishing boats along the West Coast has declined in recent decades from the thousands to the hundreds.

The governors of Oregon, Washington, and California are seeking federal disaster assistance for idled fishermen. Like the northern spotted owl, another controversial and threatened species in the region, salmon face a multitude of challenges -- many more, in fact, than the hapless owl that's been pitted politically against loggers and millworkers.

Among those challenges and competing interests: farm irrigators, developers, industries that pollute rivers and streams, commercial and sport fishermen, and native American tribes that fished these waters long before European-Americans pushed West seeking fur, land, and gold.

But most of all, it's dams -- hundreds of them, from small ones to the eight mammoth concrete "mainstem" dams that turned the free-flowing Columbia and Snake Rivers into a series of slack-water reservoirs producing electrical power and irrigation and allowing oceangoing ships to sail upriver to Lewiston, Idaho.

There's added urgency, scientists say, because of global climate change affecting both ends of a salmon's life cycle: ocean conditions where they spend several years becoming mature adults as well as the far reaches of rivers and streams where they return for spawning in the cold, clean water and natural gravel beds.

A recent report by former Oregon state fisheries chief Jim Martin and National Wildlife Federation global-warming expert Patty Glick notes that hotter waters, changes in rain and snow, and snowpack declines have already begun in the Pacific Northwest -- a region whose human population is expected to nearly double by midcentury, bringing more development that will affect river conditions.

"Salmon are exceptionally resilient and flexible and they will need all that resilience to survive global warming," says Ms. Glick.

The Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington has been tracking weather and climate changes likely to affect salmon. Among these scientists' findings: Regional temperatures have increased at slightly above global averages; spring runoff from snowpacks has declined between 30 to 60 percent in parts of the Cascade Mountains, which stretch from northern California to British Columbia; sea surface temperature in coastal waters is expected to rise about 2.7 degrees F. by the 2040s.

In San Francisco last week, US District Judge Oliver Wanger cited global warming as one reason he rejected a state plan for pumping water from the San Francisco Bay Delta on grounds that it would harm protected salmon. Among other things, Judge Wanger wrote, there was a "total failure to address, adequately explain, and analyze the effects of global climate change on the species."

A major part of the problem, critics of current water-management practices say, is the large amount of delta water diverted south for agriculture and municipal purposes. "This ruling makes it clear that there are biological limits to the amount of water we can export south," says Mike Sherwood, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the coalition of fishing and conservation groups that filed suit. The recent cancellation of the salmon fishing season along the coast of California and Oregon is the most immediate challenge, which is why the governors are seeking federal help.

"This is a disaster for West Coast salmon fisheries, under any standard," says Don Hansen, who chairs the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional fishery management councils established by Congress in 1976. "There will be a huge impact on the people who fish for a living, those who eat wild-caught king salmon, those who enjoy recreational fishing, and the businesses and coastal communities dependent on these fisheries."

The situation is grim for salmon, but not without the possibility of resolution. "These salmon are recoverable if we make smart choices and make them soon," says Todd True, another Earthjustice attorney. "The science tells us it's not hopeless, but it is increasingly urgent to pay attention and change the way we're managing these three rivers so all people can enjoy salmon again."

Shrinking Glaciers and Rising Seas Affect Food and Security

It's becoming clear now that climate change may be altering the way people and governments think about water.

The UN reported that the world's glaciers are melting at "an alarming rate." Like reservoirs, glaciers store water and then release it at predictable rates, around which humans have formed communities and built economies. Agency France-Presse, the French news service, quotes Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, as saying:

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Wounded Troops Overwhelming Healthcare System

Six years into the "global war on terror," the Bush administration, Congress, and federal agencies are scrambling to address the health needs of battlefield veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Bush acknowledges that the current means of caring for wounded and traumatized vets is "an antiquated system that needs to be changed." A bipartisan commission says the need for fundamental improvements in care management and the disability system "requires a sense of urgency and strong leadership."

As a result, Mr. Bush has proposed administrative action and legislation that would streamline the system for providing postwar medical services and disability compensation to wounded veterans and their families.

The numbers are daunting:

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The Environmental Weight of 300 Million Americans

PORTLAND, ORE. -- A flotilla of 100 fishing boats, rafts, and kayaks crossed the Willamette River to a downtown park in Portland, Ore., the other evening to rally for the Pacific Northwest's reigning icon: wild salmon, now plummeting toward extinction due to development across much of the Columbia River basin.

It was a typical event for a "green" city that has one of the best records in the United States for recycling, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, using alternative energy, and providing public transportation and bike paths.

But Portland's amenities -- its natural setting along the Willamette River and its youthful techie vibe -- are drawing a surge of new people, threatening to erode the very qualities that drew people here in the first place. As the US approaches 300 million people, that's the story of the nation as well.

In many ways, Americans have mitigated the impact of their increasing presence on the land. Since reaching the 200 million mark back in 1967, they have cut emissions of major air pollutants, banned certain harmful pesticides, and overseen the rebound of several endangered species. Despite using more resources and creating more waste, they've become more energy efficient.

The danger, experts say, is that the US may simply have postponed the day of reckoning. Major environmental problems remain, and some are getting worse -- all of them in one way or another connected to US population growth, which is expected to hit 400 million around midcentury. Some experts put the average American's "ecological footprint" -- the amount of land and water needed to support an individual and absorb his or her waste -- at 24 acres. By that calculation, the long-term "carrying capacity" of the US would sustain less than half of the nation's current population.

"The US is the only industrialized nation in the world experiencing significant population growth," says Vicky Markham, of the Center for Environment and Population, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization in New Canaan, Conn. "That, combined with America's high rates of resource consumption, results in the largest ... environmental impact [of any nation] in the world." The boomer challenge

The changing nature of the population also has environmental consequences.

"Today's baby boomers -- 26 percent of the population -- are the largest, wealthiest, highest resource-consuming of that age group ever in the nation's history, and they have unprecedented environmental impact," says Ms. Markham.

The generation's preference for bigger houses and bigger cars -- and the proliferation of them -- are gobbling up more resources and creating more pollution, according to a recent study by the Center for Environment and Population. For example:

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Lessons of Vietnam Linger

Thirty years ago, Paul Galanti and Fred Branfman held opposite views of the Vietnam War. They still do.

Mr. Galanti, a former Navy pilot shot down and held in North Vietnamese prisons for nearly seven years, can barely bring himself to utter the names "Jane Fonda" and "John Kerry." "Actresses and naval officers [who] aided and abetted the enemy with impunity," he calls them.

Mr. Branfman, the investigative writer who detailed the bombing of civilians in Southeast Asia, still thinks there ought to be Nuremberg-type trials of U.S. leaders.

Three decades after the last U.S. troops left what was then South Vietnam, the 10-year conflict that included Laos and Cambodia remains at once a lesson, a caution, and for some, a specter.

The war -- the way it was conducted and its aftermath -- shaped a generation of military officers. It influenced public attitudes toward military service and the use of force to achieve foreign policy goals. And, as the most recent presidential election showed, it continues to singe U.S. politics.

Anybody younger than about 45 today had no direct connection to the Vietnam War -- either as combatants, potential draftees, or protesters. Forty percent of Americans weren't even born yet when the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the U.S. embassy in what was then Saigon.

Still, many Americans in their 30s or 40s (or even younger) still feel the war's effects as children of one of the more than 58,000 US soldiers killed in Vietnam or of the thousands more vets diagnosed with ailments related to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange or with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"There's little question that the average American considers the Vietnam War to have been a mistake," writes Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. "In fact, a majority of the public began to think the war was a mistake in the summer of 1968 as the war was still raging, and have continued to think so across 12 separate polls conducted since that point. Most recently, in November 2000, 68 percent said that it was a mistake, while 24 percent said that it was not."

Lessons of Caution

The war also brought a new sense of caution to American military planners -- an awareness that in difficult terrain U.S. forces could be stymied by a militarily inferior but determined foe. To some extent, those lessons color American attitudes toward the use of military force to this day.

While the war in Iraq has not seen nearly the level of protests that Vietnam did, public support remains tenuous. Asked if "it was worth going to war in Iraq," the latest Gallup poll finds 45 percent saying "yes" and 53 percent answering "no." Put another way, 46 percent of those polled say sending U.S. troops to Iraq was "a mistake."

What does this bode for President Bush? He's now running at his lowest approval rate (45 percent) yet, according to Gallup. But that's still higher than the low points of most postwar presidents, and significantly higher than Harry Truman's low point during the Korean War (23 percent) or Lyndon Johnson's low point during Vietnam (35 percent).

Still, this public uneasiness about Iraq -- where insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent days -- is not reflected in any official disinclination to make use of the U.S. military abroad. "The U.S. has become increasingly uninhibited about the use of force," says John Pike, a national security analyst with "Ever since we stopped worrying about the Fulda Gap [the point along the East-West German border where thousands of Warsaw Pact tanks supposedly would race through when World War III started], we have become quite creative in finding problems that have military solutions."

"Our legions have been on the march almost continuously since 1989, with no end in sight," says Mr. Pike, referring to such places as Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Liberia, Iraq, and Kosovo.

Projecting such post-cold-war U.S. military actions into the future -- particularly on the scale of Vietnam or Iraq -- is another matter. Absent North Korea invading South Korea, or a terrorist attack in the U.S. on the scale of Sept. 11, "U.S. public opinion will not accept an Indochina-size war under any circumstances I can think of," says Fred Branfman. "This is the enduring legacy of Vietnam in the 21st century as I see it," he says.

A New Strategic Landscape

As the lone military superpower, the U.S. today does appear freer to do what it wants to. When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam it faced other major military threats -- mainly Warsaw Pact conventional forces in central Europe and a huge arsenal of nuclear-tipped Soviet missiles. Today, old Warsaw Pact members are joining NATO and the EU, and Russian missiles are off their hair trigger.

Yet constraints remain.

There's no military draft, for example, to fill recruiting gaps -- which have become considerable since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's also a real-time media and electronic communication regime that's more universally accessible to a skeptical public and soldiers in the field.

It was a year before a lone soldier blew the whistle on the massacre of more than 300 Vietnamese civilians by U.S. Army soldiers at My Lai in 1968 and many more months before it became public. Today, thousands of soldiers in Iraq -- equipped with digital cameras, cell phones, and laptop computers -- have become effective if sometimes inadvertent journalists, letting the world know with a couple of key strokes not only the gritty details of day-to-day combat but also about such controversial episodes as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses.

Today's U.S. military, though smaller than during the Vietnam War or cold war years that followed, in many ways is more powerful because of its high-tech weaponry. But that can be a constraint as well, says defense and foreign policy analyst Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., because a smaller military can be in fewer places at the same time.

"To provide a military presence, do peacekeeping or peacemaking, or to fight unsophisticated guerrilla opponents, you don't need sophisticated weapons as much as you need lots of boots on the ground -- one of the problems in Iraq," says Dr. Eland.

Another key difference from 30 years ago, says LeRoy Woodson, editor of, is the nexus between the global economy and the geopolitics of nascent nationalist countries like China or countries like Israel selling advanced weapons technology to other countries.

The result, he says, is a "cultural clash between the industrialized nations with declining birthrates and developing nations that are producing more children than their infrastructures can sustain." In other words, not only is economic globalization shifting the world's balance of military power in the post-Vietnam era, it is becoming the impetus to cross-border population shifts. Or as Mr. Woodson puts it, "The 747 may eventually replace the AK-47 as the object of choice to deal with revolution and injustice."

On April 30, 1975, U.S. involvement in what Vietnamese called "the American War" ended symbolically when that last helicopter departed what now is called Ho Chi Minh City, panicked Vietnamese dangling from the skids. In an historical coincidence, it was exactly 30 years before that (April 30, 1945), that Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker, ending World War II in Europe.

Such linking of wars and generations can be highly personal for many Americans.

Among the 58,245 names of those inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington are some whose fathers had been killed in World War II. Today, the children of Vietnam veterans are serving in Iraq. Last weekend, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron Kent of Portland, Ore., a medical corpsman serving with the 2nd Marine Division, was killed when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb near Fallujah. His father, Gary Kent, had been a soldier in Vietnam.

An Officer and a Blogger

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 considerable threat.

"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 other day."

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 unreliable.

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 implications.

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 U.S. Military Academy at West Point calls it a "double-edged sword."

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."

This democratization of communication has led junior officers -- lieutenants leading platoons and captains commanding companies of soldiers -- to set up their own limited-access blogs. They exchange directly the things they're learning in Iraq that could save someone's life tomorrow without waiting for formal Pentagon analysis. This can range from the mundane to the strategic, everything from dealing with sullen subordinates to the best ways to avoid roadside bombs to grief counseling.

On the public page of, the founders of the web site state simply: "We want real-world, practical, ready-to-apply stuff."

While the Army and the other services have come to see the usefulness of such online activities, they don't necessarily control them. "The internet definitely has allowed ordinary troops to by-pass the brass and the public affairs flaks," says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington.

But not in all cases.

Controlling the 'message'

Earlier this year, the Army ordered Maj. Michael Cohen, a doctor with a combat support hospital unit near Mosul, to pull the plug on his blog. Maj. Cohen had been the chief emergency room physician when a suicide bomber struck a U.S. military mess hall four days before Christmas, killing 22 people and injuring many more.

It was one of the deadliest attacks on American troops since the war began, and on his website Dr. Cohen wrote a straight-forward, 1,900-word report of that day. Although he praised his colleagues' team work and overall job performance as "second to none," he did not spare the details.

Not long after that, he wrote his last blog post: "Levels above me have ordered, yes ORDERED, me to shut down this web site," he wrote. "They cite that the information contained in these pages violates several Army Regulations. I certainly disagree with this. However, I have made a decision to turn off the site."

The military had its own rationale in closing the site. News reports at the time quoted coalition spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Boylan as saying, "Sometimes a blog might contain subtle nuances from which you can put together a complete picture of our operations, which insurgents can use to attack us."

Another potential is the impact of bad news from home, ranging from a plumbing emergency to a sick child to a "Dear John" letter. This has always been true in wartime. But while letters can be more carefully written and slept on before being sent, e-mail often tends to be fired off immediately, when emotions are high.

Reacting to instant information

"The danger is that the soldier becomes distracted worrying about something back home and makes a mistake that puts his life or the lives of his companions at additional risk," says Col. Smith.

That concern can work in the other direction as well, especially with the many web sites in cyberspace that can paint a dire picture in Iraq -- whether true or not.

(For example, this reporter received an e-mail from the young wife of a marine in Iraq. She'd come across a web site reporting the recent capture and execution of 15 American troops. "Maybe you can let me know if you have heard anything like this," she said in an e-mail. "I just wish I didn't stumble across the web site, because it makes me all nervous and paranoid. I really need to stop reading this stuff!")

Not all GI blogs are posted by men. "Grey Eagle," the writer of "" describes herself as a 35-year-old wife, the mother of two teenage sons, and a combat medic with the 101st Airborne Division and about to deploy to Iraq. "Sgt. Lizzie's" blog, called "Life in this Girl's Army," looks for the humor in everything -- even having to work at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Many soldiers also find blogging a useful way to help deal with reorientation to civilian life in the United States -- what Vietnam vets called being "back in the world."

Chris Missick, an Army Reserve sergeant, recently finished a year's tour of duty in Iraq, during which time he kept up his web site "A Line in the Sand."

"After I returned home, everything I did felt like a dream," he wrote the other day. "I would visit my favorite Mexican food restaurant here in Southern California and swear I was in a dream. Sitting in the car with my family felt like something I would soon wake up from as well. When the moments did feel like I was actually experiencing them, there was this nearly oppressive sensation that it would all be over soon ... and I would once again be boarding a plane in my DCU's [Desert Camouflage Uniform]."

At other times, he wrote, "In some ways, the process of reintegration into the life you left behind is more difficult than getting used to being in theater," wrote Sgt. Missick. "I can say without hesitation though that I am enjoying every minute of this life in ways I had never imagined."

"Be sure to check back," he concluded. "I have been asked to speak with a classroom of 2nd Graders in the Los Angeles area and plan on sharing the details."

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Griping among the troops is as old as armed conflict, illustrated most memorably by cartoonist Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" characters during World War II. But something more than that is happening now in Iraq with what appears to be growing resistance from the troops.

Evidence includes numbers of deserters (reportedly in the thousands), resignations of reserve officers, lawsuits by those whose duty period has been involuntarily extended, and a refusal to go on dangerous missions without proper equipment. There's also been a willingness at grunt level to publicly challenge the Pentagon — as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld found out recently in a trip to the war zone, where he got an earful about unarmored humvees.

While some don't see much defiance — and, in fact, have been surprised by the depth of solidarity — others see an unusual amount of tension surfacing for an all-volunteer military force.

"What is driving the resistance is the same thing that drove it during Vietnam — a lack of trust in the civilian leadership and a sense that the uniformed leaders are not standing up for the forces," says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington. Colonel Smith doesn't expect the kind of "fragging" incidents that occurred in Vietnam where soldiers attacked their own officers. "This force is too professional," he says. "But the lack of trust and the inequity of the tours will very likely be reflected in the numbers of Guard and reservists who vote no-confidence with their feet."

That already appears to be happening. The Army National Guard is short 5,000 new citizen-soldiers.

"Although generally successful in overall mission numbers, we continue to experience difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified individuals in certain critical wartime specialties," Army Reserve chief Lt. Gen. James Helmly told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year.

The number of officers wanting to resign from the Army Reserve has jumped as well. And according to a recent report on CBS's "60 Minutes," the Defense Department acknowledges that more than 5,500 service personnel have deserted since the Iraq war began.

While the complaints and the resistance to following some military policies may pattern earlier conflicts, the fighting in Iraq has a unique context, experts say.

It's the first large-scale 21st-century conflict against an aggressive insurgency, causing thousands of US casualties; the first war in more than a generation in which homeland security and the threat of domestic terror attack seem so real; the first "semi-draft," with the Guard/reserve component approaching 50 percent of combat and combat support troops (and already taking more casualties than they did in Vietnam); and it's the first time in many years that soldiers have been ordered to serve beyond their commitments.

Legal challenges to military authority appear to be increasing as well, with more use of civilian attorneys than was seen in Vietnam. "It's very much in evidence," says Eugene Fidell, a former military lawyer who heads the National Institute of Military Justice. Mr. Fidell just finished teaching the first course on military issues at Harvard Law School since 1970.

All this is happening in an age when CNN brings live war coverage to the trenches and barracks, when troops are more aware of the successes and debacles on the battlefield than ever before. At the same time, reporters embedded with combat units, as well as e-mail and Internet access, make it easier for families and others back home to be heard by the soldiers — and for the soldiers to complain to them. This is especially true, perhaps, of citizen-soldiers, who are not only older than the average GI but more used to speaking out.

Since the fighting began in Iraq, the number of Guard and reserve troops on active duty has more than doubled. Critics say this is an indication that US forces are stretched too thin. One such critic is Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, a supporter of the war who declared this week that he had "no confidence" in Secretary Rumsfeld.

At this point, much of the data is scattered and anecdotal, like the doubling of desertions at the Army's Fort Bragg in North Carolina last year to about 200. It may be too early to draw exact comparisons with earlier wars, experts agree.

But they also note a growing trend for GIs to speak out and to find leverage points to protect their interests — including personal safety. "I am amazed that it is not greater," says retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner. "The war continues to go badly. Their equipment is in bad shape. Supply problems continue. Tours are extended. Many are on a second or third deployment to a combat zone. I would expect a louder voice."

A key issue for war planners is whether any of this adversely effects individual morale and unit performance. That remains an open question, particularly as the war goes on and its original rationale (weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda) fades.

"Soldiers always gripe, and often with good reason," says Loren Thompson, head of security studies at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "But I don't see much evidence that the enemy in Iraq is eroding the will of US forces to fight. As long as US forces are well led, the gripes aren't likely to lead to more serious problems."

Others aren't so sure.

"When you are risking your life on the battlefield, the importance of knowing why you are doing so cannot be underestimated," says Ivan Eland, national security analyst at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. "If soldiers don't know why they are fighting there or believe they've been hoodwinked, we may see the same phenomenon happen in Iraq as occurred in Vietnam."