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The pattern of discontent in US ranks

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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.

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