As I watch news reports from the war in Iraq, I’m reminded of the computer games popular during the past decade and a half. For many U.S. troops, the house-to-house combat in which they are engaged was foreshadowed in “Half Life,” “Wolfenstein,” “Soldier of Fortune,” and countless other best selling first person shooter games from their childhood years. Kick down the door; draw one’s gun, get ready to waste whatever leaps out from the shadows; on to the next room, next house -- Boom! Boom! Boom! BOOM! (We still play these games for hours on end.)

Does this mortal combat appear to today’s soldiers as something long promised, an apotheosis, the fulfillment of the violence routinely celebrated in our culture? Or is there enough humanity in them to ponder the nature of this carnage and its meaning? Eventually, of course, many of them will be troubled by such reflections. But for now they behave like the digital robots they embraced as children.