By Ernie Pyle

DESERT CAMP, Kuwait—It's odd being here. War always catches you off guard, but this one is especially strange for me. After all, I died 58 years ago.

The Defense Department decided to give journalists what it calls "long-term, minimally restrictive access" to the war story, by "embedding" them with the troops here. This reminds some people of my situation back in World War II, though I'm not sure why. In that war, there were a million ways to find good material, but asking a GI if I could embed myself with him definitely wasn't one of them.

Anyway, I got called up again. They needed a role model, and the next thing I know I'm over here and everyone wants a piece of me. They say that by the time the fighting begins—if it begins—more than 500 journalists will be embedded. It already feels like 5,000, and they're all chanting my name.

Ernie Pyle, Ernie Pyle. Everyone wants me. "We're going back to the GI Joe, Ernie Pyle style of war coverage, bringing the scene home from the perspective of the fighting men and women in uniform," a TV producer told Newsweek magazine. An embedded New York Times-man wrote that many of his colleagues speak of "the vaunted writings of Ernie Pyle, the World War II correspondent whose dispatches from Normandy, Sicily, Okinawa, and Tunisia have become legendary." The San Jose Mercury News found a reporter from Texas who made no bones about it: "Sig Christenson wants to be the next Ernie Pyle, the legendary reporter who chronicled World War II by focusing on the experiences of typical soldiers that he lived with and accompanied into battle."

It's all flattering, and it's nice to know my work has held up. But to be honest, I'm not sure I'd recommend being me, not now, not in this war. The first problem you face is competition. My work took off in such a big way—it appeared in hundreds of newspapers, landed me on the cover of Time, turned me into a real folk hero—because it was different. There weren't 499 other Ernie Pyles running around doing the same thing I was doing. I've been watching the would-be Ernie Pyle stories start to emerge these last few weeks, and I've got to tell you, they're all starting to run together. How many clever, self-deprecating memoirs of life at journalist boot camp can the market bear? And the shooting hasn't even started.

Once it does, it would be nice if the embeds, as they're called, were to have the same kind of freedom I had, to move around and find their own stories, and let the stories find them. If you look back at my work, you'll see it relies heavily on journalistic autonomy, serendipity, informality. I had censors to contend with, but only when I was done writing. Otherwise, I had enormous freedom. To be embedded somewhere—stuck in one unit where you can be monitored and controlled—was my worst nightmare.

If I'd been operating under the nine pages of single-spaced "guidance, policies, and procedures on embedding" issued by the secretary of Defense, I'm not sure I would have been able to produce a lot of my best stuff. The nine paragraphs of rules on covering battlefield casualties are so detailed and insert so many layers of bureaucracy into the reporting, it's going to be awfully tough to produce pieces like the one I filed on January 10, 1944, about the death of Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas:

"Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the captain's hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there. Finally he put the hand down. He reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone."

Maybe we'll be lucky and there won't be any scenes like that in this war. But even if we're unlucky, I'm not sure you'll see scenes like that in the coverage, even from non-embedded journalists. War is different today, and so are the media. The troops are not conscripts, but savvy professional warriors. They understand the news and how to play the media game. They're media people themselves, in a way, monitoring the news from the middle of the desert, sending back e-mails so sophisticated some could be published in the newspaper, and occasionally are.

My franchise was speaking for Everyman, but Everyman now speaks for himself. Turn on a cable-news camera in the vicinity of a bunch of young American soldiers and watch what happens. It's like they've all been to anchorperson school.

As the troops have become more and more like media people, the media people have become less and less like troops. I always made liberal use of the first-person plural. The troops were "our men" fighting "our war," a war I hoped "we" would win.

You won't see many American reporters writing that way about a new Iraq war. They may be embedded in body, but in spirit they are beings apart, skeptical, suspicious, and relatively cool to patriotism. My name is everywhere right now, but if you're looking for another Ernie Pyle, I'm afraid you've got the wrong war.