We act out fantasies as children about the glory of war that we garner from video games, TV and movies we see in our youth. Too many of us never really learn that the fantasy doesn’t match the reality.
Which one will play the suicide bomber?
If you haven’t caught it yet, NBC has started airing it’s new reality TV show “Stars Earn Stripes”. It consists of would-be and has-been celebrities who are paired up with “military and law enforcement veterans” who bring to TV a farce they attempt to justify by saying it honors “the individuals that have sacrificed so much for all of us”, or so says co-host, Former NATO commander General Wesley Clark. This “honor” is simply an honoraria in the amount of $100,000 that the C-class celebrities get to donate to the military-related charity of their choice. I’m sure they are all sufficiently rewarded for their own efforts, along with the opportunity of displaying some ego-centered moxie for viewers. Then of course there are the millions NBC will make from its commercial advertisers.
I have seen and felt the death and destruction of war in Vietnam and I am sickened at the thought that celebrities from TV and sports venues can presume to honor combat veterans by participating in choreographed situations that supposedly simulate real life missions. I am equally saddened that those military personnel who have shared my war time experiences, who were paired up with these actors, are part of a facade that continues to sell war to a naive public who also have no deep understanding about the devastating nature of war.
If anyone really wants to honor those who “sacrifice so much for all of us” they can begin with opposing the continued build up of the military-industrial complex in this country that makes millions for the corporate war profiteers while those sent to the slaughter get a ceremonial flag at their funeral or an artificial body part to replace the one that the real bullets and explosives of war created a need for.
It’s unsettling for me to watch and listen to TV personality and former Dancing With The Stars co-host Samantha Harris, decked out in fashionable mauve denim khakis, a blue tank top and black mud boots, as she barks out instructions in drill sergeant fashion to the participants and later tell two of the celebrities about what they going to be facing
“You’re about to experience first hand live fire during a mission and experience what these gentlemen do every single day. How does that make you feel?”, she asks boxer Laila Ali and former TV superman Dean Cain Surely the military experts who are assigned to Ali and Cain have to be chuckling under their breath about how there is any similarity to what is being played out for the cameras here and what they have undergone while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What you will see I’m sure in NBC’s latest commercial venture is an assortment of camera angles that will repeat over and over the awesome display of explosives and yelling screaming participants as noisy helicopters and heavy equipment inundate the sound system to replicate real battlefield scenes. There may be real panic on the players faces as they come at safely protected distances from the destructive forces of mortars, napalm, Semtex and C4 explosives.
The celebrity heros have to face the terrorizing threat from an empty guard tower and paper target gunmen
What they and the rest of the viewing audience won’t see is the awful destruction that occurs when weapons of war make contact with real people and the communities they live in. The graphic displays we see in modern cinema of bodies exploding are horrifying but we know in reality that people don’t really die from these action scenes. We are not traumatized from stunts where no one really gets hurt and where life resumes to normal when filming ends.
Even the news clips we may see on network television of bodies and injured people from war’s devastation are but distant and brief visuals that fade rapidly when the commercial breaks quickly change our focus to the latest drug remedy for our pathetic conditions or remind us that its time to buy the back-to-school supplies and fashion for kids whose greatest trauma experience is losing power to their I-pads.
Real victims of war
Those “true heroes” that NBC claims are at the heart of their televised program are victims of murders and mutilations that they are not only recipients of but who have, under fire or duress, exacted on innocent civilians, many of them women and children. Very few of these men and women walk away and erase the memory of this insane and inhumane life they have lived through. In fact, it was just revealed today that “thirty-eight soldiers killed themselves in July, the worst month for suicides since the Army began releasing figures in 2009, according to Pentagon officials.” Only the most pathological individual who has experienced this horror would feel very little lasting impact after watching their buddies head blown off from a grenade launcher round or realize the precision air strike from a Black Hawk helicopter had just wiped out a classroom full of kids.
The civilian hawks who tout these wars and the entrepreneurs who promote video games of war carnage share the mentality of the producers who create the likes of something called “Stars Earn Stripes”. They hold unrealistically shallow views of war’s “glory” because they have to do something to allow for the fact that they were never a part of the real thing, by fate or choice. Ticker tape parades and awarding medals for bravery are well-intentioned but fail to address the real needs of men and women who have made great sacrifices that they will be expected to endure for the rest of their lives; that is for those lucky enough to make it back home.
Now I’m not saying that General Clark and the real military and law enforcement players in this TV “reality” show don’t feel, somewhere in their hearts, that this serves a higher good for the men and women who serve. And in some respects, when that $100,000 check comes into play for combat veterans who would be without resources to provide for their needs that resulted from their sacrifices, that money will serve a real need.
But underlying all of this is the cavalier approach by commercial interests to expose viewers to this seriously flawed view of war. There is and always will be far more losers than winners when the awesome power of war machines are let loose on defenseless civilians. Those service personnel who engaged in combat and survived it are likely to develop emotional traumas that may well have latent effects on them and their family’s lives and could have social and economic consequences that affect us as a nation for years to come.
When fantasy imitates reality
Those too far removed from this however see war as something unwanted but inevitable, so why not profit from it. Perhaps the people at NBC think it is better to exploit the appeal some have for pyrotechnics by wrapping it up in the flag and enact some faux military bravado than spending their vast fortune on ways to ameliorate the causes of war. They are after all an entertainment industry and I’m sure the P.T. Barnum mindset that says “give them want they want” allows them to overlook that such exploitation will only enable future generations to disregard the awful destruction we have now incorporated into our world view as “leaders of the free world”.