“See Them Burn! Hear Them Scream!”
The Most Sickening TV Show in History
by JOHN ESKOW
Surely we have reached some hideous moral low—if only a temporary one—when a TV “reality” show like NBC’s “Stars Earn Stripes” can reduce the blood-soaked, brain-spattered canvas of war to a feel-good athletic competition between washed-up actors, ex-jocks, and Todd Palin.
The show–which features skier Picabo Street, actor Dean Cain, and a host of other musclebound nonentities—premiered last night. Before it even aired, it was reviled by Desmond Tutu and other bishops, which actually got me curious enough to tune in: I mean, what other cheesy reality show has been slammed by a Nobel Prize winner?
It was hosted by Wesley Clark—to his eternal shame. After this debacle, I would imagine that he is no longer Michael Moore’s choice for President.
War’s had a grip on me recently, for two reasons. For one, I’m amazed by liberals’ silence about the ongoing slaughter conducted by their own favorite Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama. For another, this month marks the 150th anniversary of the first Battle of Richmond, in which my great-grandfather and namesake was grievously wounded and left for dead.
My full name is John Temple Eskow, and my forebear–Indiana farmer John Temple–was just one of 4,000 Union casualties in the battle, which is considered one of the biggest Confederate routs of the war. As it happens, I still possess my great-grandfather’s Union Army dogtags, his discharge papers, even the misshapen bullet that a battlefield medic dug out of his side. I keep these heirlooms of pain in a wooden cabinet near the TV, so that each time I looked up to watch Nick Lachey or Laila Ali pretending to be real-deal American soldiers–look at us jump from a helicopter! look at us wriggle in mud!–the tokens of my ancestor’s suffering were also in view.
John Temple, a young Indiana farmer, was so badly wounded that his regiment-mates were sure he’d die. In flight from the Confederates, they were forced to leave him alone in an abandoned one-room schoolhouse, delerious and hemmoraging. After a full day, he was overheard moaning by some other retreating troops; they carried him to a tributary of the Ohio River and hid him among bales of hay on a small barge floating north.
Several weeks later, when he finally staggered back to the farmhouse door in Crawfordsville, he’d become so gaunt, and looked so much older, that his wife had no idea who he was.
But gee, Laila Ali looks cute blowing up an empty guardhouse!
John Temple’s son–my grandfather, also named John–was a doughboy in World War I, and his lungs were scarred by mustard gas, so that every single breath he took, for eighty more years, tasted of death.
And his son, also named John Temple–the one who taught my mother about art and poetry–wanted to defy family tradition by becoming a conscientious objector in World War II, volunteering instead to drive an ambulance on the battlefield. But he relented under my grandfather’s pressure, and became an Army pilot. His plane was sabotaged in an airfield in the Phillipines, and crashed in the ocean shortly after takeoff. His body was never recovered; my mother’s heart never recovered, either. His personal effects were not returned by the Army until 1964. When they arrived, my mother couldn’t bear to open the trunk; she asked me to do it instead. Inside the weatherbeaten trunk was his diary, and in the diary I followed the entries for 1944 as he wrote about his growing infatuation with a young Filipino girl on the base…and how he was tentatively, longingly, hoping to make love to her. And then I realized that he was still a virgin. I tried to read on, past this aching expression of young romance, but there were only empty blue pages…I had read up to the night before his death.
But look! Dean Cain is shooting at a slowly-moving target!
One of the “technical advisors” on the show tries to fake aw-shucks modesty as he describes himself as “the sniper with the most confirmed kills” in US military history. Someone should tell him that one day he may yearn to surrender that title. Because even the greatest war hero in my family–my uncle James Temple, who received medals and acclaim for safely landing a bomber full of explosives with his landing-gear locked–spent his last years tormented by constant nightmares. “I see the Japanese soldiers–and just regular people–running on the hills under my plane…I drop the explosives on them…I see them burn..I hear their screams.”
But Wesley Clark tells the celebrities: great job!
John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
ADDENDUM— An Alert from RootsAction.org
NBC Invents War-o-tainment
Demand a more accurate picture of war by signing the petition to NBC below.
NBC has created an entertainment show that breaks new ground. “Stars Earn Stripes” is co-hosted by retired U.S. general Wesley Clark. NBC promoted the show during its Summer Olympics telecast as the next big sporting event. But the sport it’s exhibiting is war.
On “Stars Earn Stripes,” celebrities pair-up with members of the U.S. military to compete at war-like tasks, including “long-range weapons fire.” Only there isn’t any of the killing or dying.
Our wars kill huge numbers of people, primarily civilians, and often children and the elderly. NBC is not showing this reality on its war-o-tainment show any more than on its news programs. Other nations’ media show the face of war, giving people a very different view of war-making.
In the United States, our tax dollars are spent by the billions each year marketing the idea that war is a sport and associating the military with sporting events. Media companies like NBC are complicit in the propaganda.
While 57% of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, weapons makers can’t seem to get enough of our tax dollars. In the spirit of transferring veterans’ care to the realm of private charity, “Stars Earn Stripes” will give prize money each week to “military-based charities” in order to “send a message.” We have our own message that we will be delivering to NBC: Don’t lie to us.
One of NBC’s corporate parents, General Electric, takes war very seriously, but not as human tragedy — rather, as financial profit. (GE is a big weapons manufacturer.) A retired general hosting a war-o-tainment show is another step in the normalization of permanent war.
Please sign this short petition to NBC (how anyone can address these bastards as “Dear NBC” is hard to stomach)
Your entertainment show “Stars Earn Stripes” treats war as sport. This does us all a disservice. We ask that you air an in-depth segment showing the reality of civilian victims of recent U.S. wars, on any program, any time in the coming months. (StarsEarnStripes.org has provided a few resources to help you with your research.)
During the Olympics, touted as a time for comity and peace among nations, millions first learned that NBC would be premiering a new “reality” TV show. The commercials announcing “Stars Earn Stripes” were shown seemingly endlessly throughout the athletic competition, noting that its premier would be Monday, August 13, following the end of the Olympic games.
That might seem innocuous since spectacular, high budget sporting events of all types are regular venues for airing new products, televisions shows and movies. But “Stars Earn Stripes” is not just another reality show. Hosted by retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the program pairs minor celebrities with US military personnel and puts them through simulated military training, including some live fire drills and helicopter drops. The official NBC website for the show touts “the fast-paced competition” as “pay[ing] homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.”
It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Military training is not to be compared, subtly or otherwise, with athletic competition by showing commercials throughout the Olympics. Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.
Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People—military and civilians—die in ways that are anything but entertaining. Communities and societies are ripped apart in armed conflict and the aftermath can be as deadly as the war itself as simmering animosities are unleashed in horrific spirals of violence. War, whether relatively short-lived or going on for decades as in too many parts of the world, leaves deep scars that can take generations to overcome – if ever.
Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.
The long history of collaboration between militaries and civilian media and entertainment—and not just in the United States—appears to be getting murkier and in many ways more threatening to efforts to resolve our common problems through nonviolent means. Active-duty soldiers already perform in Hollywood movies, “embedded” media ride with soldier in combat situations, and now NBC is working with the military to attempt to turn deadly military training into a sanitized “reality” TV show that reveals absolutely nothing of the reality of being a soldier in war or the consequences of war. What is next?
As people who have seen too many faces of armed conflict and violence and who have worked for decades to try to stop the seemingly unending march toward the increased militarization of societies and the desensitization of people to the realities and consequences of war, we add our voices and our support to those protesting “Stars Earn Stripes.” We too call upon NBC stop airing this program that pays homage to no one, and is a massive disservice to those who live and die in armed conflict and suffer its consequences long after the guns of war fall silent.
Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize, 1984
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize, 1977
Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize, 2003
President José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize, 1996
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize, 1980
President Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Peace Prize, 1987
Rigoberta Menchú Tum, 1992
Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1977
Let’s keep this award-winning site going!
|Yes, audiences applaud us. But do you?If yes, then buy us a beer. The wingnuts are falling over each other to make donations…to their causes. We, on the other hand, take our left media—the only media that speak for us— for granted. Don’t join that parade, and give today. Every dollar counts.
|Use the DONATE button below or on the sidebar. And do the right thing. Even once a year.|
Use PayPal via the button below.