Because of TV and movies, more Americans actually spend much of their time “in the military” whether they know it or not.
Recently I have been corresponding with a few friends who seem to have come to some of the same conclusions about American society that I have: Simply put, America and Americans are very militaristic.
Nonsense! You say? I don’t think so. I have lived in Japan for nearly 20 years now and have never once seen a TV commercial or heard a radio commercial that promoted joining the military. Perhaps Japan is not “normal.” No Japanese has died in combat in a foreign country for 60 years. I guess, compared to the USA, that’s not normal. I asked my wife about this and she told me that it was against the law in Japan for the military to advertise on TV, radio, or newspapers and magazines. (Kind of like how in America it’s illegal to broadcast cigarette commercials cigarettes will kill you!) Perhaps that’s all going to change someday soon considering that the current Prime Minister of Japan is dead-set on breaking Japanese law and sending Japanese troops to Iraq.
A year or two ago, I was talking to another American friend at work. He is black. I mention this because I have found that many black Americans I have met have a much better understanding of the social problems in America than Caucasians do. I suppose, when you consider the circumstances, that is obvious; of course a minority person would have a deeper understanding of these types of issues than middle class white America.
It’s kind of like the time I met a Japanese man who once told me that there was no racism in Japan. He said; “I have lived in Japan all my life and have never been discriminated against even once.” I’m not making this up. He was dead serious. I’m sure if he were a Korean born in Japan, he wouldn’t think so.
My black friend asked me why I was so interested in World War II. I had always thought that guys my age, born in the mid-late 1950’s, were all fascinated by the Second World War. And I thought that the rationale for this was that war ended just ten or twelve years before we were born. But I am now questioning my own beliefs. I grew up in the “Golden” sixties. It was hard to imagine all the hell that broke loose just a decade before I was born.
This morning, my daughter was watching some movie on satellite TV. It was an American movie starring Danny DeVito. I didn’t pay much attention to it, but, DeVito played the part of some teacher for a group of soldiers. I gather he was trying to teach them “humanity” while staying in top fighting shape. “Typical American war movie,” I thought.
I’ve also noticed on satellite TV from America recently, a lot of TV shows about the US military and the fantastic super-duper weaponry the USA possesses. And all of the destructive power that weaponry has.
Perhaps it is just because of the war in Iraq that I have come to be more aware of this “military broadcasting," but then I thought about it for a while….
Right after the 9-11 incident I noticed that all the American baseball teams started having US flags on their uniforms as a sort of “show of solidarity." Sorry to seem cynical, but I think that it was just another good way to cash in on other people’s misery.
One of my friends tells me that in America now, even dog food cans have the American flag on them. What utter and complete non-sense! What utter and complete blatant propaganda! Joseph Goebbels would have been proud! “Show your neighbors and the world that terrorists will never destroy the Homeland spirit by feeding your dog Homeland made dog food!” I’d hate to hear what the neighbors are whispering about you if you were seen buying foreign dog food for your stupid mutt. God forbid that your dog has a palate for French Cuisine!
Has it always been this way? Has America always been so paranoid; so ignorant of how they are being manipulated by the Military-Industrial complex? And what does the Military-Industrial complex have to do with your dog’s diet?
Laugh now. But bear with me while I take you on a little trip down memory lane; a trip through some of the famous TV shows and movies that I (and perhaps you too?) have fond childhood memories of. I’m going to go through some really famous ones and you tell me what they all have in common….
The Phil Silvers Show (also affectionately known as Sgt. Bilko)
Sgt. Bilko was played by a very famous TV comedian named Phil Silvers. This show ran from 1955 to 1957 and was one of the very first hit “sitcoms." Lots of laughs as Sgt. Bilko shows what fun can be had with the boys in uniform! One memorable episode was when Bilko, acting as master of ceremonies, tries to book Bing Crosby (Probably the greatest “crooner” during World War II) for a performance at Fort Baxter in “Sgt. Bilko Presents Bing Crosby,” but if the songster doesn’t show up, the sergeant might have to employ an impersonator. Being in the military is fun. Memories to last a lifetime! The best years of your life.
Combat! was TV’s longest running W.W.II drama, honoring the frontline U.S. infantryman. On ABC from 1962 through 1967, Combat! starred Vic Morrow as Sergeant Saunders and Rick Jason as Lieutenant Hanley. Combat! was even on TV in Japan I hear. I guess killing Nazis was okay for Occupied Japan. Years later Hollywood would try to remake this movie only to have it turn into a disaster which killed the original star of the show, Vic Morrow. I wonder if he got a Congressional Medal of Honor or an Academy Award? Either way, he died fighting “the good war."
Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.
Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. ran from September 25, 1964 September 19, 1969 on CBS. It was one of classic TV’s earliest spin-off series, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was the military cousin to The Andy Griffith Show. Originally introduced in the third season of Andy Griffith, Gomer was the local mechanic with an uncanny aptitude for annoyance. And since all these military shows were doing so well, CBS decided that the Marine Corps needed a promotional boost too! Heck, the Marines wiped all those Japs off Iwo Jima, right? A nice guy but stupid as hell, Gomer was everyone’s favorite lovable son. And if Gomer could make it in the Corps, than anyone could. Gomer decides to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. Sure things were tough in the Marines. But hey, life is tough. And the Sarge was actually a big, lovable, softie in his heart. The best years of your life are spent in the military.
Hogan’s Heroes was one of my personal favorites. Nazi’s may be really bad guys, but not all of them are so bad! And they are funny too! What with all that goosestepping and stuff! And, hey! If you are captured and sent to the cooler, you’ll still have your buddies with you, spending the best years of your life, disrupting the bumbling German back lines. Because, well, Germans are only good at war. They aren’t really all that bad (or that smart.) This show ran an amazing six years from Sep 1965 to: Apr 1971.
By about this time, people began “waking up” about the Vietnam War and the lies of the US government. An interesting bit of trivia; The Vietnam War was not called the Vietnam War until after it was over. It was initially called the Vietnam Conflict. Anyhow, the American public had lost its taste for war and, sadly, military TV shows. But what’s a TV producer who has Corporate American sponsors to satisfy to do? Well, here comes a military show with a different slant:
M.A.S.H. ran from September 1972- February 1983. It was originally a hit movie. The movie was released in the fall of 1970 when anti-Vietnam sentiment was high, and was an instant hit. Ring Lardner Jr. won the Oscar for Best Screenplay and the film was nominated for Best Movie. Sally Kellerman also received a Best Actress nomination for her role as Hotlips. MASH, while being funny and showing how dedicated the medical corps are in the military, it also showed that war is hell and people actually bleed and die,…. Sometimes. Besides that, the MASH TV show gave average America some great memories of the military. Probably some of the best years they’ve never spent in their entire life.
Okay, this is not a TV show, it’s a movie. A movie by one of America’s hottest comedians at that time; Bill Murray. Bill has a really bad day (He is ripped off, he abandons his cab on a bridge, has his car repossessed, and his hot model girl friend walks out on him.), sees an Army commercial and decides to be all he can be. Because this is a buddy movie and he had nothing else better going on that day pal Harold Ramis joins too. When they come to their senses, they realize the Army is actually no fun. Who knew? Still the military is a good way to do something important with your life. Sure it’s tough, but living life is living without regret…. This movie is funny too (well, kinda).
Apocalypse Now (1979) re-release in 2002
Okay, so maybe Vietnam was bad. But we never lost a battle. Guys listened to the Rolling Stones, smoked dope, dropped napalm, surfed and other cool stuff too!
Tom Cruise, America’s newest heart-throb flies a jet, gets the babes. Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor, etc. etc. Americans shoot things and blow stuff up all the while getting the hot babes! Hey this military thing is pretty cool after all! And it’s all “towel heads” (or Japs who are now our friends) that we’re killing anyway, so who cares? And, if by some slim chance it’s you who gets killed, well then it’s for a higher cause; because America never forgets.
Well, you get the picture (no pun intended). I’d tell you about more TV shows and movies but I have started to feel like I am a TV/cinema critic reviewing the DVD/Video hit parade of hell. American society glorifies the military. No doubt about it. If you don’t think so, then you have never lived outside of the USA. I have never once seen a Japanese made movie that glorified the military (okay you got me there, consider Tom Cruise as the Last Samurai…. No, that’s an American movie!) Never mind. I think I’ve made my point.
The military is great and it makes great viewing. It’s fun and exciting. We always win. And after all, that’s what counts, right? Have a good holiday season! And don’t forget to watch the Super Bowl or whatever sports TV event that’s on this holiday season.
Watch carefully too! Cause I won’t need to be reminding you about what you actually should be doing while watching the big game. The TV commercials will be reminding you constantly: Do something useful with your life. Don’t just sit there; Hell, be all you can be!… And while you are doing it, get the babes too!
December 23, 2003