Saturday, November 18, 2006

An army of one

If you don't follow the news, whether online, or on television or radio, and if you don't have a family member, friend, or coworker serving in the military, would you know that the U.S. is at war?

This isn't a pointless or trite question, but one about how we the public have come detached from a world that is increasingly sanitized for us, a world in which we are observers rather than participants, a world that we hope will somehow, someday set itself right—when someone, we don't know who, when, or where, invents miraculous technologies that will allow growing populations with heightened quality-of-life expectations and demands to live on dwindling space, animal, plant, and even element resources, such as topsoil and water.

If you don't know anyone serving in the military, how otherwise does the war in Iraq or the action in Afghanistan affect your day-to-day life? Except for some economic fluctuations that could be due to many factors, it probably doesn't.

Now think about World War II, a war fought before everyone had televisions, radios, and personal computers. Yet you could not fail to think about it. People across the country gave up commodities like stockings so the materials could be used for the war cause. Companies like Kraft Foods advertised that their prepared dinners utilized fewer ration points. Women became "Rosie the Riveter," filling the growing number of industrial positions left vacant by able-bodied men sent to the front. Military recruitment posters caricatured the enemy and Hollywood cranked out war and propaganda movies and shows, while Bob Hope and friends entertained the troops. Every radio program referred to the war, whether it was Jack Benny asking you to buy war bonds or "Fibber McGee" reminding you about ration points. The president spoke regularly to the public about the war.

In short, your everyday life, from the food you ate and the work you did to the entertainment you enjoyed, was affected by events thousands of miles away in the European and Pacific Theaters. Everyone was in it together.

Not so today. Most of us go about our business, eating what we also do, going to our jobs, and renting Pirates of the Caribbean as though there weren't a war going on, as though we didn't have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting to hold both countries together and fighting for personal survival.

What you might notice is a greater amount of military recruitment advertising on cable channels geared toward young men. In between the commercials for fast food, games, and technical schools are those about the "Army of One." The messages are different for different audiences. In one, an older man talks to a young soldier about the need for trust and to be able to rely on one another, appealing to young men who want responsibility and camaraderie. For those who desire excitement, another commercial shows a young recruit on leave, at home with his civilian buddies. When he tells them he works with computers, they look at one another incredulously and point out to him that he could have done that here. "Not really," he says, as he is shown in the think of adrenaline-pumping action. One focuses on life after the military. A former soldier is introduced to the team at his new employer as someone who learned something about aviation and mechanics at his "last job." Yet another appeals to patriotism; a soldier is shown jogging past the people and property and neighborhood he is defending and is joined by other fresh-faced soldiers who run with him (the only commercial in which female soldiers make a token appearance).

The Navy simply plays coy. Water is shown lapping a beach in the dark for some seconds, then the Navy Seals Web site appears on the screen.

War and terrorism are strangely absent from each of these commercials. During World War II, we were called upon to fight sneering Nazis and sinister Japanese; during the Vietnam conflict, we were called upon to fight the Viet Cong and communism. Today we are not called upon to fight at all. We are called upon to experience trust and camaraderie, excitement, on-the-job training, and pride.

But we are not fighting anyone, whether you call them the Taliban, insurgents, or terrorists. We are not rationing or sacrificing food, raw materials, or food. What we are doing is eating, working, shopping, partying, etc., as though there weren't a war, or as though it is so removed from our reality that it doesn't affect us or our lives. That seems to be what we want, and what our leaders want.

I am not so sure I feel comfortable feeling so comfortable. At some point in a not-very-distant future, all of us will have to start sacrificing some of that comfort, including those who have had it for a while, those who are just getting used to having it, and those to whom it is being marketed. The planet can't sustain it, nor can our combined propensity for procreation, consumption, and conflict.

Your cave or mine?

1 comment:

  1. Oh - I understand and empathise SO strongly with your ruminating about how 'comfortable' we all are - despite the horror which is cabled into our lives every second of the day... my only respite seems to be avoiding listening/watching/reading to news and trying to keep my own smallish footprint small...