Editorial Column – Recruitment Video Sanitizes War’s Carnage

Atlanta Journal Constitution

January 3, 2008 – About two minutes into the video, I could take no more.

I was going to break decorum. I mumbled, “It’s a lie. It’s the worst kind of lie.”

Realizing that not even the two people sitting directly in front of me had heard my utterance, I raised the volume and repeated it. I stood up from my cushioned chair and in a stronger voice said, “This ad is a lie!”

I didn’t dare glance at my family. I needed to remain in denial as to how my wife and kids were reacting to my outburst. My heart racing, and in my angriest voice, I shouted, “It’s a lie, just like this war!”

That was the scene at my local movie theater prior to a showing of “The Golden Compass.” The pre-show ad that was playing was a music video titled “Citizen Soldier,” a slickly produced and, I suspect, highly effective recruitment ad for the National Guard.

The 3 1/2-minute music video incorporated an original song by the successful rock band 3 Doors Down with images of the National Guard’s responses to past, present and imagined wars and disasters.

The scenes of the band playing were magnificently filmed with a shakiness that evokes a sense of being in the midst of battle explosions. I hated it in part because it was so well-made. It’s a great advertisement because it sells the dream of the product, not its reality or its true price.

Its lie is obscured under the veneer of misguided patriotism and false realism. Its sterilized depictions of death and destruction pale in comparison with what actually happens when people and war collide. In the video, there are no dismembered bodies, no blood raining from the skies, no charred remains of babies caught in bomb blasts. And always out of our view are the horrified, terrified faces of the survivors.

No successful ad campaign about national service under our current civilian leadership could possibly tell the truth. If Americans saw the ugly truth about the war and occupation of Iraq, they would turn in disgust. The war would be ended and the perpetrators prosecuted for the lies that created it and the utter incompetence with which it was waged. Still many, perhaps even most, Americans despair over this endless occupation and the needless suffering of those who serve.

The truth about today’s military service is that almost 40,000 of our armed forces are dead and wounded in Iraq, with the Army National Guard constituting about 20 percent of those. Suicide and divorce rates are escalating for combat veterans. According to recent U.S. Senate testimony, almost half of our returning troops are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Cases of traumatic brain injuries are at high levels. The quality and quantity of medical care provided to veterans is frequently inadequate.

Even with the repeated warnings of military experts that our military is at the breaking point, the policies of repeated and extended deployments remain. They remain for the simple reason that our military does not have enough people to properly carry out its missions. No wonder the National Guard spared no expense with its latest ad.

I do not advocate yelling protests in crowded theaters like I did. My angry rant was boorish. It left me embarrassed and so frazzled that I could barely focus on the movie. Instead, I urge you to call your congressmen weekly (or daily) and inform them that you are aware of the real price of this war — and it’s way too high.

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