6.16.2005

"does anybody know what posthumous means?"

Most afternoons I take a break from writing to drink a mug of Irish tea and watch "Dallas". Yes, Dallas, the cheesy 1980s nighttime soap, which can be seen in endless reruns on SoapNet. Call it a guilty pleasure, or call it re-charging. I can't read on a break - I need to rest my eyes and my brain - and a mindless yet somehow compelling soap opera, especially one I've seen before (long ago, my roommate and I used to watch it on Friday nights), is the perfect thing to keep me away from the computer for an hour.

Most of the commercials during this hour are for household cleaning products and bizarre gadgetry like uber-mops or magnifying glasses you wear as a necklace. There is one striking exception: the US Army. Aimed at young people watching TV in the middle of the day, presumably without jobs or classes to attend, these ads take many different tacks. Education. Adventure. Pride. Independence. (I love that one. How could any military foster independence?) Becoming a man.

I'd love to see each one of these ads followed by one from our side. Pictures of torn bodies, a gory socket where there once was an arm, a shrapnel-ruined face. A former classmate learning how to use a wheelchair or work with a guide dog. They'd have soundtracks, too - shrieks of pain, parents sobbing at funerals.

It's heartening to read how recruitment efforts are sagging. And also to know the draft resistance is already organizing.

The excellent New York Times columnist Bob Herbert continues to sound the alarm about the government's nefarious recruiting efforts. Nothing is out of bounds in the quest for fresh cannon fodder.
With the situation in Iraq deteriorating and the willingness of Americans to serve in the armed forces declining, a little-known Army publication called the "School Recruiting Program Handbook" is becoming increasingly important, and controversial.

The handbook is the recruiter's bible, the essential guide for those who have to go into the nation's high schools and round up warm bodies to fill the embarrassingly skimpy ranks of the Army's basic training units.

The handbook declares forthrightly, "The goal is school ownership that can only lead to a greater number of Army enlistments."

What I was not able to find in the handbook was anything remotely like the startlingly frank comments of a sergeant at Fort Benning, Ga., who was quoted in the May 30 issue of The Army Times. He was addressing troops in the seventh week of basic training, and the paper reported the scene as follows:

" 'Does anybody know what posthumous means?' Staff Sgt. Andre Allen asked the 150 infantrymen-in-training, members of F Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment.

"A few hands went up, but he answered his own question.

" 'It means after death. Some of you are going to get medals that way,' he said matter-of-factly, underscoring the possibility that some of them would be sent to combat and not return."

. . .

"Homecoming normally happens in October," the handbook says. "Coordinate with the homecoming committee to get involved with the parade."

Recruiters are urged to deliver doughnuts and coffee to the faculty once a month, and to eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times a month. And the book recommends that they assiduously cultivate the students that other students admire: "Some influential students such as the student president or the captain of the football team may not enlist; however, they can and will provide you with referrals who will enlist."

It's not known how aware parents are that recruiters are inside public high schools aggressively trying to lure their children into wartime service. But not all schools get the same attention. Those that get the royal recruitment treatment tend to be the ones with students whose families are less affluent than most.

Schools with kids from wealthier families (and a high percentage of collegebound students) are not viewed as good prospects by military recruiters. It's as if those schools had posted signs at the entrances saying, "Don't bother." The kids in those schools are not the kids who fight America's wars.
The column is here, and here's an earlier Herbert column about resistance to the recruiters. Good stuff.

5 comments:

Lone Primate said...

You're a Dallas fan too? :) I bought the first two seasons on DVD last winter. I was always a Cliff Barnes fan. :)

Oddly enough, I actually glimpsed Southfork last summer, though not in circumstances I could enjoy it. I was riding with the family of a friend of mine. We'd gotten lost on the way to his funeral and happened to pass Southfork. As you can imagine, it was a remarkably conflicting moment.

L-girl said...

How funny! I'm sorry about your friend. But too bad you couldn't take a tour!! ;-)

I like Cliff too. Right now he's recovering from a suicide attempt now, after learning how JR set him up to lose all his money, Wentworth and Sue Ellen. Bobby just established that JR is not Christopher's biological father, and Miss Ellie removed JR as president of Ewing Oil. And that's just the first 20 minutes... :)

Oh hey, do you remember Afton, sister of Mitch (Lucy's uptight husband), former nightclub singer helped by JR, Cliff's girlfriend at his hospital beside? I went to high school with the actor who plays her. Her acting ability is truly dreadful, in keeping with all Dallas bit parts. And some of the main cast, too...

Lone Primate said...

It's been years and years since I've seen the show. It was on daily in syndication the summer I graduated high school and was about to start university, so I got to watch the first few years' worth over the summer. But you're talking most of twenty years ago now. :)

What I find interesting about the show is the little things. Nobody yet has a cell phone, not even one of those huge bricks self-important people used to wear on their belts by the late 80s. No one has a computer on his or her desk in the office. Disco music is everywhere and people seem to think that's just peachy. In spite of the huge jump in oil prices in the early 70s, cars -- even ones just on the street that have nothing to do with the show -- are the size of speed boats. The one nod to PC culture is that no one in the show smokes on camera. I'm not sure if that's because it was already gauche by then (I think it was), or if it was just that Larry Hagman apparently has a major issue with smokers.

What's most eyebrow-raising for me... on the heels of having been in the city of Dallas myself last year... is the fact that no one, but no one on the show is black or Hispanic... except, I think, for a walk-on character who seems to be a house servant of the Ewings, and one woman I saw manning a grill who seemed to be a first-name basis with Jock. When did they move Dallas to Alber---errrm, Saskatchewan? :D

L-girl said...

Oh yeah, I think of that stuff all the time! No cell phones, especially. No blackberries, the current Symbol of Importance. JR has a car phone and a fax machine in his bedroom! He is Very Important!

Only bad guys smoke on Dallas. But everyone drinks to huge excess. Latinos are seen serving the Ewings. "Thank you, Maria".

My roommate and I used to say that sometimes when one of us did something nice for the other. "Thank you, Maria." Neither of us named Maria, of course.

There is the occasional black walk-on spot, but then again, in the world of 1980s Dallas high finance, that was probably accurate!

I hadn't seen it in a good 20 years until I discovered it was on this silly SoapNet channel, at the perfect time for my tea break. Where I am headed right now!!

Anonymous said...

And of course there's the unforgettable music...

L-girl on iPAQ