A new military-themed reality show from NBC, entitled “Stars Earn Stripes,” debuts tonight. The show “enthusiastically melds warfare and fame,” as a Washington Post review today put it. It features eight celebrities (using the loosest definition of that term) — such as husband-of-Sarah Todd Palin, former Superman Dean Cain, and former boy band member Nick Lachey — paired upwith “military and law enforcement veterans, including a Green Beret, a SWAT officer, two Marine sergeants, a retired member of the Delta Force and two Navy SEALs”, whom NBC hails as the “Bad Ass Operatives.” They’re all under the “command” of Gen. Wesley Clark, who once actually thought he should be President, as he co-hosts this reality show with former Dancing with the Stars host Samantha Harris (subjecting oneself to the two preview videos below, one wonders how much NBC had to pay to purchase Gen. Clark’s dignity in full: probably more than the Terror group MEK paid him to become its loyal shill).
Together, says the LA Times quoting NBC, the “stars” and the Bad Ass Operatives will participate in “missions reminiscent of counterinsurgencies that have taken place all over the world,” with “real bullets” and “real danger.”
Col. Andrew Bacevich, from his “The New American Militarism”:
The old twentieth-century aesthetic of armed conflict as barbarism, brutality, ugliness, and sheer waste grew out of World War I, as depicted by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, and Robert Graves. World War II, Korea, and Vietnam reaffirmed that aesthetic, in the latter case with films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket.
The intersection of art and war gave birth to two large truths. The first was that the modern battlefield was a slaughterhouse, and modern war an orgy of destruction that devoured guilty and innocent alike. The second, stemming from the first, was that military service was an inherently degrading experience and military institutions by their very nature repressive and inhumane. After 1914, only fascists dared to challenge these truths. Only fascists celebrated war and depicted armies as forward-looking — expressions of national unity and collective purpose that paved the way for utopia. To be a genuine progressive, liberal in instinct, enlightened in sensibility, was to reject such notions as preposterous.
But by the turn of the twenty-first century, a new image of war had emerged, if not fully displacing the old one at least serving as a counterweight. To many observers, events of the 1990s suggested that war’s very nature was undergoing a profound change. The era of mass armies, going back to the time of Napoleon, and of mechanized warfare, an offshoot of industrialization, was coming to an end. A new era of high-tech warfare, waged by highly skilled professionals equipped with “smart” weapons, had commenced. Describing the result inspired the creation of a new lexicon of military terms: war was becoming surgical, frictionless, postmodern, even abstract or virtual. It was “coercive diplomacy” — the object of the exercise no longer to kill but to persuade. By the end of the twentieth century, Michael Ignatieff of Harvard University concluded, war had become “a spectacle.” It had transformed itself into a kind of “spectator sport,” one offering “the added thrill that it is real for someone, but not, happily, for the spectator.” Even for the participants, fighting no longer implied the prospect of dying for some abstract cause, since the very notion of “sacrifice in battle had become implausible or ironic.”
Combat in the information age promised to overturn all of “the hoary dictums about the fog and friction” that had traditionally made warfare such a chancy proposition. American commanders, affirmed General Tommy Franks, could expect to enjoy “the kind of Olympian perspective that Homer had given his gods.”
In short, by the dawn of the twenty-first century the reigning postulates of technology-as-panacea had knocked away much of the accumulated blood-rust sullying war’s reputation. Thus reimagined — and amidst widespread assurances that the United States could be expected to retain a monopoly on this new way of war — armed conflict regained an aesthetic respectability, even palatability, that the literary and artistic interpreters of twentieth-century military cataclysms were thought to have demolished once and for all. In the right circumstances, for the right cause, it now turned out, war could actually offer an attractive option–cost-effective, humane, even thrilling. Indeed, as the Anglo-American race to Baghdad conclusively demonstrated in the spring of 2003, in the eyes of many, war has once again become a grand pageant, performance art, or a perhaps temporary diversion from the ennui and boring routine of everyday life. As one observer noted with approval, “public enthusiasm for the whiz-bang technology of the U.S. military” had become “almost boyish.” Reinforcing this enthusiasm was the expectation that the great majority of Americans could count on being able to enjoy this new type of war from a safe distance.