View Full Version : In Harm's Way

11-30-04, 06:17 AM
In Harm's Way

November 29, 2004

by Burt Prelutsky

As I recall, Americans began emasculating our armed services during the Gulf War. Understand, I'm not referring to the military's throwing the doors open to women and gays. Anyone who elects to serve his or her country is aces in my book. I refer, instead, to the unseemly coddling of our soldiers. I refer to the insistence by way too many civilians that members of the military never be placed in harm's way. I beg your pardon!

Believe me, please, when I say that I don't wish to see our young people treated as cannon fodder, sacrificed needlessly on foreign battlefields. But that is quite a different matter from swaddling them in baby bunting. They are not porcelain figurines; they are supposed to be America's fighting force.

At what point, I wondered, had we begun to confuse the army with the Cub Scouts? It seems to have begun, oddly enough, after we went to an all- volunteer military. At least it would have been logical during the time of the draft for friends and relatives to have voiced concern with the comfort and safety of those inducted against their will, the kids who went off kicking and screaming to basic training. But, for a number of years now, the only folks in uniform are those who chose to be.

Now, I realize, of course, that many of the youngsters who enlisted simply joined up in order to get a free education. Which is fine and dandy. But they knew going in that there was a fairly good chance that, along with being all they could be, they just might be called upon to fight for their country. That's the way it works when you sign up with Uncle Sam. Go work for the post office and you have to worry about pit bulls and disgruntled co-workers; go work for the military and you have to worry about the Axis of Evil.

I'm pretty certain that my fellow Americans stopped seeing soldiers as heroic warriors in the John Wayne mode and, thanks perhaps to all those MASH re-runs, more like Alan Alda, during our first showdown with Saddam Hussein. I still remember the national frenzy when the media reported that the chocolate bars in the G.I. mess kits were melting in Kuwait! The way people carried on, you'd have thought the treads were falling off our tanks and our guns were exploding.

Whereas during World War II, the entire nation mobilized to build planes, buy bonds and tend Victory Gardens, this time America rolled up its sleeves and came up with a candy bar that could stand up to a blowtorch. I recall trying to picture Humphrey Bogart, Randolph Scott or Dana Andrews, griping to his army buddies about the way his Baby Ruth crapped out just when the going got rough on Guadalcanal. I tried, but I failed. I mean, I think it's fine that we Americans care deeply about our soldiers, sailors and marines--and that we take it to heart when we get word of casualties. But, it's time we quit acting as if these youngsters signed up for summer camp and, through some sort of high level skullduggery, wound up dodging bullets in the Arab desert.

They deserve better than to be patronized. They deserve our respect. And that begins with accepting that in harm's way is just exactly where they're supposed to be.

Burt Prelutsky

Burt Prelutsky has been a humor columnist for the L.A. Times and the movie critic for Los Angeles Magazine. In addition to freelancing for everything from the N.Y. Times and TV Guide to Playgirl and Sports Illustrated, he has written several award-winning TV movies, along with episodes of Dragnet, McMillan & Wife, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Rhoda, Family Ties, Dr. Quinn and Diagnosis Murder. Visit his website at http://BurtPrelutsky.com.