Making the war easier to digest on the home front

Mike Royko

February 01, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

Newt Gingrich, a congressional leader, has put his finger on a potentially serious morale problem that could hamper the war with Iraq.

The latest polls show that most Americans are in a two-fisted, hard-nosed mode. Maybe not as euphoric as they were a week or two ago. But the polls say the vast majority of us are itching for our troops to storm in there and, in the inspiring words of our commander in chief, "kick some ass."

But Gingrich says that when we start kicking, there can be no dillydallying, shilly-shallying, or pussyfooting.

That's because he's worried about "the American people's capacity to accept violence on television at the levels we'd see in ground combat."

He has a point. Once the land war begins, with limbs flying and young people dying, it won't be the kind of thing you'd want to watch while chewing your dinner.

So Gingrich is concerned that as more human-remains pouches are filled (that's what the military now calls body bags), the public's zest for the war will slump. There will be fewer giddy people on TV, waving little flags and shouting: "We're behind the boys over there, so let's get it over with fast, wheee!"

The problem is that there's no guarantee that we can get it over with fast. I'm sure this isn't news to the war enthusiasts who are polled, but Saddam Hussein has a very big army. Slightly bigger than ours, in fact. And he has thousands of modern tanks, rocket launchers, cannons, rockets, land mines and other deadly noise-makers.

That's why most military experts those who aren't being censore dare talking about a ground war lasting months. And a lot of mayhem can occur in a few months.

But that's no reason for us to shirk our duty as cops of the free world to restore Kuwait and its oil to the young Kuwaitis who now look yearningly to us as they dance till dawn in the discos of Egypt.

There are solutions to the potential morale problem that Gingrich and others have raised.

Gingrich worries about how Americans will react to prolonged blood and guts violence on TV. But why should they see it on TV?

The military has already demonstrated that it's very skillful at filtering news. And everybody knows that most people think reporters should clam up and not stick their noses into how the war is being fought.

So the answer is that when the ground war begins, the news media especially television should not be permitted to show anything that could be distasteful, depressing, disheartening or dyspeptic.

rTC I'm not calling for complete censorship. After all, I have loyalty to my own craft. But in a war or a Desert Storm, as it is more accurately known there are other newsworthy events besides death and destruction.

Besides bringing us the daily military briefings, which are wonderfully enlightening, the TV crews could show us how things are going in the mess halls.

"Sergeant, is that chipped beef you're making there?"

"Yes, it is. We serve it on toast."

"How much chipped beef do you make in a day?"

"I can't disclose that, but I can say that we have enough chipped beef to do the job."

Now, that would not depress anyone. If anything, it would raise the spirits of chipped beef lovers and those trading in cattle futures.

And what about interviewing a supply officer, a noble warrior who is too often overlooked?

"Major, that's an impressive stack of underwear. How many pairs of shorts do you have on hand?"

"That's classified, but you can be sure that there isn't a man or woman in this Army who will ever go without underwear, except when they're taking showers."

Naturally, I'm not in favor of blacking out all relevant news about ,, the progress of the Desert Storm engagement. The public should receive facts. But they don't have to be presented in a way that will make people melancholy.

Let's say that a battle occurs and a few hundred soldiers are killed or wounded. Why present that in a negative way? Rather than emphasizing the dead and wounded, the reporters could write: "In today's Desert Storm encounters, more than 99 percent of our 500,000 military personnel didn't suffer even a scratch or a nosebleed. And everyone ate well, receiving a balanced diet and all their recommended vitamins and minerals. Isn't that terrific?"

I don't see why TV would object to this limited approach. From what I've read, the networks are losing a bundle covering Desert Storm (or the war, as it is incorrectly called). They could do much better, while boosting civilian morale, by showing John Wayne or Rambo movies. And "Top Gun." I could watch that one all day. Lately, I've had the feeling that I am.

There will be people in the news business who will disagree with my proposals. They'll drag out Thomas Jefferson's famous statement about the importance of a free press, blah, blah.

But I respond with another Jefferson quotation: "No news is good news, and good news is no news, and what I don't know don't hurt me, and it ain't gonna lose me no sleep, OK?"

Of course, that statement came from Jefferson "Jeff" Blidge, of Snoozey, Ill. But so what? In today's world, his views are more up-to-date than Tom's.

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