Underplay It Again, Uncle Sam

IN the most famous of recruiting posters Uncle Sam looked a chap in the eye, pointed a stern, unwavering finger, and with absolutely no equivocation said that he wanted you. Calls to duty went out of style a number of wars ago. The young men and women of the Me Generation were coaxed into uniform by sensitive sergeants who appealed to self-interest against the background of a soundtrack that crooned, ``Be all that you can be.''

How will the experience of the Persian Gulf War weigh upon the recruiter's spiel? As lightly as a grain of sand, it seems. The director of advertising and public affairs for the Army Recruiting Command has been quoted as saying: ``We want to portray money for college, skills training, and relevance to a civilian career.'' Translation: Leave the battle scenes on the cutting-room floor. A consultant specializing in ``military sociology'' advises: ``They don't have to show combat. They can show `hail the c onquering hero' stuff. If you have people waving American flags and blowing kisses at American GIs, I think that is the ultimate high.''

Such thinking is more than a soft-focus presentation of the soldier's life. It suggests a cosmetic packaging of war, misleading soldiers and civilians alike.

While Operation Desert Storm was being conducted, a carefully edited picture of modern war was being presented day after day. High-tech machines were shown destroying the enemy's high-tech machines or military command posts. Any noncombatant human beings who erred into the path of a surgical strike were classified under ``collateral damage.''

Here is war, sanitized. But there is a terrible danger in accepting modern war as a controlled experiment in which the side with the best guns wins and only the enemy die.

It is not fair to the next generation of recruits to underplay the very real risks run by the troops of Operation Desert Storm. To permit the impression that war is an easy and reasonably painless option of foreign policy is to forget - and dishonor - the American soldiers who have died by the hundreds of thousands in other wars.

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