Boot Camp in Hollywood

Here's a small news item that seems to be both odd and meaningful:

The US Army gave the University of Southern California $45 million to create better combat-training simulators that use the latest Hollywood film technology.

Translation: The Army is recruiting Tinseltown's special-effects experts to help it face the complex realities of the post-cold-war world.

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Come to think of it, more realistic simulations for soldiers may add elements that traditional field exercises can't - and at much lower costs. Many missions that soldiers are assigned today go far beyond knowing how to shoot a rifle or maneuver a tank. Just look at the complexities of peacekeeping in Kosovo. Knowing how to deal with feuding neighbors and noncooperative local officials is critical.

Here's where Hollywood input can go beyond just the special effects needed to make a screened simulation look real. Screenwriting talent will also be tapped, creating characters and plot.

GIs running the simulations can learn how to coax information out of a reluctant peasant or persuade a mayor to be an ally. In the process, they'll get a primer on the customs of a made-up country in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or Europe.

This, of course, is somewhat contingent on how much local talent USC's new Institute for Creative Technologies can round up.

Paramount, which already does some work with the Army, is willing. Others in the film business may have qualms about teaming up with the military, given the flak they already take for trafficking in violence.

But there's an element of public service that should lower resistance: saving the public some of the millions it costs to stage mock battles in the field, and helping shape a force that can double as peacekeepers.

The entertainment industry will supposedly reap other benefits from the collaboration, churning some of the ideas developed back into its own products. Let's hope a spark of public spiritedness shows up there too.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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