War should be hell

A foreign observer attempting to fathom the psyche if not the idiosyncrasy of what he supposed to be the typical American was quoted recently by a talk-show host as declaring that Americans, as a whole, all seemed to be actors.

There may be more truth than poetry in the observation inasmuch as Americans of every stripe seem as conditioned as Pavlov's dog to eagerly answer the casting call in the exploitation of their joy, grief, and all-too-intimate egos when the cameras roll for yet another TV crisis production.

Once it was that mothers, erstwhile zealous guardians of family and individual privacy, admonished their children that their pictures should appear on public display only thrice in their lifetimes - at birth, wedding, and funeral. Now, mothers vie with their children, on cue, for the so-called 15 minutes of video fame that baring a soul, shedding a tear, inviting public intrusion into private affairs can bring.

The downside of all this eager acquiescence to such media exploitation is that the performances, however spontaneous and sincere, assume such an aura of orchestration that they all too often appear as scripted as a post-game interview, or so studied in eager, if not conditioned, response to an interviewer's urgings that the foreign observer might be forgiven for what he considered the American penchant for programmed posturing.

Worse, as public spectacle, such participants lay themselves open to being unjustly critiqued at times not only for their performances on camera but also for their motives and judgment in embracing, if not seeking, the limelight in the first place.

A case in point might be the all too orchestrated flight of the mothers to the sides of their soldier sons upon their release from the Serb slammer. Aw, mom, what are the Serb guards going to think? I hope we knock out their television so they won't see you coming over here to do kissy face with the big bad American soldier their people risked their lives to capture!

It's hard to blame mothers for trying to stretch apron strings across the world into the trenches, but the military should be ashamed of itself for arming a young man to the teeth in the cause of war and then mentally and emotionally hamstringing him and everyone else into thinking he is just serving a stretch in Camp Wobegon.

War should be hell - for everybody and his dog. To give men pause for daring to impart reason to the unreasonable.

The Serb guards might well smile - between explosions reducing their homeland to rubble - to think they released three much-heralded American fighting men to run home, as the military programmed them to be portrayed, to mommy and yellow ribbons tied around old oak trees (Kosovo in Crisis at 6 p.m.).

I am reminded of Rocky Versace who was held captive by the Viet Cong for months upon end in a tiny bamboo cage designed to break him in body and spirit. Despite constant torture and attempts at brainwashing to induce him to admit he was fighting an immoral war at the instigation of immoral leaders, Versace continued to give his captors only his name, rank, and serial number. Given one last chance to submit or face decapitation, he exposed his neck to the descending blade.

Capt. Nick Rowe spent five years in an adjoining cage before the jungle camp of the Viet Cong was discovered and he was rescued by US troops.

Rowe had cooperated just enough to stay alive, but he was assassinated in 1989 by terrorist assassins in the Philippines with Rocky Versace as his role model as a man and a soldier.

The Serbs would have had a special smile for Rocky Versace.

He walked the walk.

*Forest L. Kimler, a veteran newspaperman who covered Southeast Asia for Stars and Stripes from 1962 to 1973, lives in St. Augustine, Fla.

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