If you spent any time following NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics in London, you probably saw a commercial promoting a new reality show for the fall season. “Stars Earn Stripes,” produced by Mark Burnett (of the “Survivor” reality program), premiered on Aug. 13.

The new series follows a group of celebrities, including skier Picabo Street as well as Todd Palin, former “First Gentleman” of Alaska, in addition to wellknown actors and TV personalities, who are paired with military and law enforcement personnel in competitions based on U.S. military training exercises — often using live ammunition.

To make the program palatable to as broad a political spectrum as possible, it is hosted by liberal heart-throb Wesley Clark, retired NATO supreme commander and former presidential candidate.

Do you see anything wrong with this picture? We will hear in general terms of the enormous sacrifices of those who enlist and their families, the grueling training and lengthy deployments, but little of the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome, even less of the crushing injuries, the missing limbs; the shattered families — and absolutely nothing of the enormous psychic burdens of those who end the lives of others.

When political leaders call for war, they make solemn pronouncements about the grave decision to send young people into harm’s way, and how the decision to go to war is made only after all other, more peaceful options have been exhausted.

Given such rhetoric, how much sense does it make to use war as a basis of entertainment? Plenty — if the intent is to entice young people to enlist, and to dull public awareness of the obscene consequences of war.

But wait — there’s more! Another exciting instance of war as entertainment is opening soon at an airfield near you: The Air Force Thunderbirds are to appear soon at the Great State of Maine Air Show at Brunswick Landing.

Even this peace activist must admit that air shows like this provide thrills and excitement unmatched anywhere else: Barrel rolls, loops, fighter jets flying a few hundred feet above the ground at just below the speed of sound, afterburners alight, precision maneuvers that avert flaming catastrophe by inches.

It’s all too easy to forget that these engineering marvels are instruments of horrific destruction. The napalm cannisters, high-caliber machine gun bullets and other munitions remain out of sight and mind.

After a decade in which the U.S. has invaded two Middle Eastern countries, with ongoing occupations whose ends are nowhere in sight, the American public is — or ought to be — weary of feeding the military with its young people and its tax dollars.

War as entertainment not only makes military engagement palatable to the American electorate, it obviously serves as a recruiting device. “Stars Earn Stripes” may well be entertaining; I am well aware of how much fun the Thunderbirds air show will be. Let’s keep our eyes open to the dark side, the true purpose of these “entertainments.”

JIM BROKAW lives in Brunswick.



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