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Bilko or Rambo?

J. D. Pendry

"I am writing...In hope that my telling this one story will help you understand more clearly how so many fine people have come to find themselves still loving their country but loathing the military." - William Jefferson Clinton

Many elected and appointed officials leading our country lack military experience. In fact, the number of them with military experience is decreasing every year.

These leaders of our country, by law and as it should be, are the leaders of our military. Unfortunately, many of them do not understand what it means to be a soldier because they have never experienced the culture. Sacrifices common to soldiers like often moving a family around the world, existing between pay checks, digging a hole in the ground and living in it, or spending Christmas in a death trap like Somalia or a mud hole like Bosnia is foreign to them. They've never felt the heart tug of reality that accompanies every good-bye to a loved one and every missed little league game or school play. Not knowing this culture makes it unlikely they will know the full impact their political decisions have on it.

Many either do not understand or try to understand the bonding, trust, and acceptance that come from an initiation rite like a pinning ceremony. Instead, when an outrageous and unrepresentative example turns up on a home video it's sold as being representative of the way things are. Only soldiers know that such episodes do not depict the majority, but they don't have the media to sell that reality to the public. So, the public too often accepts it for the truth as it's presented. After all, if the well-known anchorman said it, it must be so. Harmless pinning ceremonies happen all over our Army on drop zones, at promotion ceremonies, and at least a dozen other places every day. The little things are significant to building teams of men and women capable of supporting and counting on one another in stressful and dangerous situations. That important thought is lost on a group who does not understand the culture. Knowing the culture means knowing what is representative of the culture.

"Each soldier's performance in combat will be directly related to his membership on a team whose members think, feel, and act as one." -FM 22-102, 1987

Just as they have a history of stereotyping different ethnic groups, the entertainment industry also stereotypes the military. The average child growing up today is not likely to serve time in the military. These children are destined to become the elected and appointed leadership of our country. Their opinions of the military are being formed and reinforced by the stereotypes brought to them in cinemascope with surround sound. We are often portrayed as bumbling idiot Bilkos, organizations led by Generals who view war and destruction as the means to all ends, as Rambo-like one man killing machines, or Mr. Oliver Stone's poorly led collection of drug-crazed killers. Rarely is our portrayal accurate. An accurate portrayal would probably be to boring to sell tickets.

When is the last time you heard a positive news story about the military that portrayed us in character that soldiers know to be accurate? Sure we mess things up now and again just like everyone else. But, we do good things too. Soldiers do great things for communities both at home and overseas all the time. Many positive things go unreported. Soldiers are volunteering time everyday in public schools under Partners in Education programs, Special Olympics and others. When is the last time you saw a news anchor or politician tutor an inner-city child or hug a Special Olympian - unless it was a political photo-op? Maybe they can't find the time to work that in between reports on Tail-Hook, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Chemical Agent use in Vietnam, and bogus spouse abuse reports. Sure, the media is obligated to report on the bad things that happen. There's no question about that. But they, like our entertainment industry, are also obligated to provide a balanced view of the services so that the future leaders of our country while loathing the military will at least have an understanding of our culture and the many good things we do.

© 2000 J. D. Pendry