Stephen Colbert was recently on a USO tour of Iraq to entertain the illegal occupiers of the country. The show however went far beyond entertainment, and verged on pro-war propaganda. Among other things it included interviews with Ray Odierno, the fellow whose units according to Thomas Ricks were responsible for much of the abuses in the initial phase of the war, and with the Kurdish boot-licker they have installed as Iraq’s deputy prime minister, a truly execrable creature. Surprisingly, no one has spoken out against this supposed enlightened ‘liberal’ whitewashing Bush’s genocidal war. That is, until now. Here is Danny Schechter, the News Dissector’s open letter to Colbert.
Dear Stephen Strong:
Welcome home, soldier. Your week in Iraq is all over, but the war, of course, isn’t. At least your presence there reminded us that Americans troops are still there. I am sure your presence gave them something fun to do, but hey, Nation, shouldn’t we think a little deeper about this fused exercise in military promotion and self-promotion?
Your shtick as the conservative counterpart as an O’Reilly wanna-be to Jon Stewart aside, you were not the only one flattered and enabled by the nominally apolitical USO to entertain the troops. These exercises are part of “selling” as well as “telling.”
Al Franken went on such a tour when Bush was in command although I noticed that W appears along with other former POTUS’s to endorse your cheerleading for our “service members.”
What are they really serving?
How will history regard this war born out of so much lying and responsible for so much killing?
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Needless to say, these issues were not raised in four days of entertaining programs that gave presidents, candidates, military commanders, an Iraqi politician, movie star Tom Hanks and only two grunts, each chosen — carefully to represent a category — Arabs and women — face time in the coolest recruitment special targeted at war age teens.
The Pentagon was delighted and this effort was consistent with the “AAU” mantra that governs news coverage (AAU is all about US. )The Iraqi people and their suffering were no where to be seen on the The Colbert Report just as they are usually invisible on the news.
You joked, “Iraq is so nice, we invaded it twice.” Good line—but it seemed to be said with approval. There were of course no anti-war sentiments allowed, no criticism of the president who got into your hair cutting stunt, no INFORMATION, really, other than we are there to “help” and it’s too early to proclaim victory.
While your show went out with its subtext of strengthened security, many Iraqi lives were being lost in new rounds of insurgent attacks by people who see the US as there to stay and only going through the motions of withdrawal. At week’s end, you thanked and genuflected to the bravery and beauty etc., etc. of the troops who sang us the ARMY SONG.
You may not know, Stephen Strong, that this song was originally written by field artillery First Lieutenant [later Brigadier General] Edmund L. Gruber, while stationed in the Philippines in 1908 as the “Caisson Song. Six million Filipino’s died in that Vietnam before Vietnam, as brutal an intervention as any in our history. And today, totally forgotten!
Verse: Valley Forge, Custer’s ranks, (THE WARS AGAINST THE INDIANS! DS) San Juan Hill and Patton’s tanks And the Army went rolling along Minute men, from the start, Always fighting from the heart, And the Army keeps rolling along. (refrain)
Verse: Men in rags, men who froze, Still that Army met its foes, And the Army went rolling along. Faith in God, then we’re right, And we’ll fight with all our might, As the Army keeps rolling along. (refrain)
“Faith in God, then we are right”….no doubt what the “enemy” sings too. Allah Akbar is how they put it.
These songs reminded me of all the anti-war songs that were never sung on USO show but that also buoyed GIs in ant-war coffee shops, and even today, in the GI resistance to war movement that never made it on your show or in the news> Where were the Iraqi Veterans Against the War? Or for that matter, all the critics of stop-loss orders, poor equipment, mercenary contractors, military “justice,” sick Veterans hospitals, unpunished war crimes etc. etc.
As I laughed at your chutzpah and clever repartee, I was also weeping about the seeming co-opting of one of the few beachheads on TV for real satire and social criticism.
Stand up comedy can be cool—but standing up for something that does not conform with ‘thank you for your service’ clichés is even cooler. Did we really need to hear how superior these top 3% “fighting men and woman” are to the rest of us, as they continue the occupation of a sovereign country? Have you forgotten that Saddam was originally our guy? Our complicity helped build that palace.
Mission accomplished or aborted?
Back in 1985, I was connected to a movement of artists opposing celebrities participating in injustice overseas. In that case, the issue was the cultural boycott of South Africa adopted by the UN’s anti-apartheid committee. Many big names in music played in South Africa and a resort called, “Sun CIty,” nominally in a “homeland” controlled by the apartheid regime. Those struggling for freedom then felt those artists were giving aid and comfort to their enemies. They wanted to isolate the regime, not cheer it on.
In response, 54 artists of conscience, including Little Steven, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Miles Davis 54 — in all— stood up against their own industry, and even some of their friends, with a song that called on artists not to play Sun City; not to put an entertaining face on Apartheid.
The song became a big hit and is still respected today as an example of artists standing up for justice and freedom. Real freedom as in self-determination, propagandistic “Operation Enduring Freedom,” formerly “Operation Iraqi Liberation [O.I.L.].”
Yes, Stephen, you made some funny jokes, and made fun of basic training and discrimination against gays in the military. But that was easy to do. It stirred no controversy, challenged no policy, made no politician uncomfortable as your gutsy speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner did years back.
As the NY Times pointed out, the troops there have every entertainment device we do. Your shows, says the Gray Lady, were “designed to hold easily distracted audiences at home.”
And, so they did.
Admit that they also promoted an unpopular war by humanizing the warriors who, at least according to surveys, don’t know the war on Iraq is not only about “payback” for 9/11. The last time I read surveys of Iraqis, they don’t want more American help from the back of a Hummer or the bottom of a B52. They want us to get gone. No one likes foreign occupation.
(And yes, your proclaiming, “Victory,” may be a way to make that happen as was suggested by Senator Aitken in the Vietnam daze. In that case, we learned the hard way that most politicians live in fear of being accused of “Losing Vietnam” or Iraq or name your country as they probably will at the misnamed Camp Victory.) During the Vietnam War, Stephen there were gutsy counter-USO actions including the “FTA” (Fuck the Army) tour in which Jane Fonda and other stars and entertainers appeared. See http://www.sirnosir.com for more! Your Golf Club aside, I would like to think you would have been part of that effort, not Bob Hope’s patriotic crusade.
Your most trenchant comment: “I thought the whole Iraq thing was over. I haven’t seen any news stories on it in months.” (Yeah, and if you did, what would you learn?)
Maybe we need more USO shows here at home for misinformed Americans. How about that, “Nation?”
Don’t mean to be so PC or morally superior BUT these questions must be asked.