WASHINGTON -- It's rare today for a conservative to have anything good to say about broadcast TV or Hollywood. With that in mind, let this serve to commend ABC for Thursday night's politically incorrect broadcast of "Shooting War," the aptly named documentary produced by Time magazine's Richard Schickel for Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. It was a welcome respite from weeks of election coverage. It also confirmed what my old friend, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Mel Paisley (who found some of the rare footage used in the piece) told me about this project months ago. He said it would be an epic. He was right.
"Shooting War" isn't pretty -- it's gritty, gut-wrenching, sometimes horrific -- just like war. Actor Tom Hanks and historian Stephen Ambrose narrated the footage and photos from the first bombs at Pearl Harbor to the last in Nagasaki. But despite the pain, death, destruction and misery captured on those frames of celluloid, there was another even more resounding image -- good, decent, heroic young Americans serving as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the mouth of hell itself. And while watching this magnificent testimonial to the courage and perseverance of my father's generation, I suddenly wondered: Why do we honor them, yet treat their modern counterparts so differently?
The last eight years of the Clinton-Gore regime have been harsh for the men and women of our armed forces. Those who serve in uniform have seen pay raises cut and killed, benefits diminished, weapons and equipment worn out and not replaced, and the undeserving buried in Arlington Cemetery -- all while being deployed to exhaustion. They have been treated like lab rats in radical social experiments, dispatched like a global Meals-On-Wheels program, and told that their leaders should pass a political litmus test. All that was but prelude to the insults of the past few weeks for those on active duty and veterans alike.
When terrorists blew a hole in the side of the USS Cole, killing 17 and wounding 39, the Clinton-Gore administration treated the event like a bank robbery in Peoria instead of an act of war. Then, military residents of Florida were described as "tax evaders" because they don't have to pay a state income tax. This slap in the face was followed by the legal beagles in the Gore-Daley machine issuing written guidance to Florida election officials on how to disqualify military absentee ballots.
Meanwhile, in an overt insult to American veterans of shooting wars far less popular than that chronicled in ABC's "Shooting War," our diva of diplomacy, Maddy Albright, danced in Pyongyang while north Korean communists celebrated 50 years of oppression; and William the Impeached lectured on democracy in front of a bust of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi. All of this prompted such an outburst of "barracks humor" that the Army and Air Force felt compelled to issue court martial threats for members of the armed forces who might joke about Prince Albert's "electile" dysfunction.
Given all that as preamble, no member of today's Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines should be surprised at the most recent affront by the potentates on the Potomac. Eight days before ABC aired "Shooting War," the same Department of Defense that couldn't find the money to relieve thousands of troops subsisting on food stamps, or buy helicopter-replacement parts, or transport absentee ballots to those deployed in the Persian Gulf somehow managed to scrape together more than $350,000 for a Beverly Hills bash honoring Hollywood's Jack Valenti. According to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, it was necessary to invite 350 or so Hollywood celebrities and Washington bigwigs to this taxpayer-funded gala because, as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Valenti "has helped foster a positive image of the Armed Forces in television and movies."
Productions like "Shooting War" do indeed honor those who served. Valenti and his colleagues should be commended (though not at taxpayer expense) for a moving, graphic depiction of what my father's generation endured. They fought not for gold or colonial conquest, but so that others could enjoy freedom -- including the right to choose their own leaders. How ironic that today, their children now in uniform are not assured of casting votes that count.
If the next administration really wants to honor those who serve in uniform, they need to honor their right of suffrage. It is, in this era of instant communications, Internet e-mail and real-time satellite data links, inconceivable that tens of thousands of military personnel have been denied the right to vote for their commander in chief. Instead of honoring those who make good movies and the occasional great TV show, the next administration and the 107th Congress should ensure that military personnel can obtain and cast absentee ballots, no matter where they are -- whether on a lonely outpost in peacetime or fighting in a shooting war.