"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Combat!" TV show gave us surreal world

Vic Morrow as "Sgt. Saunders"
The World War II generation has been lauded for many sound reasons. As they settled into ordinary lives after that miserable war, they were highly social people. "Bowling alone?" Forget it. They were "joiners," "clubbers" - whatever you want to call them.
Yes, "gregarious." They were gentle to a fault. They spoiled their own children. They let their own children run wild. Were they clueless about this? Oh no they weren't. I have read that this straight-laced generation was quite aware of the unfettered behavior of their kids. They wouldn't discuss it. They wouldn't acknowledge it, unless forced in some sort of interrogation by a psychologist.
Their lives were so placid in the years following WWII. Think of what they had been through. First, the truly harrowing Depression. Think of the psychological effect on you if you lost all you had. Along comes the war.
As much as we glorify everything we did in WWII, we were not eager to get into it. Of course, the Japanese gave us reason to get into it. We might forget that prior to that, the "America First" organization was quite strong in America. We wanted no part of the European or Asian conflicts.
The blatant attack by the "Japs" caused the raw revenge motive to consume our thoughts and obliterate our passion for peace. Now we were willing to give our own lives. Countless young men did. Young people might well have wondered if peaceful, reasonably ordinary life would ever bless them again.
Not only did the war end, but prosperity set in. We saw the creation of the great U.S. "middle class." People got wages that allowed them to live with high standards, certainly quite beyond what they had known previously. They had children (like me) who came to be known as the "boomers."
Us boomers didn't respect the kind of values that our parents did. We didn't take to mainstream religion at all. We either blew it off or became overly passionate about it. In contrast, our parents were "temperate," going to church on Sunday but never seeming real zealous about it. We promoted grubby clothing and loose mores on all sorts of fronts.
Our parents, having gotten through so much adversity in the mid-20th Century, weren't going to discourage us on anything. We were their coveted possessions.
 
War entertainment rolls out
The World War II generation had another interesting trait through the 1960s. They seemed indifferent about the WWII-themed entertainment that their children were consuming. I have long been fascinated by this.
My current cable TV package allows me to watch old episodes of the TV show "Combat!" The exclamation point was a bayonet. The show presents a rather surreal world. I say "surreal" because the portrayal of combat has limitations. We don't see the truly grisly, subhuman nature of the kind of combat that happened in France.
My generation, as adults, finally got Hollywood to straighten things out with "Saving Private Ryan." But in the 1960s, the conflict was sanitized in the way that strikes me now as unhealthy.
If an entertainment product is going to portray war, it might as well do so accurately. Otherwise, "combat" comes off as something rather like sports competition. We have the "good guy" team of the Allies against those nasty Nazis. It's true that we represented good and therefore we can justify the violence. WWII has sadly been called "the good war." Maybe that term came about in order to contrast with Viet Nam. In Viet Nam it was debatable whether we were even the "good guys." If we were, why were we so quick to grant amnesty to draft dodgers after the war?
I'm reminded of the words of that National Guard commander in the movie "Taps." Seeking to implore the rebellious young cadet, the commander said "war is just one thing, and that's bad." So, it's naturally ironic we got that stream of WWII-themed entertainment during the 1960s. Also, ironic that war-themed toys and games would be marketed so freely and with no inhibitions about the irony they presented.
Entertainment from war? There was the board game "Hit the Beach." It was the WWII Pacific campaign game in which players race to reach the final objective: the main "Jap" headquarters. Roll the dice and move a game piece. Today the game is highly prized by collectors.
  
"Combat!" was an ABC show
The TV show "Combat!" ran on ABC from 1962 to 1967. My God, we see men shooting at each other. They throw hand grenades. Of course the Americans had much better aim with their grenade-throwing. In fact, it's uncanny how the U.S. heroes in these presentations have such good aim with their grenades, they all should have been NFL quarterbacks after the war.
The grenades explode. Men fall to the ground. They don't writhe in pain or have internal organs protruding out, like we would later see in "Saving Private Ryan." No, they fall to the ground and are instantly presumed dead. They just lie there - faceless souls. We forget about them.
Of course, TV and movie westerns could be like that too: sanitized in order to be palatable to watch. However, boys watching "Combat!" should have been better informed on how absolutely hellish such situations were.
Rick Jason played the role of platoon leader 2nd Lt. Gil Hanley. Vic Morrow is the best-remembered actor from the series. His face was very expressive. Morrow played Sgt. "Chip" Saunders.
"Combat!" was TV's longest-running WWII drama. There were 152 hour-long episodes. The first four seasons were in black and white. The last season was in color (so we saw the "NBC Peacock").
You can spot some actors as bit players, actors who had yet to establish themselves, like Ted Knight and Frank Gorshin.
Watching "Combat!" today, you have to accept that it's a surreal and sanitized portrayal of the most unimaginable kind of conflict. A show opens and we see troops in a forest, frantically firing their weapons. They dodge about. Occasionally one goes down - a human being presumed dead.
I wonder how passionate those dastardly Germans really were, if they were really so wild-eyed about fighting for the Fuhrer, or if they were just scared young men doing what they were directed to do. I know German people and they seem quite intelligent, not susceptible to becoming knaves or fools. Nazi hysteria was a political phenomenon. Despots took over when the economy disintegrated. It could happen here in the U.S. if the bottom were to absolutely fall out from the economy.
The Nazis were destined to lose. They had to fight until they were crushed. After a certain point, they had no choice but to keep fighting. Had they ceased hostilities, after all they had done, world powers would have come and seized the leaders.
Boys like me consumed the "Sergeant Rock" comic book series in the 1960s. Franklin John Rock was the iconic war comic hero. He was the hard-as-nails non-commissioned infantry officer who led the Easy Company in the European theater. Naturally he had a propensity to find his way to the thick of the battle. He turned down promotions to remain on the battlefield.
Again it's a totally surreal world. In real life a military person tries to do everything he can to survive. Try to be a hero and you're dead. Heroes are for comic books and TV series.
Was the entertainment a form of propaganda? Was it a way of encouraging boys to become docile and enthusiastic about following military objectives if they were to arise?
We ended up not so docile. My generation vociferously opposed the Viet Nam War. The Viet Nam war-themed movies ended up much different from the Robert Mitchum jobs. We see more clearly today what war is really like.
Movies still entertain but they also instruct. They aren't like the face of the '60s which was like watching our favorite football team win.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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