Uncle Sam Wants You, Stars of Stage and Screen and the Sporting World

Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart (for real)

Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart (for real)

The tradition of the citizen-soldier is still alive in this country — just look at our National Guard units. But the burden of military service is obviously not equally shared, with the affluent and famous tucked away safely at home. How many people remember that Jimmy Stewart, legendary Hollywood actor, flew dangerous combat missions in the skies over Europe during World War II? Stewart didn’t flaunt his combat service; in fact, playing against type, he stayed home as the unhallowed George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, a movie that celebrated the heroism of the ordinary citizen. In the movie, Stewart’s quiet, home-based heroism, his powerful sense of fairness and decency, is even allowed to overshadow that of his younger brother, who returns from war with the Medal of Honor.

There’s an interesting lesson there. In World War II, celebrities often risked life and limb in real military service, then after the war played against type to celebrate the virtues of a homespun heroism. Today’s celebrities avoid military service altogether but play tough in action films where they pose as “heroes.”

Other than Pat Tillman, who gave up a promising NFL football career to join the military after 9/11, I can’t think of a single celebrity who answered the call to arms as a citizen-soldier.

Then again, that call was never issued. After 9/11, President George W. Bush famously told us to keep calm and carry on — carrying on shopping and patronizing Disney, that is. He did so because he already had a large standing professional military he could call on, drawn primarily from the middling orders of society. This “all volunteer military” is often described (especially in advertisements by defense contractors) as a collection of “warfighters” and “warriors.” In the field, they are supplemented by privatized militaries provided by companies like Academi (formerly Blackwater/Xe), Triple Canopy, and DynCorp International. In a word, mercenaries. These bring with them a corporate, for-profit, mindset to America’s wars.

If we as a country are going to keep fighting wars, we need a military drawn from the people. All the people. As a start, we need to draft young men (and women) from Hollywood, from the stage and screen. And we need to draft America’s sports stars (I shouldn’t think this would be an issue, since there are so many patriotic displays in favor of the troops at NFL stadiums and MLB parks).

Jimmy Stewart served in combat. So too did Ted Williams. So too did so many of their Hollywood and sporting generation.

Until today’s stars of stage and screen and sports join with the same sense of urgency as their counterparts of “The Greatest Generation,” I’ll remain deeply skeptical of all those Hollywood and sporting world patriotic displays of troop support.

If this whole line of argument sounds crazy to you, I have a modest suggestion. Rather a plea. If our celebrities who profit the most from America are unwilling to defend it the way Stewart and Williams did, perhaps that’s not just a sign of societal rot. Perhaps it’s a sign that our wars are simply not vital to us. And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we end them? Now?

Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and The Contrary Perspective and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Uncle Sam Wants You, Stars of Stage and Screen and the Sporting World

  1. We might add to that list of “celebrities” ( as we call them today) who were active in WW II Glenn Miller, the big band leader who disappeared crossing the English Channel in a plane, Frank Capra the film maker, Tony Curtis, Lee Marvin, etc. But let us not forget that the backdrop for the nation was “total mobilization” which left no citizen untouched by the national effort. Those not in the military did not go out and shop at the urging of our president (FDR) ,they sacrificed. Gas, meat, flour, sugar,and many foods,were rationed, women gave up silk stockings, men lost the ‘cuffs’ on their pant legs, etc. And let us not forget the millions of young 18 year olds who gave their youth to that effort.
    Our “War On terror” is a phony war and does not merit comparison to WW II. We must give up the idea that military action or ‘regime change’ are the only options in dealing with difficult and threatening political situations. Let us remember the British had to deal for decades with “terrorism” from Ireland, just a few miles across the Irish Sea. They tried military action for decades but it was diplomatic negotiation that finally resolved the situation. The current “terrorists” are not just across the Irish Sea from us but across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, a good 8000 miles away.
    The “War on Terror” is a cover story to hide the real purpose of the imperial ambitions of American corporations and our political elite to control worldwide resources and markets. We don’t need the draft or Sylvester Stallone in the military. Lets get rid of the “imperial ambitions” and we may be also be able to then get rid of the crazies in our congress who fund these wars.

    • The problem is money. Almost everything that this country does is determined by how profitable it is. I almost never hear from anyone in elected office in government, on any subject whatsoever, without an addendum at the end of the message asking for money. Our supposedly peace-oriented president is a jingoist who supports those parts of our society that make fortunes on war materials from rifles to warships. I voted for him assuming that he would carry out the noble principles that he campaigned on in 2008 and then we got stuck with him because there is no reasonable alternative. Do you have a realistic approach that we can adopt with any hope of stopping war?

      • What if they give a war and nobody shows up? (Or did they?) If they threw me in jail the day I burned my draft card, I would have gotten out of jail five years before that war was over. Ironically, some of the people who burned their draft notices in the ’60’s are selling similar wars now. We said, “Old men start wars and young people die in them, so let us give peace a chance.” Seems like every generation has their time of peace and time of war and I can give u a longer list of slogans.

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