New season of TV drama may include war in Iraq


The drumbeat for war with Iraq grows louder, and soon our leaders will have to answer the question that's first and foremost in the minds of the American people: Will we be able to catch it on TV?

And it won't pre-empt Survivor or Friends, will it?

That, at least, seems to be the prevailing mood of a good deal of the American public, which these days seems to view war as just another extravaganza to be watched from our La-Z-Boys and faux-leather couches.

The Persian Gulf War in '91 - now there was a great war to catch on the tube. Conveniently, much of the fighting, such as it was, took place in prime time for East Coast viewers.

After a hard day at the office, you could come home, grab a beer and a bag of Cheez Doodles, click on the remote and watch the skies over Baghdad lit up with tracer fire as coalition bombers rumbled overhead and Peter Arnett huddled near the window in his hotel room providing the play-by-play.

Now that was quality entertainment, wasn't it?

And it went on night after night: air raids over Baghdad, Scud missiles lobbed into Israel, U.S. and Iraqi troops on the move in the Kuwaiti desert as oil rigs burned and great clouds of thick smoke blackened the skies.

And all of it over in time for Letterman!

Best of all, you didn't actually see anyone getting killed. Hell, you didn't actually see anyone get scratched.

Whenever the Pentagon released a grainy video of a coalition air attack, all you saw was another low-slung brown building in a brown desert disappear in a couple of puffs of smoke, followed by a stern-looking four-star general at a lectern explaining that what you just saw was an enemy command-and-control center being eviscerated.

Then again, ever since the 11 o'clock news started showing GIs coming home in body bags during the Vietnam War, Americans have preferred their wars nice and sterile.

There's nothing like a good war where all the bad guys get wiped out with no muss or fuss and the worst thing that happens to our troops is that their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) get cold or the sound goes out during the Friday night showing of the latest Adam Sandler movie.

Still, it's puzzling to see how uninterested the American people seem in the face of this latest threat of war.

Pull a couple of ugly fish that can walk and breathe from some pond in Crofton, and that's all people talk about for months.

But here we are, readying for a war with a big Middle Eastern country with a large standing army and huge stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and all anyone seems to be talking about is: Hey, is that Tony Soprano nuts or what?! Did you see the big lug the other night?!

Thus far, it has been left up to our president, George W. Bush, to head up the PR campaign for a war on Iraq. Bush has chatted up everyone from Congress, the U.N., the British and the Russians to Oprah, Jay Leno and the guys on the 98-Rock morning show.

I'm waiting to turn on WJZ one morning and see him with Marty Bass and Don Scott. ("Marty, ah know your Ravens are havin' a tough season. But it's nuthin' like the world o' hurt we're gonna lay on Saddam real soon.")

So far, though, the polls show most Americans are all for getting on with this smackdown of Iraq. I may be wrong, but I think in the latest poll, more than 65 percent of the American people favor a war, with another 14 percent favoring it only if it's over in time for Fear Factor.

One thing's for sure, if and when we do go to war, it'll hardly be a secret to the Iraqis.

There was a time when you didn't want to tip your hand to the enemy, but apparently those days are over.

If the Iraqis want to find out our plans for invading their country, all they have to do is turn on CNN and listen to this or that senior Bush official speculating on exactly when we'll attack. ("Well, Aaron, if Congress plays ball with the president, we could be knocking on Iraq's door by the last week in October.")

If that isn't absurd enough, this week Time magazine ran a detailed map that showed the location of all "Known and Suspected Sites" where the Iraqis have hidden nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as missile launchers.

So the next time Saddam has a sit-down with his staff in the usual grimy hidden bunker, I can imagine one of his aides waving the magazine and saying: "Exalted One, if you believe Time, the Great Satan will probably hit us at our missile base outside Ba'qubah."

Oh, well. If it's any good, the war should do real well in the Neilsen ratings.

Somebody hand me the remote.

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