The Shock of the AWful Images

By Linda Sharp, Dallas, Texas

And so it began, an endless barrage of rockets, missiles and artillery winding their way with surgical-like precision into the Iraqi capitol of Baghdad. Operation Shock & Awe, designed to stun Saddam and his inner circle and surpass any attacks that had gone before.

And while one certainly cannot doubt that the shock being felt in that city is as much physical as it is mental, the awe of watching the night sky turn bright with firepower is certainly one worthy of a Rod Serling Twilight Zone voice over.

Only you don't have to be in Baghdad to experience it. With over 500 journalists imbedded within the troops and broadcasting live from the hotspots, the entire world has a front row seat on the front lines.

Welcome to SurREALITY TV.

Our new American Idols are the military men and women and the Fear Factor they are facing head on is beyond anything network television could ever dream up. Eating horse rectum certainly pales next to direct combat, live fire and the threat of chemical weapons.

To quote Donald Rumsfeld, we are experiencing an "unprecedented event" in the real time coverage being broadcast of this war. Not only do we get to see the fighters taking off from the aircraft carriers, we watch them blast their targets, and then land back on their ships, heading to debriefing only after making a detour to the CNN correspondent. Their interviews are strangely reminiscent of football players being questioned on the sidelines during time outs in the NFL.

And that is where some of the "shock and awe" come into it for the viewing audience. Considering the subject matter and images we are seeing, there is a feeling that is almost voyeuristic. We know that when we see those bombs exploding, there are most certainly lives exploding along with them. For months leading up to this assault, we have seen the faces of the innocent citizens of Baghdad, the same faces who now cower under their kitchen tables, shielding their children with their own bodies. How great must their Fear Factor be?

We are also finding out in real time when casualties are happening within our troops. Details that even during Desert Storm would have taken upwards of 24 hours to confirm and relate to the affected families and finally the public, are on a live feed right into our living rooms. But those living rooms don't just contain interested, but luckily unemotionally attached viewers. They also contain the relatives, the husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and friends of the brave men and women living and dying in combat. They know the unit names, the positions, the work of their loved ones.

SurREALITY TV is unfortunately reaching these families quicker than a military member can call them by phone or knock on their door to formally notify them of their loss. THAT is shock and awe. THAT is the shocking and awful reality of our technological advances.

As we continue to stay glued to our television sets, let us not forget that those same media capabilities that are keeping us so intimately informed, are also keeping the relatives enmeshed in a live, technicolor hell.

Our obsession with reality TV shows - from The Bachelor to Are You Hot? - has revealed our appetite for watching the public humiliation and discomfort of others. I only hope that this exposure to SurREALITY TV reminds us of our humanity and that all our soldiers come home Survivors.


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"Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people (the U.S.) designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in this right hand."

General Robert E. Lee to Governor Stockdale of Texas

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