December 26, 2005
During World War II, and in every subsequent war, our troops in the field have had one uplifting treat to look forward to amid all the danger and destruction of combat far away from home: that is the USO, the United Service Organizations, and the celebrities who came to entertain to troops, no matter where they were. But for this war, according to the Guardian, most celebrities have decided simply to "opt out" of entertaining the troops.
The USO was created in 1941 -- before the Pearl Harbor bombing -- as a joint endeavor between six organizations (hence the plural in the name): the Salvation Army, the YMCA and YWCA, the National Catholic Community Services, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the National Travelers Aid Association. From the USO website:
Throughout World War II, the USO was the channel for community participation in the war effort. In more than 3,000 communities, USO centers were established to become the GI.'s "Home Away from Home." Between 1940 and 1944, U.S. troops grew from 50,000 to 12 million and their need for a variety of services grew accordingly. USO facilities were quickly opened in such unlikely places as churches, log cabins, museums, castles, barns, beach and yacht clubs, railroad sleeping cars, old mansions and storefronts.
At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs. USOs could be many things to many people: a lively place to dance and meet people; a place to see movies or find religious counsel; a quiet place to talk or write letters; and, of course, the place to go for free coffee and doughnuts.
From 1941 to 1947, USO Camp Shows presented an amazing 428,521 performances. In 1945, curtains were rising 700 times a day to audiences as large as 15,000 and as small as 25 on some outposts all over the world. More than 7,000 entertainers traveled overseas. During World War II, Americans had come together as never before. By war's end, the USO could claim that more than 1.5 million volunteers had worked on its behalf.
(In 1944, Universal made a wonderful movie about the creation of the USO: Follow the Boys, starring George Raft -- did you know he began his career as a dancer? -- and spotlighting the talents of Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, the Andrews Sisters, W.C. Fields, Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan, and the only complete dance routine ever filmed of the incomparable female flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya... along with many, many others. If you can find it, rent this movie! It's not particularly historically accurate, but who cares?)
Alas, that proud history is less than nothing to today's self-absorbed, narcissistic "stars," who refuse to travel to combat zones abroad to entertain the troops, but rather stay home in droves. The Guardian article coyly speculates that the reason may be ideological:
It is a far cry from the days following the September 11 2001 attacks, when some of the biggest names in show business, from Jennifer Lopez to Brad Pitt, rallied to the cause. "After 9/11 we couldn't have had enough airplanes for the people who were volunteering to go," Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas crooner who succeeded Bob Hope as head of USO's talent recruiting effort, told USA Today. "Now with 9/11 being as far removed as it is, the war being up one day and down the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to go."
Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war.
Frankly, I think this is a shuck. There is no logical argument why even a diehard anti-war fanatic could not entertain the troops -- who, after all, didn't get to vote on when and where they would be deployed. In fact, several mainstays of USO tours are just such ardent anti-war types: Robin Williams, Henry Rollins, Joan Jett, and astonishingly enough, Al Franken. I heard one of Franken's jokes, and I thought it was pretty funny. He said that in the Army, even the food was controversial: "I've eaten five MREs since arriving here, and not a single one of them has had an exit strategy." (Plenty of conservatives are also going, including Ted Nugent, Wayne Newton, and Toby Keith.)
I'm sorry to say that the more plausible reason why so many celebs are boycotting the troops is simple cowardice: they're too afraid to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."
Just about everything in Hollywood except the special effects is worse today than in days of yore... including, I believe, the manliness of the men and women working there. When we were fighting the Nazis and the Japanese (who deliberately targeted USO shows and transport craft, by the way, as a way to demoralize the Allies), every major and minor star in Hollywood, every singer, every dancer gritted his teeth and flew into the war zones to cheer up the weary troops. On the distaff side, soldiers' days were brightened by Dietrich, Betty Grable, Hedy Lamarr, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, and other first-magnitude stars. In later wars, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Raquel Welch traveled to steamy jungles and snowy plains to remind the men what they were fighting for, as Bob Hope, the greatest USO asset ever, put it.
Today, about the best they can scrounge are Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, a couple of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and Jessica SImpson. For the rest -- thus doth cowardice make conscientious objectors of them all.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 26, 2005, at the time of 4:59 AM
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The following hissed in response by: pbswatcher
I see the Hollywood rejection of USO tours as a good thing. Before the country can get back on track, the leftist Hollywood propaganda mill has to be reined in. This is a good start. Let Hollywood show their true colors and stop hiding behind "We Support The Troops" hypocrisy. As they become more ideological their appeal declines. People will begin to notice that Hollywood is not on America's side.
The above hissed in response by: pbswatcher at December 26, 2005 7:37 AM
The following hissed in response by: MarkD
I wish them all long lives and active consciences. May they be reminded daily that better men and women gave much so they could turn their backs on their country.
The following hissed in response by: MillCreekDon
One only has to remember the service of Jimmy Stewart with the 8th Air Force over Germany to realize that the Hollywood of today only cares about its own press clippings and overly inflated salaries. Clark Gable also flew combat missions. I doubt if you'd ever see that again, even if the Pentagon would allow it. The spirit of caring for America seems to be banned within the confines of Beverly Hills or any backlot.
The following hissed in response by: Bill M
But, but, but...they support the troops...don't they?
Cowards they are, and I suspect the troops realize it. These guys and gals are pretty smart and can tell the real entertainers from the phonies. Good way to further one's career; alienate a good part of one's future audience.
Reminds me of "Hanoi Jane". Haven't seen one of her pictures since way back, for a very specific reason. Haven't missed much, either, I suspect.
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