Rusty NelsonBy Rusty Nelson

How’s your patriotic self esteem (PSE)? I usually do pretty well with that, considering that some observers long ago decided I deserved an especially warm spot in their version of Dante’s Inferno for being (choose one, according to political trends in the Inland Northwest) a traitor, an America-hater, a liberal, a socialist, a godless communist.

One thing I’ve retained as I lost more and more enthusiasm for nationalistic murder and mayhem is a great fondness for the Olympic Games, and now that is interfering with my PSE. Nancy and I watched lots of track and field, gymnastics and swimming, tolerated parts of the infinite matches and promotions of beach volleyball while catching glimpses of other sports. We often root for American teams and individuals, but we have a problem with some announcers and athletes who seem to feel that silver or bronze is for losers. Years ago, we almost hoped the U.S. would do no better than silver in order to escape the oppressive strains of The Star Spangled Banner, but now we’re more likely to use the mute button, check in with real life, and ponder having TIVO for the next Olympics.

TIVO might have spared us some missed events and some unmissed and PSE-damaging promotions. I was particularly annoyed that Tom Brokaw was given an hour of Olympics prime time to re-hash the British perspective of World War II. As I waited impatiently for some of the long-awaited track finals, Brokaw showed how appropriate it is that he’s a retired news anchor with his tribute to the hosts of London 2012. Showing footage we’ve all seen on PBS, he praised Winston Churchill for badgering Hitler into bombing Great Britain and killing thousands of British civilians in order to get the U.S. into the war. Nothing groundbreaking. No cautionary notes about how war takes over families and lives and entire countries so that relief becomes more precious than victory. I’ll be very upset if he gets the Emmy that NBC seemed to be fishing for as I longed to get back to an international competition which does not rule out health and healthy relationships.

Commercials are an occupational hazard for those of us who won’t stay away from television and wouldn’t know how to use TIVO if we had it, but we still bristled at some of the fare. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has improved her delivery, but her writers use their imaginations only to think we might want to hear the same insulting generalities every hour. I’m a little more interested in what President Obama has to say, but his theme was just as repetitive. No other candidates could afford spots during the Olympics, I expect, not that they would have perked up my PSE. But NBC used some of those high-priced slots to push its latest glorification of war, “Stars Earn Stripes.”

That sponsors could be found for such deranged entertainment is hardly surprising but it is still a blow to my PSE, and then they have Gen. Wesley Clark as the interlocutor, dashing my last hope that a few senior officers might have recently come out of the military a little wiser than they were before Desert Storm. I can hardly blame the civilians who play warriors on tv. Each of them has peaked as a B-level celebrity and is desperate for more limelight. I’m not qualified to say if sagging PSE might be a factor, but seeing them on the program promotions was an unkind cut to my PSE.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in being appalled that this show is on network tv, and I don’t have to watch it to express my outrage. The Colbert Report, for one, did a nice job of lampooning “Stars Earn Stripes,” proving, for my money, Comedy Central has a more astute news team than NBC.

Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and Peace Action were among organizations protesting at NBC headquarters at the show’s debut on August 13, delivering a petition signed by thousands who feel embarrassed or angry about this kind of War-O-Tainment.

Veterans For Peace President Leah Bolger said, “Retired General Wesley Clark should be ashamed of himself for his role in promoting this ‘reality’ show. He knows better than most that war is not a game played by contestants. In a promotion for the show, he tries to impress us with its realism ‘…live ammo, real explosions and real danger….’ How ironic that PFC Bradley Manning has been in jail for more than two years for letting the public see the real truth of war, while NBC makes a profit out of making it into entertainment.”

I’m proud of Leah for bringing up Manning in a meaningful way. While these wannabe warriors are getting the attention they crave and making war look like an Olympic sport, Bradley Manning has been ignored by the media, pronounced guilty by the commander-in-chief. The things I’ve been called over the years pale in comparison to epithets aimed at him in the past 24 months. It’s a shameful situation, nothing like settling for a silver medal, and nothing like what we claim to want for whistle-blowers who have the temerity to challenge the glorification of war by revealing that war is, as it always has been, a manifestation of evil and a corruption of humanity and civilization. Bradley will finally get his trial October 1, after another pretrial hearing the end of August, when the army may have to explain the role of a lieutenant general in having Manning held under inhumane conditions. (

My physical education teacher in 7th grade was a retired army officer. One day he called a boy who was being disruptive, and told him he was being promoted to corporal. Coach took the braided lanyard from around his neck and told the boy to hold out his arm. After one quick flick of the loop, the boy wore two bright red marks. He’d earned his stripes.

As an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan, Bradley Manning earned his promotion to specialist, but that was taken away when he was accused of passing classified information to Wikileaks, information that was documentation of a U.S. massacre of unarmed civilians. No one involved in the massacre has been punished. Some of them may be helping produce “Stars Earn Stripes” to entertain you and your children while other military personnel are trying to prove Manning is guilty as charged, after he’s already been punished in abusive detention. What does that do to your PSE?