David Fiore has an interesting post about popular culture being our best tool for “conquering” the Middle East. Today the NY Times has a great stroy on what our forces take with them to the far reaches of the globe:
- American troops arrive for duty in Iraq with a rifle in one hand, a wrench in the other and a lot of American pop culture in their rucksacks.
Personal CD players, MP3’s, portable DVD movie systems, satellite dishes and laptop computers with Internet access allow soldiers to stay current with American music, movies and television, even inside the concertina wire at bases deep in a foreign society isolated by years of dictatorship, embargo and war.
When a day’s combat patrol or reconstruction mission is over, the troops join the global consumer culture, retreating into the the privacy of headphones to recapture a bit of territory in the war zone, free from the collective of military life.
….At the Kirkush Military Training Base in the eastern Iraqi desert less than 15 miles from the frontier with Iran, an hour’s wait for a helicopter was spent listening to Marilyn Manson, Eminem and Shania Twain before the Black Hawk fired up its turbines and somebody back in the barracks, as if on cue and with a dark sense of irony, cranked up Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
The songs came from a European satellite music channel and a communal computer where 12.8 gigabites of tunes had been downloaded for sharing on MP3’s. The rule was simple: Take some music, add some music.
“Any time anybody on the team gets a new CD, they load it in, so we stay pretty current,” said Sgt. Thomas R. Mena.
As the new CD from Tool blasted in the barracks, Sergeant Mena scrolled through the computerized music library, which ranged from Abba and AC/DC, through Limp Biskit and Metallica and on to Van Halen and ZZ Top.
Emigres from West Africa who joined the Army for citizenship and career training arrived with the latest Nigerian pop CD’s. Chinese-Americans hauled along hot Hong Kong video imports.
“We’ve got the whole world under one tent,” said Pfc. Nicholas Allen of the First Infantry Division’s Third Brigade Combat Team.
….Inside the Baghdad Green Zone, the walled-off sector of central Baghdad whose palaces are home to the American-led occupation authority, Ludacris and R. Kelly were heard within earshot of the broad promenade where Saddam Hussein celebrated victories under crossed swords that reach five stories into the sky.
A Green Beret sergeant in his 40’s, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and now in Iraq to train new domestic security forces, said he packed Grateful Dead CD’s next to his laser rangefinder.
The country and western of Dwight Yoakam blared from a mechanics’ bay at Taji airfield, north of the Iraqi capital, even as a bass drum of captured ordnance rumbled in a controlled detonation.
….The Great War had George M. Cohan to lead an all-American chorus to remember our boys “Over There.” The Dorsey brothers helped G.I.’s march through Europe to a big band rhythm. Deep in the jungles of Indochina, Jimi Hendrix boomed from cassette players to men lost in “Purple Haze” and the fog of war. Popular military D.J.’s, like Adrian Cronauer, portrayed by Robin Williams in a fictionalized account of 1965 Saigon, spoke straight from the heart, straight to the troops, in must-hear radio shows on the old armed forces radio network.
But for troops serving today in Iraq, the American Forces Network is most popular for its satellite television, which reels in sports, news and shows from “The Simpsons” to “Seinfeld” to “Friends” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
….”Our format is ‘Bright Adult Contemporary,’ which is mainstream hits,” said Lt. Col. Mathew Durham, who is in charge of the American Forces Network in Baghdad. “Naturally we have to be careful about what we play in an Islamic nation. But we’ve got a big play list.”
Soldiers at checkpoints, where headphones are prohibited, are among the most loyal network radio listeners. The messages they hear between the songs are mostly lowest common denominator public service announcements, urging soldiers to clear their weapons before entering dining halls, to drink more bottled water as March temperatures push toward 100 degrees, to write home more often and file their taxes on time.
My guess is that our soldiers won’t need to go to places where the products of our popular culture are freely available – in the meantime, they’ll take it with them.