Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Anheuser Busch ad

A friend in the US has just sent me the Anheuser Busch commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. For those who haven’t seen it, it shows an airport terminal scene, then American troops returning home, presumably from Iraq. As they file through the hall, people start clapping, first one person, then two, then five, then a standing ovation from everyone in the hall. It ends with the words “Thank you” printed on the screen.

I had a strange mixture of feelings after watching this ad. It all seemed very distant to me. (Needless to say there are no “Support our troops” bumper stickers here in France.) The scene was like a curtain call. The audience stood and applauded as if in the theater. Granted, the people in this romanticized short film had no other way of expressing their appreciation, short of running up and hugging the soldiers. But I asked myself: appreciation for what? For protecting our homes and our families? For protecting our way of life? Or was it plain admiration for their courage that prompted the ovation?

I feel admiration for US servicemen and women, too, but it’s empty admiration, because I can’t help feeling that it was all so needless. Like a student who spends hours on a difficult homework assignment, finally conquering it and getting the right answer only to find out the next day that he did the wrong assignment, these young Americans had been sent into battle on false pretenses. I would much rather they had stayed home. I felt sorry for them as I watched them file through the hall. Had I been there, I probably would have clapped, too, but for other reasons, namely for their bravery in obediently towing a line that didn’t need to be towed and generally making the best of a bad situation. There’s something Quixotic about the whole thing.

For me, the ad conjured up the image of an army fighting a war it never wanted to fight, but has to, because the war was foisted upon it as the result of an attack on our country or on our allies. Of course, there was an attack on our country, but it was unconnected with the war. That the soldiers might believe the two were connected was another reason I felt bad for them. Had the commercial aired during the 2002 Super Bowl, with the soldiers returning from Afghanistan, I would have felt a lot differently.

At the same time, right next to these feelings deep inside me was another one. I felt ashamed. I’m not sure if I was ashamed of my feelings or of the government of my country, or both.



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