- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

HOLLYWOOD.

This was Ground Zero of World War II. The back lots of the Hollywood studios was where Paul Muni went to war against the Nazis, John Wayne started “back to Bataan,” where Mrs. Miniver captured a young German flier who parachuted into her Kentish garden.

Hollywood poured out war movies by the dozens, never trying to hide the hype, designed to buck up flagging spirits against the backdrop of bad news from Europe and the South Pacific. Nary a discouraging word was heard.

But now California is one of the bluest of the blue states, where hating George W. Bush is the highest calling of the patriot. The bad news from Baghdad is the only good news and even a Republican as tough as the Terminator is reduced to taking Democratic cover behind a Kennedy skirt.

The Washington Post, which invented the filter through which all news can be rendered sour, dour and bad, can take lessons from the Los Angeles Times. Every story on the Los Angeles Times front page on Christmas morning was bad news, and mostly about the evil of George W., the low morale of the American soldier in Iraq, how Republicans conspired in Louisiana to sabotage the levees that drowned New Orleans.

But if there’s no business like the show business for which Hollywood is famous, nowhere else has given the American soldier the business end of a dirty stick like Hollywood, circa 2005. Most critics of the war in Iraq are careful to preface criticism with synthetic sympathy for the men and women actually in uniform ? “we support the troops, but … .” Hollywood doesn’t bother.

“During World War II,” observes the London Guardian, one of the most vociferous press critics of everything George W. does, “American troops away from home for Christmas were entertained by Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers. Even in Vietnam, Bob Hope was guaranteed to put in an appearance. But soldiers in Iraq are more likely to get a show from a Christian hip-hop group, a country singer you have probably never heard of, and two cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys.”

Long-stemmed Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders are no doubt a welcome sight anywhere American soldiers hang about, but it’s true that the USO struggled this year to deliver much beyond appearances by Robin Williams and, of all people, Al Franken.

In the first months after 9/11, Wayne Newton, who succeeded Bob Hope as the man to recruit entertainers for the foxhole circuit, couldn’t accommodate all the stars who wanted to fly off to Afghanistan, and later Iraq. “We couldn’t have had enough airplanes for the people who were volunteering to go,” he told an interviewer. “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.”

Most Hollywood stars want to avoid the war. Many, like Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand, who promised to leave the country if George W. was re-elected but who never did, are more likely to show up at a rally to denounce the war. Wayne Newton, who likes the president, and Robin Williams, who doesn’t, tell prospects their presence in the mess halls and compounds in Iraq won’t be taken as endorsing the war. That hasn’t helped much.

“They’re scared,” says Craig Morton, a country singer, who’s from Nashville, after all (with California and Tennessee occupying space on different planets). “It’s understandable. It’s not a safe and fun place to be, and a lot of people don’t want to take the chance.”

The Christmas tour was for decades synonymous with a Bob Hope special. The first Hope tour was for Christmas 1942, and until 1990 he never enjoyed Christmas beneath the California palms. He took Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour to Europe and the South Pacific, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell to Korea, Raquel Welch and Ann-Margret to Vietnam. The troops in Iraq get the likes of Jessica Simpson.

But it doesn’t matter. Bob Hope learned that what the troops like best, even better than his masterful topical patter, were the girls, bosomy and long of leg, whom he invariably introduced as “what you’re over here fighting for.” Now, in deference to the many young women in the audience, the tour is carefully studded, so to speak, with treats for the fighting ladies.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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