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The ‘reality’ of military training comes to prime time

Is NBC's new war reality show disrespectful of soldiers?
Is NBC's new war reality show disrespectful of soldiers?
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“Live ammo! Real explosives! Real danger!” So promises retired General Wesley Clark, the host of NBC’s newest reality show, in the trailer for “Stars Earn Stripes.”

In the show, celebrities including actor Dean Cain, WWE Divas champion Eva Torres and snowmobile racer Todd Palin pair up with U.S. military personnel to compete at war-like tasks like long-range weapons fire, jumping out of helicopters and blowing things up.

The program, produced by Dick Wolf ("Law & Order,"), Mark Burnett ("The Apprentice, "Survivor") and David A. Hurwitz ("Fear Factor") premieres August 13th and is being heavily promoted during the Olympics. But unlike actual war, viewers can presume no one will be killed, wounded or end up with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The activist group Roots Action is petitioning NBC to go further in depicting the “reality” of war. They want the network to air “an in-depth segment showing the reality of civilian victims of recent U.S. wars, on any program, any time in the coming months.” War is not a game, nor is it entertainment, they say, and shouldn’t be depicted as such.

NBC describes the show as “an action-packed competition show that pays homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.” Their website touts its policy of hiring returned veterans and says it hopes to inspire a similar commitment by other employers. And the teams compete for cash prizes on behalf of military-based charities. So, does all that justify the premise?

In the world of reality television, does this go too far? Do you find it disrespectful to show celebrities “playing soldier?” Or do you see it as a good way to spotlight the challenges facing our armed forces? And should networks be doing more to depict the harsh reality and the cost of war?


David Swanson, campaigner for Roots Action

Hal Kempfer, Retired Marine Lt. Colonel and CEO of KIPP, Knowledge & Intelligence Program Professionals