Huffpost Media

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mike Doughty Headshot

Adventures in Military Advertising

Posted: Updated:

I saw a big billboard in Times Square. It's incongruous for its minimalism -- just a picture of a grey boat on a blue sea, and the inscription If you go to, you'll find a message board and an opportunity to create a profile, all under a banner depicting framed snapshots on a shelf -- two sailors smiling together, a black kid in headphones, an Asian girl carrying schoolbooks. The headline: "You gave them the values. We give them the opportunity."

Front-racked among the board posts on the front page are things like, "Just wondering if there were any other Moms out there with son/daughters in Oceana?" and "Does anyone know how long sub school is after nuke school? I know it is in Groton, Conn." Many of the profile pictures are the eponymous Moms hugging sailors.

A billboard in Times Square is big cash to spend promoting a BBS for moms. Which is exactly what they're not doing. They're putting up a big photo of an empty sea that says, "Hey Mom, does your kid want to join the service to get the hell out of Highland Falls or Bed-Stuy, or to get some bucks for school, or just to get some bucks, period? Check this out -- water. Where's the sand? There is no sand. Weird people in burqas? Not unless they got boats!"

I searched for "U.S.S. Cole" on the site and, on the first page, their was stuff like this: "uh i dunno either, lol mick told me that hes on the USS Cole (im pretty sure thats it) its like the best barracks theres, lol so he got lucky!"

And: "my Sailors name is steven and he is a fire controlmen and will deploy on the rebuilt USS Cole."

And: "I've heard of battle stations, but I didn't know it was 12 hours long....and what do you mean reenacting the USS Cole?"

Near the bottom of the second page there's a post mentioning the Cole along with the World Trade Center. On the third, there's a couple more mentions of it in a patriotic context, and an outraged tale of two sailors in Pensacola getting drunk and stealing a bread truck. "WHERE is the DISIPLINE???" the author laments.

I grew up a military kid, on Army bases, and it was fascinating to watch the join-the-Army ads spooling by on TV, in contrast to the drab reality of military life. It was the era of the slogan Be All You Can Be. My dad was an officer, and, the housing areas of Army bases being segregated by rank, my friends' dads were also majors or lieutenant colonels who had been in Vietnam. There was weirdness going on in those identical houses, post-traumatic stress disorder yet to be medically named. With some of my friends' dads you got the impression that they'd stayed in the Army because they were scared of a civilian world lacking the strict structure of the military, where they'd be left to their own devices. I think that those who felt like this felt certain they were the only ones. I wonder if it nagged at them, at night, drinking beer, watching the ads between innings: Be all you can be.

It's perverse to me that we employ ad agencies to attract our soldiers and sailors. How weird is it that on shows skewed young, between the Mountain Dew and the L'Oreal ads, there are exhortations to pick up a gun and serve your country? How did we let this just become noise in the background? When the Iraq war started, and artists here and there spoke against it, I thought: It's nice to play your hits at a rally, but how about pulling your video from MTV, supported financially in part by a government trying to attract young bodies that Bush and Cheney can throw at their preferred outcome of history?