Soldier Laments Society’s ‘Pop Pablum’ Appetite

July 20, 2009

For release noon July 22 and thereafter (628 words)

Had the mourning period for Michael Jackson lasted just a few days, Sgt. Eric B. Horning might not have said anything. But three weeks of incessant Jackson publicity, most recently newly-discovered footage of the pop star’s hair ablaze during filming of a Pepsi commercial, riled him.
   
Horning, 31, an Iraq War veteran from Greenfield, wrote a letter to the news media suggesting “an article on why America’s moral compass is so screwed up.”
   
“I don’t know if the American people are that obsessed over celebrities that they feel they have to mourn a month over some celebrity they never met. It’s not like he ever did anything that’s going to change the course of the United States.”
   
“It seems backwards to me compared to when you bring a soldier home from Iraq or Afghanistan.”
   
It’s no easy task to evaluate the public’s news appetite, let alone to ascribe the blame: Does the media give the public what it wants or are we being force-fed a diet of pop pablum? Clearly we waste a lot of time on the inane at the expense of significant global developments.
   
Last week, the “Kate Gosselin moving to New York?” headline got by far the most hits on newsy websites. Second place went to stories about Jackson’s children’s custody arrangements. Then there were the always popular bits about Caylee Anthony, Drew Peterson and, six years after he killed his pregnant wife, Scott Peterson whose parents lured the media back into that circus when they asked the public for money to appeal their son’s conviction.
   
Horning was inspired to speak out after reading a letter by a solider identified as “Isaac” that’s been circulating online. Isaac writes, “I think if they are going to hold a moment of silence in Congress for Michael Jackson, they need to hold a moment of silence for every service member killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They need to publicly recognize every life that has been lost so that the American people can live their callous little lives in the luxury and freedom that we, those that are living and those that have gone on, have provided for them.”
   
The Isaac letter could be a fake, but Horning’s certainly was not. A Greenfield Central grad, he enlisted in the Reserves in 2001, transferred to the National Guard and served in Iraq from January 2005 to May 2006 with Alpha Company 2nd Infantry Division of Pennsylvania. He remains on active duty with the National Guard where one of his jobs is to assist with military funerals. Last month he helped perform the honorable casket transfer for an Indianapolis soldier who died in Baghdad June 19. The death was a suicide, a tragic illustration of what can happen when soldiers’ psychological needs go unaddressed.
   
The dead soldier’s family, to bring attention to the rising number of military suicides, invited reporters to attend the transfer ceremony, the name given to the return of a soldier’s remains to his hometown. Horning was upset the next day when the Jackson story got bigger play in the newspaper. “Is it more important that Michael Jackson passed away or that this family allowed pictures of a casket transfer to raise awareness of this problem?”
   
Horning also gets annoyed when Americans fail to recognize how good they’ve got it. In 2005, his company worked a polling station as Iraqis held elections to begin the process of writing a constitution, their first genuinely free elections with fair representation of all ethnic groups. “It was something to see how happy those people were to have the right to vote,” Horning recalls.
   
When it comes to our priorities, Horning thinks Iraqis could tell Americans a thing or two. For that matter, so can Horning and his military buddies.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.




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