Persian Gulf War Veterans in Popular Culture

By Gibson, Kelly | VFW Magazine, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Persian Gulf War Veterans in Popular Culture


Gibson, Kelly, VFW Magazine


Nicknamed the "Video Game War," the 1991 Persian Gulf War was fought "on prime time"- utilizing new satellite technology that allowed for live broadcasting, keeping the people back home informed on war in real time as it was happening.

This was the Orst time the home front could be so close to a war. The initial media coverage of a short, successful conlict in the wake of Vietnam played a role in how the Persian Gulf War and its veterans have been portrayed in popular culture.

GENERALS GAIN FAME AGAIN

For the Orst time since the Korean War, military leaders were back in vogue. The war's top uniformed ofOcers, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Gen. Colin Powell, gained instant notoriety. "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf rocketed to household fame for his success during the Gulf War.

He was so popular that many called for him to run for President. He also received a $5 million book deal for his memoirs, which was reviewed well in the New York Times in 1992.

Books analyzing the war, published soon after the swift victory, often depicted Schwarzkopf in a heroic or sympathetic light, such as In the Eye of the Storm (1991) by Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti who wrote, "Schwarzkopf appeared abruptly as an intensely human messenger of hope, however illusory or fragile."

Powell received similar acclaim. Many books have been written about his leadership and success. His legacy in popular culture is perhaps more far-reaching than is Schwarzkopf's. Powell has been mentioned in various pop culture outlets, ranging from being named on TV's The Simpsons to Neil Young's "Lookin' for a Leader," released in 2006.

PATRIOTIC TRIBUTES

The renewed respect accorded the military brass was a direct outgrowth of the strong sense of pride at home. It was fashionable to show a patriotic side, as was clear with the re-emergence of patriotic symbolism and programs.

Yellow Ribbons peaked in popularity during the Gulf War. This symbol was made most popular by Tony Orlando's famous 1973 song, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," and revived during the 1980 Iran Hostage Crisis.

"Displaying yellow ribbons provided talismans, good luck charms, and signs of social conformity all at once," wrote Douglas Kellner, a professor of media studies at UCLA, in his book The Persian Gulf TV War.

"It enlisted those who displayed yellow ribbons in the war effort, making them part of the adventure. Drawing on mythological resonances, tying ribbons to trees connected culture with nature, naturalizing the solidarity and community of Gulf War supporters. The ribbons symbolically tied together the community into a uniOed whole, bound together by its support for the troops."

Even pop culture icons such as Rolling Stone magazine decorated its cover with yellow ribbons, showing support for the troops.

Blue Star lags, symbolizing a familymember currently serving overseas, fell out of favor during the Vietnam War, but came back into common use during the Gulf War. In 2003, Congress passed a resolution encouraging families to proudly displays the service lag.

Troop support campaigns, such as the "Any Soldier" care package initiative, surged. VFW's own Operation Hometown sent some 100,000 care packages to troops overseas with the help of Posts and Auxiliaries across the country.

"The military ofOcers accepted the distribution with deep appreciation," Bob Wallace, now assistant adjutant general at VFW's Washington office, said at the time. "They indicated their priority would be to ensure the troops in the sand, on the front lines, would he the Orst to receive our packages."

PARADES & RALLIES

Persian Gulf War veterans were warmly welcomed home with multiple national parades and events. New York City hosted a ticker-tape parade, held on June 10, 1991, honoring the war's veterans. In a remarkable display of appreciation and patriotism, lower Broadway was decorated with large yellow ribbons and littered with literally tons of paper (and 200 miles of ticker tape printed and donated especially for the event). …

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