This War Is Being Brought You by . .

by Charles W. Morton

Titled War in the Skies, the onehour TV “special” proved to be a documentary, following the fortunes of a fighter pilot from his Florida training base, across the Pacific, on missions against the Viet Cong, and through his return to the front from a Rest and Recreation outing with his wife in Hawaii.

The “special” was commercially sponsored, and it was no great jar at the beginning to be told that War in the Skies was being brought to us by the B. F. Goodrich Company. Before we bought another tire, so the initial commercial continued, we should consider “seven questions on the Tire-Calculator” with a view to consulting “the straight-talk” (these hyphens are mine) “tirepeople.”

Accomplishments of the Air Force personnel, and the risks to which they were exposed, were impressive, but the narration in the sequences that followed was embarrassingly insistent that we appreciate them fully. Refueling high above the mid-Pacific is an extraordinarily delicate operation, as the film showed only too plainly, but the scriptwriter felt it necessary to clinch the point: it calls, so the narrator proclaimed, for “precision, skill, and GUTS!” — this last being barked out in real paradeground emphasis. Moments later, at the destination, the tempo is set by a switch on the old pseudoreligious cliché when the new arrivals are warned, “Never forget, if you wanta stay alive, that somebody out there doesn’t like you.” This was followed by glimpses of German shepherd dogs snarling and straining at the leash, in search, presumably, of a somebody.

Grimness of the manhunt was relieved abruptly by the reminder that War in the Skies was being brought to us by B. F. Goodrich, a company noted for “innovations in footwear.” A work shoe with a new kind of toe was being introduced; also — with bouncy music backing up the jovial announcement— “all kinds of fashion-footwear” (that hyphen again!) “we make just for the fun of it. All from B. F. Goodrich, a company known for being pretty fast on its feet.” With equal abruptness we returned to the war, where a tactical explanation was going on: “We dig out the individual Viet Cong, track him, kill him.” It was important for Air Control to know “what kind of bombs will do the best job when there are no friendly troops within 1000 meters.” More tactical considerations were interrupted for a next message from Goodrich, and this one, in the form of an animated cartoon, was a far cry indeed from lethal matters. It was in fact a comedy of sorts: an ill-informed, confused little man — on “Tire-Buying Day” — is in a fine old flap about what to buy until the “Tire-Value Calculator” leads him to “B. F. Goodrich, the straight-talk tire-people.” (You may hyphenate at will, Gridley.)

Back at war once again, we find the Air Force men waiting, tensely, for news of a pilot who has failed to return from a mission. It transpires that he has been rescued. “He and the men of the 31st have much to be thankful for.” A chapel scene ensues, with a prayer and a view of the men singing a hymn, and next we are shown “the homeless” — old people and small children, Vietnamese. Of them, as the Americans give them food and small presents, the narration observes: “They’ll remember these strangers as their friends.”

A call from the infantry for air support brought more flying activity, with a series of shots of ground fighting and air strikes and another message from B. F. Goodrich: “Every minute of every day an airplane lands on B. F. Goodrich tires. . . . Wherever you find aviation progress being made, you find B. F. Goodrich.” There was still the R. & R. interval to be seen and one ultimate commercial about “a name that spells quality for industry, aviation . .” before the end of what might have been titled The Longest Sixty Minutes.

At best one would like to assume that the words and scenes of War in the Skies simply put themselves together for TV without human direction or assistance. I incline to doubt that the men who made the commercials did so in any awareness of the context in which they would be used. Neither do I believe that the Air Force participants in the program were informed of the narration and the advertising that came to punctuate the films of their assignment in Vietnam. But if anyone wishes to come forward and claim responsibility for bringing these two elements together, I should be glad to give him a credit line.