(To read the entire "COIN is Boring” series, please click here.)
My dad is a history teacher. More than a few times, I’ve heard a stranger tell him, “Oh, you teach history? I love history! Hated it in high school, but I love it now, especially the History Channel.”
Let me state unequivocally: just because you love the History Channel (now just “History”) doesn’t mean you love history. The History Channel is to history as Cliff Notes are to literature. Even that comparison doesn’t work, because at least you learn something when you read Cliff Notes. (If the hypothetical stranger had said, “I love PBS’ American Experience or History Detectives.”, I’d give them props.)
Which isn’t to say that the History Channel (again, now just History, but man that would make the rest of this post confusing) isn’t entertaining, it just has nothing to do with history. Between reality shows like Top Gear (really?) and Top Shot (Double really?) and fictional mini-series (The Bible and Vikings), the History Channel stopped covering the past. Though I like Pawn Stars (Chumlee, you’re such a goof.) and American Pickers, I don’t learn anything about actual history...or learn much of anything. I haven’t even mentioned Ice Road Truckers, but I doubt future college classes will discuss transportation in arctic biomes.
In a way, though, no history is better than bad history. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the History Channel solely dedicated its line-up to covering history...if “history” meant UFOs, Hitler and World War II. Or combining two of the subjects...if possible. (For example, “Hitler and the Occult”.)
What would the History Channel be without World War II? World War II start, stop and finish. When Band of Brothers came to cable, they snapped it up like nobody’s business. As Cracked notes, “the abundance of WWII film footage made it easy for them to fill out their lineup with documentaries on dogfights, D-Day, and legendary officers like George Patton and Tom Hanks.”
The Military Channel isn’t much better. Along with a hyper focus on World War II--often spending entire days only broadcasting shows on that war---the channel focuses on technology and weapons...and special operations. Writing this post, I looked up The Military Channel’s schedule. It included shows like “Weaponology: Sniper Rifles”, “Weaponology: Navy SEALs”, “Secrets of Navy SEALs” and “Secrets of SEAL Team 6”. (Quiet professionals: how secret are your secrets if a cable channel found them?)
Which brings me to the crux of this post, the point of the whole thing: what about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Fifty years on, will there be a channel dedicated to documentaries about the War on Terror?
Today’s wars make for terrible cable television. Imagine the narrator, “And then they constructed a bridge in Pashad”. Snore. Or another narrator, “After weeks of preparation, the young lieutenant set out on a Medical Civil Action Patrol.” Or, “On the 19th, the squad again encountered an IED. On the 20th, the same thing happened again.”
We’ve already seen this happen. Despite being the most televised war of all time--probably more than Iraq and Afghanistan, sadly--the History Channel seems to have forgotten about the Vietnam war. Same with the Military Channel, National Geographic or any psuedo-science/history channel allegedly working to educate the public (other than PBS).
If you hope that cable channels in the future will be filled with documentaries of the nation’s current wars, educating future generations about the perils and lessons of insurgencies, they won’t.
Why? Because COIN is boring.