By SUE HUTCHISON
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
On the day last week when 14 Marines in Iraq were killed in a roadside bombing, I sat down with two Marines in a Silicon Valley living room to watch a TV show set on the desert battlefields. You've probably heard about "Over There," the FX show on Wednesday nights that's the first war drama ever to air while the war it depicts is still going on.
The two Marines, 24-year-old Cpl. Sean Scharf and 23-year-old Cpl. Sean O'Neill from San Jose, Calif., recently served two tours in Iraq. They have been close friends since they met at Camp Pendleton two and a half years ago. The Seans, as I call them, sarcastically refer to the war as "our little adventure for democracy."
The more time they served, the more they became convinced that the United States should never have invaded Iraq. That's one of the reasons they came to Anne Roesler's house in Saratoga, Calif., last week, along with a couple of their friends in the military, O'Neill's fiancee and two mothers of troops. Roesler, a member of the anti-war group Military Families Speak Out, also has a son who has returned from duty in Iraq. She and the other parents in her group firmly believe that the troops they love are fighting for a lie.
That's how the Seans feel, as well.
Both of them were skeptical about watching "Over There." As O'Neill said, "I'm offended at the thought that any of this should be used for entertainment."
But after they watched the show, they agreed that its creator Steven Bochco had gotten a few things right. They said it looked real, from the bullet-ridden sedans on forlorn roads to the standard issue weapons and gear. The horrible tension at military checkpoints and indecision before finally opening fire on a car that might be driven by civilians seemed pretty accurate too, they said.
Ditto on the scenes of infidelity by military spouses back home -- something that happens all the time, the Seans said.
Politics of war
But they wondered why the show was so careful to avoid the politics of the war, when that's what it's all about. Why did the writers waste dialogue on racial tensions between soldiers when the soldiers they knew were more likely to talk about why they didn't have the equipment they needed or argue about why they are fighting the damn war in the first place?
"When you're out there at a checkpoint, you're not hassling each other about race," Scharf said. "You're asking, where is our relief and why can't we get ahold of anyone in higher command?"
The Seans said that the most phony part of "Over There" was the way episode wrapped up, neatly. Several civilians, including a little girl, had been killed, but an insurgent was caught hiding in the trunk of one of their cars.
"It seems like they were saying, 'At the end of the day, it was worth it,"' O'Neill said, rolling his eyes. "No way. In real life no one ever gets that satisfaction. It's constant chaos and confusion."
Scharf shook his head as the credits rolled: "The song at the end says, 'Someone has to die.' But, over there, so many times no one should have had to die. It was because of a wrong turn taken or the Med-evac didn't come fast enough or someone was mistaken for someone else.
"They didn't have to die. They just did."
For a moment, the 14 Marines killed that day seemed to haunt the living room in Saratoga.
X Sue Hutchison is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune.