War is hell, but if you show it on television with curse words before 10 p.m., you could be in a lot of trouble.
The latest case in point is the film "Saving Private Ryan," which aired on ABC last Thursday. Thirty percent of the network's affiliates refused to show it because they were afraid they would be fined by the Federal Communications Commission for broadcasting strong language.
CBS was fined because Janet Jackson's breast slipped out during the Super Bowl. That FCC action was hailed by almost everyone as a great way to save America.
When U2 singer Bono used an expletive at an awards ceremony, the FCC deemed it a violation of decency standards.
Therefore, it would be no surprise if the FCC fined ABC because "Private Ryan" uses the same expletive in battle scenes.
The movie was blacked out in Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, West Palm Beach, Fla., Honolulu and cities across the country.
I checked to find out why so many ABC stations refused to run it. One southern station owner said, "We have to think of our children. If they hear obscenities on television, they'll use them the next day in the schoolyard. Have you ever heard a southerner use a bad word?"
Another owner who banned the show said, "I was in the Marines in Vietnam and we never used obscenities any time during my service."
I said, "Is that because the Marines wouldn't let you?"
"Yes. At boot camp, we were trained not to use the F-word. Any gyrene who uttered it would be sent on a 25-mile hike, and if he used more than one obscenity he'd be court-martialed."
Someone suggested I talk to a member of the Greatest Generation. I found him at the World War II Memorial. I asked him if the language in "Saving Private Ryan" had affected him.
"No, but I didn't want my grandchildren to see it. It wasn't just the language. It was showing soldiers being killed. I don't think children should be shown that."
"But the children see the same thing on the news every night."
"Yes, but the networks don't show people cussing."
"Maybe the Iraqis are cussing and we don't know it."
"What you don't know the Iraqis are saying can't hurt you."
Not everyone who watched the show was happy about it.
A friend called me up and said, "It wasn't the cuss words I objected to, it was the commercials. Just when Tom Hanks was pinned down by a German tank, ABC pitched ads for a credit card company, a fast food outfit, an automobile maker and an antacid pill."
A New York lawyer who saw the film told me, "I can understand the TV stations in the cities that banned it. They felt their audiences wouldn't understand the movie because it showed war in a bad light."
A lady who watched the movie in Chicago said, "My son thought the language was 'groovy' and he now uses it around the house all the time."
The question is, will the FCC fine the ABC stations that ran "Saving Private Ryan"? They are obliged to if obscene and profane language is broadcast.
It is not a question of war and peace, but whether Americans, particularly children, are subjected to indecent behavior.
For those of you who don't have cable, the F-word is used there all the time. That's why "The Sopranos" is such a hit.
I was lucky because I was able to see "Saving Private Ryan" last week, and it was a !@!$& good movie.
(c) 2004, Tribune Media Services