Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Stars and Stripes, Not Forever?

After I joined the Air Force....around January of 1978, I was sent off to Rhein Main Air Base, Germany.  There, I discovered Stars and Stripes.....the military's daily newspaper.

You had two choices of newspaper there.  The Stars and Stripes was the cheaper of the two, and had military-related gossip in it.  The Herald Tribune out of Paris?  It was expensive, and a quick read (in six minutes, you were done).

There were three things that attracted me to the Stars and Stripes.

First, it gathered up articles from across the US.  You read stuff that rarely made it into your hometown newspaper.

Second, letters were allowed.  The editors were careful, but over the years I came to realize that lots of folks really criticized the BX, the commissary, generals, bad Germans, and a thousand other things.  Some lady jumped all over the BP gas station in Ramstein village for selling hot lusty magazines at the counter, and she felt her son didn't need to see that kind of stuff in public.  Some guy complained about military guys laying around drunk on some public area in Darmstadt.

Third, some stories were laid out about things that occurred in Germany, Italy and England....that you'd never hear about in the US.  There was the Army guy who got home late, telling his wife that he'd been falsely kidnapped by German terrorists.....then got her all peppy and calling the cops.  It didn't end well for him. One Army guy had a British-made car that he'd paid big-money for, but continually put hundreds into repairs, and at some point.....upon the next breakdown on the autobahn.....he set fire to the car and watched it burn while the German cops arrested him.  The New Year's eve party at a Kapaun Air Force barracks, that ended up with German hookers as part of the party......reported on page three of the Stars and Stripes.

Over the years.....the brilliant leadership of the military made the decision to take the bookstore operations away from Stars and Stripes.  Every post and base in Europe had a four-star bookstore, which the Stripes operated.  From the profits, they subsidized the newspaper.  Few grasped that, or understood that relationship.  Once the deal was decided.....the BX folks got the bookshops.  Congress got to bigger subsidized checks to keep Stripes afloat.  The 50-cents for each issue?  Not enough.  You'd have to charge a dollar for the paper to really survive on it's own.

So the time has come.  Congress is now talking of dumping Stars and Stripes.  Some senators say no way.  The Pentagon budget guys don't see much reason to continue supporting it when the internet exist.

My humble guess is that the paper edition will disappear in the spring of 2014 entirely.  For two or three years.....a digital edition will survive to some degree.  It won't have a European slant or a Pacific slant....just a generic DC slant.

Personally, it was a great education tool for me.  I came to appreciate little stories that demonstrated the naive nature of people, lousy conditions that we accept as normal, and the strange results of putting Americans three thousand miles away from Texas.

The Stars and Stripes did a decent job, and probably served to make life a little less miserable.  It was a diversion from your job, or the two years you were going to pull in Germany.  It was....for better or worse....your hometown newspaper.

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