The US viewing public loves TV and movie military dramas. Why does the entertainment industry abandon any pretext of seeking expert military consultants?

Ralph Hitchens's picture

I just watched the opening episode of a new military drama series on CBS, “The Code.”  About USMC Judge Advocate General trial lawyers.  I had to check it out, in part because in those long ago days when I was a lieutenant and later captain in the Air Force, I sat on my share of courts-martial.  Never for a capital case, naturally, but for plenty of lesser offenses such as theft, assault and battery, drug use, and (more seriously) desertion and disobedience of orders, i.e., refusal to accept PCS orders to Southeast Asia.


“The Code” (referencing the UCMJ) is in most respects a typical courtroom drama with USMC JAG prosecutors and defense attorneys racing to unearth damning evidence to save an innocent defendant or put away a psychopath.  Who doesn’t enjoy this sort of drama?  Still, it’s the little things that I notice – in this case, the apparent absence of knowledgeable military consultants.  One character on trial in this episode was a US Navy doctor, referred to by rank as a “commander.”  And yet, only two stripes on his sleeve!  And to cap it off, he and another USN medical officer wore what I am 99 percent certain were Surface Warfare badges on their blouses.  Would doctors and other personnel in the USN Medical Corps also be qualified watch-standers?  Somehow, I doubt it.


We’ve known, at least since the disastrous CNN “expose” of Operation Tailwind in the late 1990s, that a lot of people in the media are laughably ignorant of military matters.  This ignorance spills over into the entertainment industry, which inconveniently finds itself in need of military expertise to satisfy the public hunger for military-themed movies and TV shows.  And yet, the yawning divide in America between the few of us who have served and the many who have not seems to be growing ever wider.  Why is it that the “showrunner” and screenwriters of “The Code” – who obviously enjoyed plenty of USMC support, judging from the authenticity of the settings, i.e., active military bases and airfields – would not have been able to spare a few dollars to hire a consultant or two, to enhance the show’s realism in small ways?  As a retiree I would certainly volunteer myself, and although I was in the Air Force I had enough “purple time” to know the basics of uniform accoutrements in the sister services.  I would have been gratified to accept a modest stipend and save these entertainment professionals from embarrassing themselves on network television.


As an aside, let’s be fair-minded enough to offer a compliment to “The Code” in one brief scene:  the CENTCOM commanding general speaks briefly with a JAG officer before going into a “mindfulness training” session with his staff.  A quick check of the blogosphere shows that this is a real thing, of current interest within the military as well as other work environments.  Check out a study documented at Miami University –


I suspect that all of us who have some working knowledge of the minutiae of military life have experienced the same eye-rolling reaction to Hollywood. Yet I've learned to mostly set that aside and focus on whether the story being presented is compelling. I would recommend an article that deals with this topic: Don Graham, "Mission Statement: The Alamo and the Fallacy of Historical Accuracy in Epic Filmmaking," in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, eds. Gregg Cantrell and Elizabeth Hayes Turner (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007). A quote from Graham's chapter summarizes a realistic approach to this issue: "History may try to tell both sides of the story ... but film has different goals such as entertaining, instilling patriotism, and creating emotional 'truths' if not literal ones. Or it may do the opposite, as in a Michael Moore opus, and deride patriotism, but film lives or dies by its ability to marshal the emotions of its audiences in favor of one side or another. The Alamo 2004 waffled around on every side and refused, unlike the actual defenders of the Alamo, to take a stand. Thus only those historians who care deeply about the accuracy of the Mexican uniforms really loved the film. Their number is not large."
Graham's essay points out that The Alamo (2004) was made with leading historians of the subject embedded in the filming process and purported to be the most historically accurate film yet made - but it still came out with historical inaccuracies and failed at it's primary task: telling a compelling story. If a military movie or TV show is made with total accuracy (and is this even possible ?) and no one goes to see it, does it really matter?

The doctor may have been a line officer before going to medical school. When I joined PUGET SOUND in 1989, the doctor was a former blackshoe; before that, my roomate in DEWEY went to medical school after leaving the ship.
Bill Roberts
William H. Roberts, CDR, USN (Ret)

It was with amusement that I read Mr Roland's comments on factuality and The Siege of the Alamo, having finished once more reading the very good :
TUCKER Phillip Thomas. Exodus from the Alamo. The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth. Castemate, Philadelphia, 2009. Hard cover, dustjacket, xvi, 404pp., illustrations, maps, index.

Which a long time friend, who being from Arkansas, and descended from original settlers in 1805 always had a 'thing' about Texans, and their grandiose concept of Texas - he even disliked them (in a non-violent manner) more than Okie's he had sent to me.

He always taking great pleasure in sending me items on Texans 'stuffing up'!

And he stating to me that Tucker's book would have to be a text that Texans would hate, as it is a through description of the battle, removing much of the mythology from its events. It in fact showed much of what I could not understand previously as being actually in some cases out right lies.

But his basis of what the book proved was the utter fallacy of the media, be it current affairs, or entertainment in production of factual information in a "Hollywood form".

Taking him to task about the fallacies had come about far earlier than the creation of Hollywood, and their intent being the creation of Texas, and the Alamo being a suitable tool to as Mr Roland wrote "instilling patriotism, and creating emotional 'truths'", he stating as much as he disliked them these untruths did create in the then tortured land of Texas a spirit of love of state and a belief in its certain future.

I think that really he was a closet Texan, as he would always go to bat for them against Oklahoma football matches - now that is some that really leaves me dead, American Football!!!!!!!!!

I hae a foot in both camp. I well recall a film on which I was an extra, with the following scene, the first in the movie:
A group of off duty US soldiers are in a bar in Hanoi immediatly after the end of the Vietnam war. A group of renegade VC come in and start a rucus

The first dialogue went thusly:
The war is over. There is an amnesty. Can't we just be friends.

Since you brought up doctors, as a practicing physician , I find many of the medical scenes painfully ridiculous.

Ely Robert Tandeter,MD