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War, What Is It Good For?

Ted Koppel's Discovery: Our Children's Children's War, which debuts Sunday on Discovery Channel, is a serious and sobering look at a war that looks like it will be measured in decades, not months or years.

That is the war on terror, which, like the war on poverty, sounds like a good idea but also sounds like an oversimplification, sort of like trying to reverse engineer grays into blacks and whites. It also sounds more and more like a new version of the cold war, which keeps the defense industry and independent contractors humming, or is that Humvee-ing along ad infinitum.

It even has the element of nuclear threat as the conversation stopper when people ask about the trillion-dollar impact of 9/11.

One of the terrorist's weapons, the documentary points out, is overreaction, is getting you to do far more than the threat, real though it may be, necessitates, expending human and financial treasure that could otherwise be used to fuel the culture they disdain, even hate. Actually, that last part was mine. The show's point was more that those terrorized tend to overreact by compromising the values that have gotten us where we are, or were, and winding up with like Abu Ghraib, which makes us look even worse in the eyes of the people the terrorists are trying to recruit to their causes.

But I digress since this is supposed to be a review of the show. But then again, it is a shout-out to the show that it has made me think about these things with a new urgency.

It is like Nightline deja Vu, only I didn't have to miss The Colbert Report to watch it. Which means it was serious, well-written, thought-provoking and Koppel-centric. In this case I think a bit too much.

The show is all-Ted, all the time, which made me pine for a John Donvan or David Marasch to break up the piece with some other correspondent voices and faces. I would recommend having at least one other interviewer, but that may be my pavlovian conditioning from Nightlines past.

A narrated documentary seems natural in one voice, but with Koppel doing both all the interviews and all the narration, it seemed a little like producing Nightline during a correspondents' strike. But enough harping, Gabriel.

I learned things I didn't know including the extent to which independent contractors were doing security and how many of them–800–had been killed. I was moved by the soldiers trying to win hearts and minds by helping minister to livestock, or the officer who awkwardly but gamely walked hand-in-hand with a local official as is their custom and so clearly not his, or that same official trying a burger at a barbecue.

There is hope, but there is clearly uncertainty about outcome and strategy.

The show's point is that it is hard to tell when this "war" began–its point is also to put that word war in quotes by suggesting the war may have been poorly defined–and given that definition, when it can end, though clearly suggesting it will be our children's children's war.

Certainly TV worth watching (Sunday, March 11, 9 p.m.) If it doesn't make you think,it ought to.

By John Eggerton