NEW YORK – As the U.S. prepares for possible war, the Pentagon is enlisting some old-fashioned Hollywood glitz.
At Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar, a quarter-million-dollar press briefing room created by a Hollywood set designer is being touted as a media-savvy tool that will help bring the war to life for reporters and the viewers back home.
The new, state-of-the-art room, designed by George Allison, is equipped with a 38-foot world map, two podiums, 70-inch projection screens, five 50-inch plasma screen TVs that can show maps, graphics and videos of the action and five digital clocks set to time zones all over the globe.
Allison, 43, has done set design for Hollywood, Broadway and even magician David Blaine. His latest creation was for the upcoming Michael Douglas film, It Runs in the Family.
And despite some criticism that the military is too worried about image, Allison said the glamorous new set will help military types better explain the war to the American public.
"It's much cheaper than one bomb, and it can do a lot more. It is the face of the military," he told USA Today. "What's important is not what they're standing in front of, the set, but the ability to communicate with members of the press."
Gone are the days when the first Gulf War commander of U.S. forces, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, was armed with little more than a VCR and an easel for press conferences. Gen. Tommy Franks, who would lead U.S. forces should war break out, will have countless gadgets to illustrate military maneuvers.
Sentiment about the media center is mixed among veterans of that war. Those in one camp applaud the clarity that the new technology will bring. But other vets are wary about getting too glossy in preparation for a potentially terrible, bloody conflict.
"This might smack of Hollywoodism," said Gulf War veteran Bob Bevelacqua. "You don’t care how sexy a sound system you have when someone dies of exposure to chemical weapons."