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Blood, Sweat, Tears and Bloomies

By Juliette N. Kayyem

THE deal is a testament to America's quick marketing abilities. Scarcely two months after American troops began arriving in the Persian Gulf, one of the marketing whizzes at Bloomingdales, the expensive department store chain, had devised "Operation Desert Shield from Home."

Concerned about a loved one in the services? Feeling guilty that you don't? For a mere $60, Bloomies will send a Christmas package full of goodies to your loved one, or to any random soldier in the Persian Gulf.

The package includes a sweatshirt with a quotation from General George S. Patton, a Bloomies minibear, six magazine travel games and 150 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum.

You'd pay 60 bucks for that, wouldn't you?

The marketing director of the Boston Bloomingdales explained that the contents of the package were chosen by the chairman of the board, an old World War II vet who remembered what deliveries he would have appreciated on Christmas days in Europe.

Bloomingdale's sold out of the package by mid-November. The store promises to take care of the handling, freight, sales tax and military customs requirements. Like Federal Express, Bloomingdales guarantees delivery.

According to a Bloomingdales official, most of the packages were sent by people who knew no one in the Persian Gulf, but just wanted to send their support. A bit odd, perhaps, but not surprising when you consider that the typical infantry soldier is unlikely to be part of the Bloomingdales class.

I WOULDN'T criticize the sincerity of people who bought a Bloomies care-package. No, my criticism has more to do with the numbing of our senses to the seriousness of what is going on "over there." The G.I. care-packages are not Bloomies' display of "New Kids on the Block" paraphernalia, to be sold to over-zealous preteens wanting to emulate their idols. Operation Desert Shield is the real thing, and it isn't for sale.

Sixty dollars is a lot of money, especially to military spouses (mostly women) who are now left with marital partners overseas. At the same time when many young women are taking financial-counseling courses in emptiedout Army forts, when women who have never written a check must finally care for household expenditures, when parents in the army can't do anything with their children but send them to relatives in distant towns, when some wives are eights months pregnant, others newly married, and others can't speak English, sixty dollars for a teddy bear appears a bit inconsiderate, a bit frivolous.

I can't be sure, but the wives of men in the forces are probably not shopping at Bloomingdales for their Christmas gifts.

Somebody in the financial offices at Bloomingdales obviously figured out that this was pretty good public relations. Many newspapers and news magazines mentioned the product, one going so far as to claim that the Bloomies package is the "most patriotic" gift of the season.

Should it bother us that Blooming-dales has such a package? If Blooming-dales really wanted to make a patriotic contribution to the men and women at the front, it could have used its resources to send any gifts (children's letters, bibles, souvenirs from home), not just $60, high profit-margin ones, to Saudi Arabia. "Operation Desert Shield from Home" is, in all honesty, callous.

But the more serious problem is that our armed forces are not representative of those who debate the issues, those who subscribe to Foreign Affairs, those who can afford to go shopping on Lexington Avenue. Only two members of the U.S. Congress have immediate family members in Saudi Arabia. No one sitting on the editorial board of this newspaper is fearful of immediate departure. And Bloomingdales caters to a clientele who, more likely that not, reads about the crisis, but doesn't go home to sleep alone because a husband or wife is halfway around the world.

The racial and class rift that largely reserved combat in Vietnam for the poor and uneducated still has not been resolved. Given that, the last thing we need is an item which seems to mock the severity of the situation, which has the appearance of saying, "Oh yes, I remember you. Here's a sweatshirt and some gum. Thanks for the effort. As you can see, we're behind you all the way, sacrificing right alongside you. Oh, and don't worry. I charged it on my Visa."

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