War Is No Game, So Why Is It Marketed to Children as One?

Published on
by
The Sydney Morning Herald

War Is No Game, So Why Is It Marketed to Children as One?

by
Avril Moore

In the post-conscription era, parents have subtler enemies to fight.

IT'S been nearly 40 years since five Melbourne women - Jean McLean, Joan Coxsedge, Irene Miller, Chris Cathie and Jo McLaine Ross - were sent to Fairlea prison for 14 days for their activities in the Save Our Sons (SOS) movement.

In the 1960s and early '70s, SOS successfully campaigned against conscription and Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. Times are different now; we no longer have such barbaric laws, our boys simply ''volunteer''.

Last week, the front pages of most Australian newspapers displayed heartbreaking images of two young men - Jacob Moerland, 21, and Darren Smith, 25 - who died in Afghanistan from an exploding roadside bomb.

I wonder how I would react in the event that either of my two sons, the same ages as the two dead soldiers, decided to ''join up''?

So it is that mothers today must try to save their sons from themselves.

David Simon and Ed Burns are all too aware of young men and their often-misguided call to adventure. In their award-winning TV series Generation Kill, based on Evan Wright's embedded reporting for Rolling Stone, the series documents the first three weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In it a new generation of young marines or ''warriors'', who have been raised on hip-hop, heavy metal and video games, request the evacuation of a young Iraqi boy badly wounded by one of their more trigger-happy colleagues.

Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen ''Godfather'' Ferrando acknowledges the situation is worse than ''shitty'' but refuses their request. He reminds them that ''nobody put a f---ing gun to our heads and forced us to come here. We're all volunteers.''

But surely this is disingenuous. Every year, the Pentagon spends $US6 billion using the latest digital gaming technology for training for the armed forces. This in turn has given rise to an effective recruitment tool called ''militainment''.

According to Peter W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defence Initiative at the Brookings Institution, ''America's Army'' is one of the top 10 downloaded games on the internet.

Singer describes it as a ''first-person shooter'', where the player is a soldier who goes out on various missions. However, to access the game online you must sign up and give your personal information, which helps recruiters find you.

Although Singer acknowledges that a large number of the players engage for the fun of playing the game, it has turned out to be, according to one study, ''more effective than any other form of recruiting that the US Army has''.

Furthermore, in another survey of Americans between the ages of 16 and 24, 30 per cent reported they had a more positive view of the US military after playing the game.

We know from studies carried out on young men that the brain is only fully formed at about 24 years and that the last part of the brain to develop is responsible for impulse control and risk assessment.

So what possible influence do parents of Generation Y have when the modern theatre of war is aggressively marketed to their children (who, given this evidence, really do only have half a brain) via the excitement of computer games?

The irony is not lost on Simon and Burns, whose characters, barely 18 years of age, continually parody the idea that they are killing people due to all the ''Nintendo'' they played as kids.

However, no amount of Simpson-esque or South Park-style wisecracking saves them from the horror of Iraq.

I live near Irene Miller and whenever I see her at the local shopping strip I am struck by how her tiny stature did not inhibit her maternal instinct to defy authority and protect her offspring.

In John Irving's semi-autobiographical novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, set during the Vietnam War, Owen, in an act of love, removes the right index or ''trigger'' finger of his best friend John who has been conscripted, thus ensuring he fails his physical.

Would I deliberately injure one of my children to stop them from joining up? Possibly. How many years do you get for grievous bodily harm?

Given that 30 per cent of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health disorder, are nine times more likely to commit suicide than veterans from previous wars and that horrific physical injuries are so prevalent that accurate statistics are unattainable, surely half a finger is a minor disability.

There is a scene in Generation Kill where armed marines who have surrounded a small Iraqi village watch as a fearless but clearly angry woman runs towards them.

"Women are the fiercest," one of them observes. "You always gotta look out for the women. Doesn't matter if it's a black bitch from South Central or some rich white bitch from Beverley Hills. Don't matter if you got a gun or whatever. They'll come after you screaming.'' Ooh-rah! to that.

Avril Moore is a Melbourne writer who lectures in visual culture at the Photography Studies College, Southbank.

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