It’s only when I look closer to see the very lifelike photo of Major Amerine adorning the plastic box cover that I begin to think something is amiss. No bulging muscles, no kick-ass eye patch, no burning flame-saber, no metal claw arms; none of the standard gimmicks that convince young patrons to purchase this soldier of fortune, this master of disaster.
The major, as a matter of fact, is wearing his dress uniform and a tie. A collared shirt and a tie! Unheard of in G.I. Joe land, where any tie-wearing meant that this neck wasn’t bulging with enough sinewy arteries to stop the next garrote attack.
“Featuring America’s Army,” the box reads. “Real Heroes: This ACTION FIGURE is of an actual soldier who has rendered distinguished service in the Global War on Terrorism.”
Far be it from me to second-guess the U.S. Army. I certainly won’t go against the forcefully capitalized Global War on Terrorism. But I can’t help but feel seriously uncomfortable as I leave the store. Clearly, boys will be boys, and boys do love to play war with their soldiers.
I don’t think it’s too grammatically picky to say, however, that there’s a big difference between war and War. The concept of small-w war isn’t new – the eternal sandbox struggle between good and bad, the guys with blonde hair and names like “Dirk” and “Jack Rattlesnake” gamely taking on (and always defeating mightily just before calls to wash up for dinner) evildoers who had animalistic faces and monikers like “Cobra” and “Stalker.” If violence among children is never to be outright encouraged, at least it was relegated to the backyard fantastical.
Here, however, we have real American soldiers. The “America’s Army” Web site lists the biographies of the eight soldiers included in the series, and they are truly heroes all.
All decorated with Bronze and Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Crosses. Catchy monikers are replaced with equally catchy odes to democracy: Major Amerine decrees that “I will always place the mission first,” a Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein says, “I will never accept defeat.”
After taking all of this in, I have to question the sense of this series. Yes, it is commendable to acknowledge our fighting men and women (though all the figures in this set are men), who are so often overlooked when they return to the country they risked everything to preserve.
But for children, impressionable, sponge-like children, doesn’t this start the indoctrination a bit early? There are no creepy villains for the heroes to battle – instead, kids are told that their enemy is the faceless threat of Terrorism on a Global Scale. It doesn’t matter who or where, really, if the label says Terrorist, they’re the enemy.
Talk about the hard sell: if you’re told from the minimum toy-safety age of five or six that there’s a Global War on, how can you really be asked to differentiate between the sand in the sandbox and the deserts of Iraq? Can you be asked to disassociate the stark labels of Good and Evil found in the toy aisle from the vast and unending shades of gray that forever color real life?
As far as I can tell, all of the eight soldiers included in the series are still alive. There has been, fortunately, no posthumous plastification. Their biographies online write in glowing terms about their service, the Army and the opportunities Uncle Sam provides.
The online supplements also include fairly frank discussion of the realities of the War and the hardships endured by all of the men. For a well rounded, informed citizen of voting age, the action figure-biography-informational dossier is a moving tribute to the men.
Yet for children, who will read only the backing of the package, if anything at all, the message is that all soldiers live. The lasting impression is that soldiers perform bravely in causes that are worth fighting for, always win and are rewarded for their service with medals and action figures.
It’s not like that. I wish it was. It’s a gross distortion of the realities of war –realities the Army knows all too well – fed to young boys who don’t know any better.
If we as a country have learned nothing from the past five years, can we not finally realize that the cost of war is irredeemable and demands irrefutable evidence that the price paid is worth it? If honesty, as they say, is the first casualty of war, let our children not be the first victims of our dishonesty on aisle eight.