War is not a game

By Mary Patterson

My 5-year-old nephew ran and climbed its wheels, shimmying up to the top seat. It seemed only natural to play on the massive tank in Seneca’s City Park. The turrets are a stone’s throw from the swings, the sandbox and the slides. Many Kansas parks have tanks placed in their  playgrounds right beside the toddler swings. The justaposition of killing machine with children’s equipment creates a powerful image linking games with war. War as a game is an ever expanding industry and myth.

In December 2007 the Arizona National Guard used X Box games as a recruiting tool, when 225 young people came to play war games against each other on massive screens. Actual weapons used in Iraq were outfitted with lasers to give a real war experience. Two recruits were signed up that day, papers signed a stone’s throw from the X Boxes.

New war games can be found at the US Army’s official war game site http://www.americasarmy.com. These online games provide a “real war” experience for possible recruits. They are rated T (Teen) for blood and violence and are one click away from the US Army site, which contains illustrious testimonies of US soldiers describing the financial benefits of signing up. There are currently over 9 million players registered to play America’s Army.

The National Guard’s official game is PRISM, this can be found at http://www.prismthegame.com/game.htm
“The game focuses on the unconventional application of new and emerging weapons and technologies in the war against terrorism” and  “blurs the lines between commercial entertainment and America’s secret struggle against terrorism.”  Images of cool weapons and explosions can be seen in the gallery. The Navy also has an official game, http://nte.navy.com/index.jsp, called Strike and Retrieve.

We have come a long way since the tin soldiers that Winston Churchill spread through his room as a boy. He would spend hours lining up enemy lines in elaborate military formations. And despite seeing the death and despair of the World War I trenches, he could never quite shake the thrill of war from his psyche. “War is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way until you can.”

Three Star Marine General James Mattis said in February 2005, “Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up front with you, I like brawling.” This General led the 1st Marine Division during the initial invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq and he led the first attack on Fallujah in April 2004. He went on further to explain his thoughts on Muslim men and his reasoning for why it is so fun to fight them.

Lovers of peace, how can we compete with an online game that lures 9 million Americans to “play” war?
How do we counteract grown men who say it is fun to kill?  Should we create our own game, “Warriors of Peace,” where players are required to negotiate treaties and peace accords, the more ratified treaties, the more points given?  I am not sure signing critical sheets of paper and saving thousands of lives is as entrancing as the “newest technology in weapons.”

When we were little children the event that normally ended freeze tag, or football was when someone got hurt. This is the reality of war as well, someone always gets hurt in war and it is this reality that deflates the perceived thrill of the conflict.  29,000 injured US soldiers coming home paralyzed, traumatized, missing limbs.  Four thousand not coming home at all. Greater than 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children killed. War is not a game, it is a horror. It is ruins, mourning, screaming children, paralysis, loss of dignity, loss of family, nightmares, nightsweats, fear of thunder, fear of sirens, mothers giving valium to their children, the sound of soldiers pounding on doors, funerals, so many funerals.

There are American parents who will not allow their children to know that Iraqi children have died in the war. They tell me that “they would not understand.” As long as we do not explain to children what those bombs on CNN are doing, the myth of  “war as a game” will continue to the next generation. As long as we are not allowed to view coffins, or count the civilian casualties, the “thrill” of war will again crescendo into a patriotic swell.

My Mother grew up in France during World War II, living through bombings and German fly-bys. Whenever she hears someone pontificating on the wonders of war, the patriotic aspect of the conflict, she gently says to herself, “They don’t know. They simply just do not know what war is.” As lovers of peace we must break the power of war myths that cloud our country and speak the truth, no matter how unpopular it makes us, or how many times we are viewed as spoilers of the fun.  Until the last thrill of war is drained from our collective psyche, we will continue to tolerate death as a political option.

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