September 20, 2022

Military, DC University Students, Interns React to Potential Military Action in Syria

Our military personnel are keeping a close eye on the developing situation in Syria. Worn from over a decade of near constant deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, many soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guard personnel are concerned that physical intervention in Syria by American troops is growing more inevitable by the day.

“We don’t even know who the good guys are, and sometimes the ones who are supposed to be the good guys freak out and start to eat people. What the hell is that all about? I mean, they seem to take their religious ideology pretty #$*@ing seriously, but is that even halal?” asked PV2 Ryan Plachetti, an airborne infantryman serving with the 82nd Airborne Division, “And yes, I know what halal means, thanks.”

Adding to their consternation is the reported use of chemical weapons against civilians in the war-torn nation.

“Sarin is no joke, and I hear they’ve got VX too,” said Army Sergeant Amy Barrera, a chemical weapons soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, at her home on a mid-tour break from an 18-month rotation to Afghanistan where she works out of scope as an MP. “VX will fry your nervous system so hard that you’ll practically snap yourself in half, like you’re trying to slap your heels against the back of your skull.”

Barrera continued, “I’m sort of worried because my unit hasn’t really been able to keep up on our chemical weapons disposal training. We’re mostly clearing IEDs and directing traffic these days. I’ll go sweat it out in MOPP 4 all day if I have to, but this just doesn’t make much sense. And nobody I know seems to think any different. Who the hell is driving this push for intervention anyway? I’d like to spend a bit more time with my son before I’m shipped off to babysit a bunch of angry jerks with bombs strapped to their chests again.”

Thankfully, the ongoing civil war and suspected slaughter of over 100,000 civilians by the Assad regime isn’t all gloom-and-doom. The nation’s elite university students and entry-level State Department, White House, and Defense Department staff, fresh from their grueling 4-year tours at premier universities and liberal arts colleges, are happy to do their part in this new, hip conflict-other-than-war-of-the-moment.

“I was bummed that we started that Afghanistan drawdown thing before I finished my undergrad, because I wanted to do some research about the resurgence of traditional Hazara carpet-weaving techniques. But it looks like I’ll finally get some hardcore foreign policy bullets for my resume after all!” said Violet Crumb, a double International Relations and Conflict Resolution major at Georgetown University who landed a “Totes amazeballs spot at State because Daddy is besties with this one dude Andrew Card.”

“It’s looking pretty solid so far,” added Crumb, pulling her resume up on her iPad. “I’ve got like four bullets prepped, down below the description of my service-learning trip to Lichtenstein’s artisan truffle district, and my lacrosse stats.”

Ms. Crumb’s Resume:

“1) Active role in negotiating airspace utilization with the Turkish Government during run up to Syrian Peaceful Peacetime Peace-Party Intervention Saturation Bombardment of Peace: 2013 Edition,

2) Secured Anderson House dining facility and coordinated no less than three local halal caterers on short notice for visiting Arab League dignitaries with scant budget of $50,000,

3) Arranged for multiple coats of high-grade oxblood shoe polish to be applied to Secretary Kerry’s favorite loafers for Sweetest Day (honored with commemorative pat on the head and a Werther’s Original fresh from the Secretary’s pocket),

4) Obtained several blue-eyed white women from PG County sports bars to serve as footstools for visiting Saudi military advisors,”

“Maybe I’ll massage that last one a bit more,” finished Crumb, stepping into her graduate advisor’s office. “Human trafficking issues are so 2010 anyway. I don’t want to date myself.”

Other starry-eyed young  future beltway elites have found themselves “forward deployed” to overseas locations via student exchanges and internships, where they are already planning preemptive strikes to their curricula vitae.

Junior American University media studies major Jackson Higgenbotham-Smythe IV, of the Finger Lakes Higgenbotham-Smythes, is currently “stationed” on the island of Capri, a scant 2,000 miles from Damascus. Higgenbotham-Smythe, in typical laconic Finger Lakes Higgenbotham-Smythe fashion, said of his aggressive commitment to his resume preparations, “I’ve already got some fatty bullets ready for when the boots hit the ground. Not that they will. The President has said that they won’t. Or might not. Or that he reserves the option to if and when he wants to because Russia, et cetera and stuff. My dad broke it down for me when we Skyped the other day from the trimaran.”

Higgenbotham-Smythe is confidant in the predictions contained in his preemptive resume. “The whole thing is seriously going to be fast and easy, like Grenada, or Somalia. Black Hawk Down is the shit, by the way,” chuckled Higgenbotham-Smythe around a mouthful of oyster granita. “I watched it in Intro History of African Resource Conflict. Changed my life. I could really empathize with those dudes.”

Pulling a Moleskine notebook from the understated Hermès bag attached to his collapsible travel fixie, Higgenbotham-Smythe continued, “I’ve got to have my resume prepped and ready to go as soon as the conflict gets rolling – I don’t want some low-rent chump from Brown getting his packet to Heritage before I do. I’d hate to have to call Mee-maw and Pop-pop and have them pull strings. I’m my own man, you know? Here, take a look at what I’ve got so far:

“1) Live-tweeted initial airstrikes, gaining over thirty twitter followers from George Washington University chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon, despite shoddy wi-fi coverage at most Amalfi Coast hotels,

2) Endured difficult on-the-ground conditions during airborne insertion of troops into Damascus Airport, including restricted access to organic coconut water and a limited hotel blu-ray selection; no title newer than 2008 (took leadership role in obtaining overnight shipment of burned Portlandia DVDs and pomegranate juice from Mee-maw and Pop-pop’s estate in Grosse Pointe),

 3) Despite 1st-degree sunburn over 60% of body and limoncello hangover, managed to draft white paper regarding the potential post-conflict impact of micro-loans on the traditional Alawite party snack industry,

4) Totes banged all sorts of hawt Italian girls.”

“That last one is a joke, just a placeholder,” said Higgenbotham-Smythe, stroking his wispy, ironic mustache. “It would be super crass of me to bang hawt Italians while our men and women in uniform are all butthurt – er – stressed about going away to Army. We all have to make sacrifices. But seriously if we actually land troops it’ll be all like “Whatevs, brah, double tap!” and Assad will be all like “Oh dude, no way!” And our guys will be like “Yeah dude. Your regime is totes over,” and Assad will be like “Oh, burn.”

“War is probably just like playing Call of Duty, mixed with intense Crossfit. YOLO, amirite?”

Senate Committee Convenes Emergency Meeting in Response to Emerging Sharknado Threat

Defense industry leaders and government climatologists testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today to address growing concern about the nation’s vulnerability to Weather-Effect-Borne Carnivorous Sea Creature Attacks (WEBCSCA), colloquially known as “sharknadoes.”

Sharknadoes, powerful tornadoes brimming with hungry, dangerous sharks, recently tore through a fictional version of Los Angeles, killing tens of fictional civilians and severely injuring working actor Ian Zeiring’s career.

While the phenomenon is entirely fantastic, the defense industry and members of Congress have realized the potential to milk billions of dollars from the federal treasury in response to this potentially dangerous and/or hilarious weather-animal phenomenon that has captured the imagination of the nations’ dumb.

Schtott O’Fonterson, climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s WEBCSCA Response Center, addressed the root of the problem.

“We’ve been aware that our climate is changing for some time now, but the effects of climate change were always “up in the air,” so to speak. It seems that as the oceans continue to warm, and sharks continue to lose their natural prey due to overfishing, sharknadoes might become more common. Or rather might happen. Maybe. It sure would be scary, right?”

Representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency shed light on the possibility of foreign nations supporting active Sharknado-control technology.

“We have several unconfirmed reports that Iran has constructed a sharknado research facility in the city of Homs,” said one CIA department head, identity redacted. “Lots of sources have informed us that a primary goal of this research is to successfully attach a small directed energy weapon to the heads of the sharks as they are lifted from the water by the sharknado, doubling the potential for mass carnage. Or tripling it. We’re not sure about that yet. It’s probably really credible and serious. We can’t tell you how we know, but seriously, trust us. We’ve got this.”

When pressed for more details regarding Iranian laser-sharknado research by committee members, CIA experts continued, “Unfortunately, without more funding for foreign operations, and a reduction in meddlesome congressional oversight, we will not be able to gather enough quality HUMINT to confirm or deny the presence of laser-head sharknado terror camps in Iran or other hostile countries. We’ve heard that North Korea is also doing something bad, or not. They probably are, because most of the time they are. Just sayin’.”

A sober assessment from the military followed.

“It’s only a matter of time before militant jihadists master the creation and employment of WEBCSCA technology, if it can be called technology. Are we calling it technology now?” offered up Alan Steinman, retired Coast Guard Admiral and current Chief of Weather-Borne Carnivorous Sea-Creature-Based Terrorism Contingency Planning for the Department of Defense.

“Foreign governments could be secretly researching sharknado control…things…right now, probably with the assistance of Iran and North Korea, like the CIA guys say. I mean, who am I to question their track record?” Admiral Steinman continued, “Without adequate funding for a robust Sharknado Defense Initiative, one day Americans could wake up to the cries of militant jihadists shouting “Death to America!” as they ride their tornado sharks through the land, firing their machine guns willy-nilly while ravenous sharks eat everyone they see.”

Senator Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the committee, pressed Admiral Steinman for more details regarding the Strategic Sharknado Defense Initiative. “Exactly how would this defense system work, and how much would it cost the taxpayer?”

Admiral Steinman responded that he was unable to discuss the defense system as most details were classified, but that, “Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have assured me that the system could be fully implemented by 2018, for the low, low price of Rhode Island.”

Senator James Inhofe offered, “While climate change and sharknadoes are both completely fabricated in my view, I’d be glad to exchange Rhode Island for my constituents’ peace of mind. This project would clearly generate hundreds of jobs, and would help keep America safe from something nebulous, technically impossible, yet frightening, especially now that Iran is possibly involved somehow, with the lasers or whatever it is. Fear of the unknown and objectively, absolutely impossible is something my constituents understand and live with every day. I look forward to reading a more detailed proposal.”

As the committee’s time drew to a close, several unnamed Lockheed Martin lobbyists were seen giving Admiral Steinman a series of epic high-fives.

Bradley Manning’s Treachery a Symptom of Poor Leadership

I’m an Army veteran – a former Signals Intelligence Analyst, specifically. I joined up after 9/11 and did my bit for 5 years. I’ve been out of the military for a while now, but I think about my experiences nearly every day.

I’m also a progressive democrat, lucky to live in one of the most liberal cities in the country, if not the world. I compost, I use water-saving shower heads and fluorescent light bulbs, eat organic things when they’re on sale, vote for public transportation and higher taxes (gasp!) and meet various other liberal criteria. I do not, however, own a pair of Birkenstocks. Yet. They look comfortable but I just can’t make the leap into that level of hippie-dom.

Because of my liberal tendencies and an unfortunate habit of forgetting to unsubscribe from email blasts that all seem to read, “Call Your Congressman About (Insert Liberal Cause of the Moment),” I get a lot of mail in my inbox about Bradley Manning. Most of it starts with something like this: Free Bradley Manning! To a lot of folks on the left, Bradley Manning is some kind of whistleblower avatar, an embodiment of the struggle for truth against the evil Obama police state. Or Bush police state. Depends on who sent the e-mail. Nobody has floated the kid for president, but he was selected to be the Grand Marshal of San Francisco’s Pride parade for a while, an unfortunate decision that was thankfully nipped in the bud.

I think that I have a bit of credibility when I say in response to the endless stream of “free Bradley Manning” emails that pollute my inbox: Bradley Manning is a traitor. Period.

He’s not a hero, or a “whistleblower.” He’s a traitor, a despicable, petulant, opportunistic, cowardly traitor, who only after his treachery and arrest has latched on to his gender identity struggles as if being a gay or trans man in uniform during the dark days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell somehow justified his crime (a massive slap in the face to every LGBT soldier I served alongside). Right now people who know the particulars of the law far better than I do are preparing to destroy him in court, so I won’t dwell on that portion of the ongoing saga. I’m not qualified. I will be glad to see him vanish into the bowels of a military prison, and if they hang him, I won’t mind.

What I’d like to offer up is this question: Why don’t we know more about the Non-Commissioned Officers and Commissioned Officers in Manning’s life? The fact that this case even exists is an illustration of just how bad the military can be when senior enlisted soldiers and officers fail to do their duty – fail to weed out the people who just don’t belong in the military.

Full disclosure: When I was a junior enlisted soldier, fresh out of training, I wasn’t exactly beloved of my supervisors. Late, lazy, scatterbrained, opinionated…I definitely wasn’t a criminal, but I was a problem. Luckily, good Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in my units noticed that I required their professional assistance, and helped me grow and mature, until by the end of my time in the service I was actually doing a pretty good job. I wasn’t the best soldier ever, but I certainly wasn’t the worst, and that’s because my supervisors were attentive and interested in seeing me succeed. I even made the rank of Sergeant before I got out for good, and found the things that I could do on behalf of my soldiers as an NCO very rewarding.

That’s the way the military is supposed to work. It’s part of what soldiers mean when they talk about camaraderie. The fact that Manning even had the opportunity to do the harm he did is a crime almost as bad as the act of treason itself. The NCO Support Channel and the undeservedly vaunted Chain of Command failed to do what they are supposed to do. Manning’s leaders are almost as guilty as he is, and by any fair standard they should be encouraged to find employment outside of the military, where their lax attitude and aversion to actually commanding won’t put American lives at risk.

Manning had a long record of insubordinate, rude, and bizarre behavior. From a revealing article in the Army Times:

“Among the claims made during the fifth day of an Article 32 hearing here: Manning threw a screaming tantrum in front of his noncommissioned officer; flipped over a desk and attempted to grab a rifle; and dropped into the fetal position when reprimanded by his NCO.”

That is a condensed version of the sort of antics that Manning’s chain of command tolerated, and therefore encouraged and supported, in an obviously substandard and deeply troubled soldier. You don’t have to search very hard to find references to his frail mind, weak will and violent tendencies. He never should have made it out of a recruiter’s office, much less to a combat unit.

A key take-away from this article is that his immediate supervisor was a Specialist – a junior enlisted rank without any real authority that is often thrust into a leadership role without much training or backup. This Specialist did all she could do in the face of Manning’s outrageous behavior: she reported Manning’s continued outbursts to a senior NCO, where in a sane world the madness would have stopped. But Manning was never stopped. The senior NCO in this equation, a Sergeant First Class Paul Adkins, never followed through on seeking punishment for Manning, and the details of how Manning was counseled – what action was taken to correct him — following each bizarre explosion are hard to find.

This shows a serious lack of leadership on the part of the commissioned officers in Manning’s unit, who should have been kept abreast of any behavioral issues in the unit – and I mean any! Either the commissioned officers were ignorant of Manning’s explosions, which is unforgivable, or were aware but disinterested, which is equally unforgivable. More likely, they were worried that drawing more attention to Manning’s tantrums would bring negative scrutiny upon them from their own superiors, something any junior officer wants to avoid if they plan on making the military a career.

Each infraction in Manning’s growing and wholly negative service record – including punching a superior-ranking soldier in the face while deployed to a combat zone, an offense that used to rate instant death  – should at the very least have pulled him out of mission-related work on its own merits in preparation for non-judicial punishment or a full court martial. In any quality unit, Manning would have been dishonorably discharged and kicked to the curb, where he belongs. Instead, disgruntled, violent, furious, and depressed, he was allowed to remain in the Army, as if he was still a valuable asset rather than a threat.

Perhaps this has something to do with the command culture of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Perhaps it has more to do with the command climate in Manning’s company. It might even have to do with the times – the Army in the mid-2000s was in desperate need of soldiers. We issued waivers to enable criminals and the mentally ill to enlist, and thus watered down the quality of our military with cretins like Manning. Every soldier I know who served post-9/11 and through Iraq knows another soldier who should never have enlisted, but did, thanks to the reduced standards of the Bush-era Army, and too often those soldiers’ “quirks” were overlooked so that officers could keep their units full, and thus appear functional and combat-ready… on paper. So, to the senior officers at who dumbed-down the entry requirements: Manning is partially your fault as well. Thanks, fellas. Hooah.

In any case, the information about why those who had the information and authority to properly deal with Manning chose not to is hard to come by. More details will surely emerge as his trial continues. Soon it won’t be possible for folks on the left to hide Manning’s deeply flawed character beneath the the leaked documents that he never even took the time to read.

When we hang Manning, it would be good to know that the careers of his enablers, failed NCOs and failed officers, are just as dead as he is.

Congratulations to Major Margaret Witt

Congratulations to Major Margaret Witt on her victory over the Department of Defense’s inane “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  Seven years of legal struggle must have felt far longer than that when lived under a homophobia-motivated, bureaucratic Sword of Damocles.  The United States is a slightly more honorable place now that Major Witt’s former employer has begrudgingly acknowledged her value as a career officer, caring nurse and torchbearer for LGBT equality.

Now that I’m done congratulating Maj. Witt, it’s time to examine the DoD’s priorities.  Clearly, as demonstrated by the weight of the legal arsenal thrown against such a decorated, well-liked officer, the DoD prefers Quixotic stands against it’s own employees to tackling real issues.  The organization apparently has so much free time and cash on its hands that it can commit hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold man-hours trying to figure out if one of their flight nurses prefers oysters or snails, but can’t keep track of mountains of small arms shipped to terrorist states.  If the World War 2-era War Department had been this bad at its job, I’d be writing this entry in German.

Shame on an organization as sprawling, omnipresent and money-hungry as the DoD.  Prioritizing Puritanical witch-hunts that pull professional life-savers like Maj. Witt from the field over, say, using those resources to take a long, hard look at something as damaging to the force as sexual assault and rape in the ranks is simply unacceptable, cowardly and weak.  I for one would like to see a list of names of the officers involved in the DADT proceedings against Maj. Witt so that she or some helpful agency can sue them for negligence and actions contrary to the good order and discipline of the military.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Perhaps we should look into finding our obviously underemployed, high-ranking DoD employees and career officers some sort of project, endeavor or mission with which to occupy themselves in a more productive manner.   They certainly shouldn’t have the luxurious amounts of time on hand necessary to waste taxpayer dollars in fruitless attacks on loyal, hardworking servicewomen.  What good is a general sitting at a desk in the Pentagon?  All that training, all that expertise, rotting away in the basement of our largest, most visible terrorist target.  Permanent overseas deployments to combat zones for all DoD staff O-6 and above would keep them safe from harm and safe from descending into bureaucratic, Paul Fussel-style “chickenshit” out of boredom.

Perhaps the bureaucracy is so entrenched and the staff at the top so inherently hidebound and wholly-owned by their future employers in the defense industry that they should just be fired and replaced.  If they can’t prove their worth by, say, procuring a combat rifle that doesn’t have to be treated like a porcelain doll or a combat uniform that doesn’t fall apart or split at the crotch, with a camouflage pattern that works in terrain other than your grandma’s couch, why should we retain them?

Perhaps the hundreds of flag-rank officers that currently occupy desks in Baghdad’s “green zone,” busily creating PowerPoint slides that say nothing should be laid off or sent to waste taxpayer dollars at our newest boondoggle factory, AFRICOM.  The cash we save can be used to retain our company-grade officers before they realize that more money, more time with their kids and more successful marriages can be had working for Lockheed Martin or Bechtel than standing in the ranks of the 10th Mountain.   Instead we fire honest officers and keep our young leaders frustrated and overworked.

If half of the JAG types who searched for evidence that Maj. Witt’s sexual identity somehow affected “good order and discipline” instead audited the DoD’s poorly-maintained, haphazard records of sexual assault and rape, looking for obfuscations, omissions and outright lies, more rapist Soldiers and more rape-enabling unit commanders and NCOs would be breaking rocks in Ft. Leavenworth’s stockade.  As it stands now, homophobic cubicle-warriors with more Excel spreadsheets than sense staff the Pentagon, fraud, waste and abuse has reached staggering levels and rapists go unpunished.

Major Witt’s case sends a clear message to the Pentagon:  It’s time to do some house cleaning.


Weakening the EPA Imperils National Security

This post is cross-posted on the Operation Free blog.

When Pakistan drowned under record floods this past August, terrorist organizations were quick to capitalize on the tragedy. The flood “…killed more than 1,500 people, displaced at least 12 million, and left 20% of the country under water.” Militant groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniyat set up aid stations, distributed food and tents, and generally leveraged their quick reaction into an effective recruitment effort.  Both organizations operate as more palatable fronts for the violent Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 terrorist assault in Mumbai.  Militant madrasas tied to the Taliban earned praise from local residents as “angels” for their charitable work.

The residents of Pakistan’s more lawless areas were already sour on the government in Lahore before the floods.  Their government’s sloppy handling of the relief efforts didn’t do anything to encourage them otherwise.  The flood may have created a more militant, more violent, and more willing recruitment ground for armed groups in the region.

Make no mistake, the price of Pakistan’s ineptitude will be paid in the lives of American troops as newly recruited, highly motivated fighters replace those our soldiers kill or capture in Afghanistan.  Our own military touts the importance of winning “hearts and minds” – after the Pakistan floods, our enemies won many, many hearts and minds.

The Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledges that fragile governments in developing nations will be further destabilized by severe, destructive weather events tied to global climate change.  Nations without stable governments foster the perfect environments for extremist ideologies to take root.  In 2008, the US Navy’s National Defense Univeristy studied the potential impact of a large-scale flood in Bangladesh.  The predicted result: “Hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, [spreading] contagious diseases and [causing] vast damage to infrastructure.”

The symptoms are easy to see at work across the globe today.  Countries in sub-Saharan Africa fall prey to desertification and descend into violence.  Soviet-built reservoirs in Central Asia dry up forever as residents clash over water rights.  South Korea recently purchased 3.2 billion acres of Madagascan farmland, preparing for a time when coastal arable land is rendered unusable.

When signs of climate change are this visible, and the CIA and DoD factor climate change into wargaming scenarios as a current threat, it is time to take a hard look at legislators who think that stripping the EPA of its funding and authority is a good idea.  Enforcing the Clean Air Act, regulating carbon emissions and weaning ourselves off of the teat of petroleum are just a few ways to keep our nation secure in the long-term.  Unfortunately, long-term thinking is difficult for members of Congress whose primary donors think only of the next quarter’s bottom line as their shareholders bleat for more profits.

Environmental organizations here in the United States can offer up plenty of reasons why a strong EPA is important to our quality of life, but their messages seem threadbare in a Post-9/11 era.  Only one group, an organization of military veterans called Operation Free, speaks in terms of how our flawed environmental policies damage our national security.  The voices of veterans who saw firsthand how our environmental and energy policies threaten the safety of our citizens and our interests is hard to ignore, even for those members of Congress who operate as wholly-owned subsidiaries of our worst polluters.  Operation Free’s message is simple and clear: Climate change is a real, tangible force-multiplier for our enemies abroad, and reacting to its effects will stretch our military thin, leaving us less secure.

The US military will always be ready to fight our enemies, wherever they hide.  But military deployment in response to preventable environmental degradation is just an extremely expensive band-aid.  The EPA can, through competent and fully funded regulatory power, reduce the impact of our carbon-based economy on the planet.  It is our first line of defense against a kind of instability and strife that is already happening and, without timely intervention, will only become more extreme.

Congress’s efforts to destroy the EPA at the behest of their donors stands as an example of the short-term, cowardly thinking that Americans hate to see in their government.

Video Game Recruitment

Young men and women in the United States deserve the opportunity to learn about military service during high school, just as they learn about universities and the trades. Our recruiters cannot force children to enlist, just as college recruiters cannot force young people to go to any particular university. To hide our young people from military recruiters would be unfair to them.   However, our wider military recruitment strategies do indeed prey on youth.

In recent years, thanks in part to video games developed by the Army, military service and combat are being sold to even younger children as “fun” and “cool” rather than as the grim and necessary business of defending the homeland against very real threats.  This underestimates the capacity our children have to understand the importance of military service, and instead panders to a sanitized, childish conceptualization of war.

The Department of Defense (DoD) created a free, downloadable video game to begin “recruiting” children as soon as they are able to click a mouse or hold a remote control.  This game, “America’s Army,” is not the most advanced shooting game on the market, but it is available free to anyone with an internet connection.  It is also distributed by Army recruiters, and is bundled for free in video game magazines.  “Free” is perhaps inaccurate – according to information provided to journalists at via the Freedom of Information Act, as of 2009 the DoD spent has over 32 million dollars developing this recruiting tool.

The game provides “a kind of ‘shock and awe’ display of what the American military is capable of, without the consequences of context.”  Go and see for yourself, especially if you have children.  Download and experience “virtual basic training” and ask yourself why the Army spent millions of dollars on this game.  Read the “Action-packed graphic novel” available on the flashy America’s Army website.  Play the mobile phone game.  Drop a quarter into the freestanding arcade consoles set up at NASCAR events and air shows.  Or, if you’re feeling up to some travel, head to one of the traveling 19,000 square-foot Virtual Army Experience centers, elaborate, full-sized virtual reality games run by Army personnel, and play soldier with a few friends.

Notice the total lack of blood.  No Soldier or enemy screams when they are shot.   No one loses limbs, no one is trapped in their burning vehicle, no civilians are at risk.  There are no after-action reports, no hours of hard, thankless work, no funerals in America’s Army – if you “die,” you just start over.

“Despite the game’s neurotic commitment to accuracy elsewhere, the small detail about killing people is brushed over gingerly. “We were very careful on the blood thing,” says [one of the game’s developers]. There are no sound effects when players are shot; only a small red blotch appears, similar to a paintball hit. The sanitizing of violence also aids marketing efforts by earning the game a teen rating.”  — America’s Army Targets Youth, The Nation, Sep. 2002.

Ask yourself – is this game for children or recruitment-age adults, and if it is for children, is it appropriate?  Is it ok for our kids to be sold “the real thing” without the real consequences attached?

At the very least, this is a lazy and most irresponsible method to convince children to join the military.  Instead of educating children and imparting real knowledge of just how important the armed forces are to our safety, we tell kids to go turn on their Xbox.  This is just bad citizenship, and we as adults owe our children more.  We owe them interviews with veterans and currently-serving servicemen and women, just as we take them on field trips to local businesses.  We owe them honest assessments of global threats, starting in high school social studies classes, just as we teach them basic economics and history.  We’ve been at war for ten years – it’s time our children know what that means.

We should be proud that our recruits join the military, not because they think it is “cool” or “exciting,” but because the task of defending the nation resonates somewhere in their conscience.  The decision to take up a military career, no matter how short, is not something that should be manipulated by games one can play in the safety of a basement.  It is a decision that should be made by a maturing individual, not a child, with honest input from adult role models and unbiased information about the risks and rewards.

Loyalty, duty, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage – these are the recruiter’s best tools and they appeal, even in a digital age, to the best and brightest of our young adults.  Let’s stop targeting our youngest with sanitized, sterile versions of “war.”