Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Drawing the line between patriotism and marketing

On her photo-journalist site, Isis has an essay on the military and it's relationship to American youth. In it, she visits some events such as an event the Department of Defense sponsored on the Mall in Washington which appears to be a giant military county fair. Where the face-paint is camouflage, kids get to sit in combat helicopters instead of monster trucks, and a good time is had by all.

She writes about the conflict she experienced between feeling proud and patriotic on the one hand, and concerned on the other that kids were only seeing the glamorous side of war.

The goal of the event was explained to me as a way to show the public what the military is doing, using for combat as well as put a friendly face on the American soldier.

I really sort of am embarassed to admit that I had a great time while I was there. I thought the whole event was kinda cool. I got to climb on tanks look at big powerful guns up close, and there were a lot of give aways, not to mention some VERY good looking soldiers. But, as some of the camo smoke screen was lifting and my hormones got somewhat in check, I noticed that it was pretty obvious that the event and the freebies were geared to marketing the military to kids.

Screen savers, video games, and posters were handed out showing kids very high tech graphics and slick images. The big friendly soldiers were available playmates and it was an arsonal playground. As an overgrown tomboy, I remember playing soldier, I had toy cap guns and threw many a water balloon grenade. But, in reality is it fair to our children to show live and up close that military hardware and wartime action is a game?

As fun as it is to play on this large and powerful equiptment, in other parts of the world there are children who are facing military hardware in an atmosphere of terror, death and fear. Is it so wrong to also show our children and keep them informed of the gruesome visions of the piles of bodies and survivors of wartime with missing limbs and broken lives? I saw no mention or images of that side of war reality.
It is a dilemma that I can empathize with. I want Jackson to grow up proud of his military heritage (both of his grandfathers served in Vietnam), proud of America and all of its symbols--including the military, and supportive of our troops wherever they may be stationed, regardless of whether or not he agrees with policy. An event like the one described here can be useful in teaching those values.

On the other hand, I want Jackson to learn that war has consequences. That people die and are injured, that lives and families are ruined, and that the decision to go to war should be a difficult one.

And I want him to understand that he can support our troops and hope and pray that they succeed and come home safely, while still opposing the policies that send us to war.

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