Friday, July 04, 2008

What the Virtual Army Experience critics are missing

Independence Day seems like a good day to comment on the recent controversy over the US Army's Virtual Army Experience at Summerfest. Critics of the exhibit object to what they see as the glorification of war. I have never served in the military (I'm a boomer, but turned 18 after the Vietnam war was over), but I readily accept the fact that war is a tragedy and combat is hell on earth.

But it is also the case that we live in a world where it is sometimes necessary. In that world, we have to avoid the glorification of war, while we honor military service. The critics forget that.

If we are going to avoid conscription and send to war only those who volunteer, we need to persuade people that, while war is hell, those who serve are doing something that is not only necessary, but that can be done with integrity and in a way that fulfills the human need for accomplishment.

The critics don't believe that. War, to them, is just undifferentiated killing. There is nothing about what we fight for and how we fight that is distinctive. But, in a world where evil exists - where there are Nazi Germanys, Soviet Russias and Al Qaeda - that leads to the charnel house just as certainly as a mindless celebration of conquest.

So we've got a difficult balance to strike. The irony here is that, from what I can tell, the Virtual Army Experience did a pretty good job of striking that balance. It wasn't about splattering people (like the Grand Theft Auto game that the Peace Action Network and other "non-violence" activists did not object to), it was about accomplishing a simulated mission that involved respecting - actually saving - noncombatants and operating within rules of engagement. That it was graphic means that it did not sugarcoat what is involved.

The Army exhibit was trying to say something about its mission in a difficult world. The "peace activists" are trying to deny that world exists.

Summerfest is a wonderful community asset, but its behavior here (including its dissembling about the objections to its actions)has been shameful.


capper said...

The critics don't believe that. War, to them, is just undifferentiated killing. There is nothing about what we fight for and how we fight that is distinctive. But, in a world where evil exists - where there are Nazi Germanys, Soviet Russias and Al Qaeda - that leads to the charnel house just as certainly as a mindless celebration of conquest

I must disagree. I don't recall any lefties saying WWII was wrong (although I'm sure there are some that did). I personally applauded the movement in Afghanistan, when we were after al Qaeda. However, Bush and his administration sold the country a bunch of male bovine fecal matter with the invasion of Iraq. That is where I, among many others, feel that the country went on the wrong path.

Sometimes it is necessary to fight. But when it is not necessary, then it is as evil an action as any other perpetrator of evil could commit.

xoff said...

As a Vietnam veteran, it's hard for me to imagine a "game" that could have accurately simulated conditions there and made it appear to be fun.

My objection is to the Army using this "game" to collect personal information from kids -- as young as 13 before Peace Action intervened -- to try to induce them to enlist, while portraying it as some kind of "reality."

As someone commented elsewhere, reality would be if the inside of the Humvee were covered with blood and gore, while explosions are going off, one of your buddies is trying to keep his bleeding intestines from falling out, and the driver is wiping his friend's brain matter off his cheek.

That's reality.

Rick Esenberg said...


You may be interested in the review of what is recent history regarding Iraq by Arthur Herman in Commentary. The war in Iraq may have been the wrong decision, but the idea that it was based on lies told by the Bush administration is, as repeated independent reviews have shown, "male bovine fecal matter."


I don't doubt that was your experience and that it was horrible. But, of course, it was the experience of soldiers in WWII as well who nevertheless believed - and continue to believe - that their service was honorable and necessary (as do many Vietnam vets).

I doubt that the Army is accepting 13 year olds, but your objection impies that the military ought not to recruit at all or should do so only by by saying something like "Join and Die." Do you really believe that?

Anonymous said...

Is there maybe a videogame that could be a sponsor of Summerfest which would allow people to navigate a major metropolitan area after nuclear fallout? Or maybe one where people learn how to adapt to live under extreme Islam?

War is a terrible thing, but not the worst of all things.

Anonymous said...

*life under

capper said...

Rick, thanks for the link. I always like a good fairy tale. But I did notice that the tale was incomplete and thereby not completely reliable, even as the obvious attempt at justification for the war.

And it only addresses one of the multitude of reasons that Bush and company gave the country, nor does it address the fact that he and members of his administration lied, and admitted to lying, about certain things.

So instead of justifying it, it was only another attempt at rationalizing it.

Now, you got to admit that the game did sugarcoat the realities of war, right?

Dad29 said...

Yah, well, distinctions are irrelevant, Rick, as you can see.

Anonymous said...

Iraq a wrong decision?

I think not when you consider that Saddam was not only entertaining terrorist but was also threatening to sell oil in currency other then US. Could you imagine what would happen to the US economy if oil producers started selling in other then US currency? In my opinion and for this reason alone I believe being in Iraq is critical for the US economy.

As long as we have a voluntary military, we must allow them to recruit without these ridiculous lefty arguments. It seems as if they do not have anything better to do then to see what they can tear down next.

capper said...


If our economy keeps sinking like a rock, everything, not just oil, will be sold under another currency. And being in Iraq, and borrowing from China to do so, is a major factor in why are economy is doing so poorly.

And no one wanted to stop the recruitment. The issue was glorifying war through a video game to get their hooks into minors.

Anonymous said...

Capper -

If oil producers start to sell in other currencies, we will not have an economy. We will just have trillions and trillions of worthless dollars. I think we need to stay and keep this in check.

By the way, our military spending is not what is bankrupting this country. We have roughly 50 trillion dollars of debt coming due in the next 3 to 10 years that we cannot pay. We are technically bankrupt according to the US Treasury and our military spending is very minuscule in comparison to that.

Anonymous said...

Well thought out comments. As a parent of a son who will be joining the Navy this week (by his own choice!) it reminds me how proud we can be of our sons and daughters who continue to be proud of this country and happy to serve it. My shame is for those who not only criticize (which is the right our forefathers died for) but insist that all other speech be quieted and that their opinion is all that matters. Last time I checked this was still a democracy not a communist state. I think that those who are pushing for no war, all government programs, entitlement, business taxes, etc. need to revisit their history books and review Hitler's germany and what he was looking to accomplish along with the definition of communism. God forbid the USA moves in that direction. Our fallen solders would roll over in their graves to see that shame.

Dad29 said...

The issue was glorifying war through a video game to get their hooks into minors


The game was designed to glorify the GOOD results of wars--like rescuing innocents from jerks. You know--like Superman and Batman, Capper.

Your unspoken assumption is that 18-y-o kids are really, really stupid; that they will join the Armed Forces based on some "game."

That tells me that you should be working hard to move the voting age back to 21.

Michael J. Mathias said...

That's who we need to fight the terrorists! Superman and Batman! Why didn't we think of that before?

Rick Esenberg said...

Now, you got to admit that the game did sugarcoat the realities of war, right?

Well, no. My understanding is that you can get "killed" and that you lose if you accidentally kill noncombatants. My understanding is that you move from station to station and it's a somewhat demanding undertaking.

I guess it "sugarcoats" things in that you can't really die.

Anonymous said...

To the critics-
If you have not personally been through the Virtual Army Experience (VAE) how can you possibly know what the display and message is about. Believe it or not the situations portrayed within the VAE are real life experiences and are praising the heroism of individuals who have and are serving in the Army and have been decorated from the United States for their actions in these situations. I believe the critics need to take a look forget about what the Bush Administration may or may not have done, the critics need to recognize the Armed Services personnel for their efforts and laying their lives down for us each and every day.

Anonymous said...

My name is Anderson Connor. The final straw for me was the Ft. Bragg video that came out just as the Company I worked indirectly with was negotiating the next year's contract with NASCAR and Army driver, Mark Martin. I began marketing the U.S. military at entry level just months before 9/11, and after the attacks was extremely proud of what I did, helping show race fans all of the fascinating things the Army was doing for us. Over my seven years with and around the effort, I talked to hundreds if not thousands of soldiers. And more soldiers than not shared their feelings with me that the Army was giving them a raw deal. A soldier's oath is to defend the Constitution, not obey the President. Ft. Bragg is real. Walter Reed is real. Corporate profiteering is real. And what we, the American people, have done to the Iraqis is real. Your leaders are lying to you. Support IVAW. Support soldiers with something other than magnetic ribbons on your car. Get them out before the next one is killed. To track the VAE's dangerous tour of our country, both in ideology and operation management, be sure to sign up at to receive our monthly newsletter.

Anderson Connor

Anonymous said...

It is obvious from your comments that you have never been to war, never seen someone shredded to death, never heard the screams, never seen the hollow eyes of a child whose parents you have murdered, never waken soaked with sweat from PTSD, never wished you had never bought into the "war is necessary" lie. If the Army wants to recruit, let them work on adults, and leave the children alone. At least give the parents a chance to raise human beings instead of animals.
Dennis Clancy, Viet Nam Veteran