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Green Army Men with PTSD
May 5, 2011 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Green Army Men with PTSD
posted by Tom-B (56 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I instantly disliked this. So I went away, and came back, and now I think it's enormously powerful.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:19 PM on May 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well, that's genuinely upsetting...
posted by schmod at 12:20 PM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dreadful toys! Dreadful because they are actual representations of the result of a "grateful nation" not providing after care.
posted by Cranberry at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"who since returning from duty in Iraq had been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, drunk driving, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides."

I once thought this was normal behavior. Put into perspective, it's not so funny any more.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2011


Brilliant.
posted by jokeefe at 12:28 PM on May 5, 2011


Project Mayhem summer activity: mock up some of these, construct a good cast, analyze current products, make half a million out just the right dark green plastic, then sprinkle them into toy packs and playgrounds.
posted by adipocere at 12:28 PM on May 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Some of the work on the Dorothy site is pretty heavy handed, but it's hard not to appreciate a design collective that has put out an extended version of John Cage's 4'33" and has turned Andy Warhol's Brillo Pad back into a Brillo Pad box.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:29 PM on May 5, 2011


Wow, that's pretty offensive.
posted by Leisure_Muffin at 12:30 PM on May 5, 2011


Wow, that's pretty offensive.

If you're offended by this, I think you're probably missing the point.
posted by ixohoxi at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Maybe if the kids played with these toys and understood their meaning we would have fewer soldiers and wars.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:33 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would have never guessed you could get such an emotional reaction from me by using Green Army Men. Wow, I agree this is genuinely upsetting.
posted by PhillC at 12:34 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's the truth, Leisure_Muffin. Truth can offend, sometimes.
posted by jokeefe at 12:34 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is offensive. It's shocking, and initially seems to somehow be minimizing the trauma soldiers suffer; perhaps it is making it into a joke. The suicide one and the domestic abuse one especially made me wince.

But the offense is instructive. These soldiers we send off to war are not toys. The shock of seeing them presented as such, or, rather, seeing little green army men represented as real soldiers with real problems, is palpable. It's that jolt that I like to get from art.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:37 PM on May 5, 2011 [21 favorites]


They made me uncomfortable, which is why I'm glad these folks made them.
posted by entropone at 12:38 PM on May 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think it's offensive. It's art.
Just last month, the Army reported that 18 veteran's commit suicide each day.
That's offensive.
posted by jardinier at 12:40 PM on May 5, 2011 [33 favorites]


I love it when art makes me uncomfortable - it forces me out of my complacency and makes me think about my reaction. This does that.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:42 PM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


If the plight of these figures makes you sad, please look at what they did to the brown figures over in the sandbox.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:42 PM on May 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's powerful, like many good pieces of transgressive art it challenges you on a superficial level but as you step back an analyze the piece and why it produced such a reaction you begin to realize what the artist was trying to achieve.

Like many kids I grew up playing with little green army men and quite honestly playing at war is a ton of fun. I hesitate to suggest it's a form of social training preparing us to join the next generation of soldiers but there does seem to be a condoning of male kids playing war (army men, or shooting pretend guns, etc) that perhaps can be seen as prep for the future.

However we tend to try to hide the negative consequences of our adventures. While it's cool to play pretend and have army men shoot at each other (or simulate military action via videogames) we generally don't like to be confronted with the social cost that military action has on the lives of civilians and our soldiers.

By tying the possible consequences of our wars to something as innocuous as little green army men the artist forces us to evaluate our opinions about war. In some cases we will be upset or angry or offended by the art but in that brief period of emotional visceral reaction we are confronted by the reality around us in a way that we typically avoid (in order to shield our psyches).

Good art can definitely be challenging. I liked that this piece challenges the viewer without completely beating them over the head with the point, which is where many artists seem to struggle with.
posted by vuron at 12:51 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


My first reaction was to recoil and just close the page. I couldn't really articulate what bothered me, so I went back to look at them. I think that there was nothing wrong with my initial reaction, because these things really are horrible. But I realized that I was projecting those feelings into the art itself, which I don't think is right. The fact that the artist used children's toys as the delivery method doesn't diminish or insult PTSD; it created a contrast between the innocent and the awful that triggers feelings that are well-worth exploring.

Also, in preview, what arcticwoman said.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 12:52 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not offensive, it's upsetting. There's an important difference.
posted by clockzero at 12:53 PM on May 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


I spent about 10 seconds realizing what I was looking at (about what I expected) and had to hit the back button.

My first response was to say how terrible it was... a gut reaction on a number of emotional levels for a number of personal reasons..

But, thankfully I read a few comments before I hit the keyboard..

I hope this accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish, I hope the images aren't misused.

and, on preview...what a lot of people have already said...
posted by tomswift at 12:55 PM on May 5, 2011


initially seems to somehow be minimizing the trauma soldiers suffer

That's one way of looking at it, yeah. To me (and this is really just the other side of the coin), this piece shows how regular army-man toys trivialize the horrors of war.

We love war, as long as it's all glory, and patriotism, and struggling against Evil. We're able to idealize and sanitize our concept of war to the point that it seems like a suitable subject for children's toys.

But we don't like to look at the ugly parts of war. We don't like to be reminded that war is also PTSD and rape and dead children. Bags of plastic army men don't come with amputee-land-mine-victim figurines, or child-soldier figurines, or—heck—even any injured or dead soldier figurines.

This piece simply completes the picture. It demonstrates the absurdity of the squeaky-clean plastic-army-man view of war by showing (some of) what's missing.

(It's not really about toy army men, of course. It's about how even grown adults often fail to treat war with the immense gravity that it deserves. How quick we are to send soldiers off to war, and how little we want to hear about the ugly consequences of that. As evidenced by the offended reactions we're seeing in this thread.)
posted by ixohoxi at 12:56 PM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's offensively obvious
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


he result of a "grateful nation" not providing after care

Hardly. In comparison to many other healthcare schemes, the VA isn't that bad yet it receives a poor rap, usually from people who confuse its stated purpose with what they want it to be or what Hollywood has presented to them. I've always received good care at VA facilities.

This grateful yet careless nation should really start thinking about why it needs to instruct and prepare its (poor) youth to engage in aggressive industrialized warfare for extended periods of time without spending the time to prepare them for the barbarities of what they'll see and the impact that it will have on their personal future.

In a perfect world, the military should be forced to spend an equal amount of time and money on promoting veterans issues that they do on promoting recruitment and retention. You want to see the pretty boys from the Silent Drill Team spinning rifles or slaying dragons? Good. You'll also get to see some poor kid spinning his new legs down the street or trying to hold onto a job when the voices in his head are telling him that there's no point in living any more. It would be a nice social experiment to watch, but our society has the glorification of a winning military (see last Sunday evening) so ingrained into its culture that many people would probably find the burn scars, missing limbs, et al too offensive to be shown on a public medium.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:59 PM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's offensively obvious

Something tells me the artist wasn't going for subtlety, here, exactly.
posted by clockzero at 1:03 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fair enough but do not believe that the govt is not trying to do something about PTSD..I have people I have known for some time, vets of Viet Nam, who still get treatment at the V.A.
posted by Postroad at 1:09 PM on May 5, 2011


I think the issue is not people thinking that the VA is ineffectual, but that the war pigs in power do their best to make it a lowest priority concern. The VA tries to do what it can, while those in power give less and less to do it with.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:36 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Superb.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:02 PM on May 5, 2011


do their best to make it a lowest priority concern

That's an easy point to make if you're just going to focus on the political.

The reality is that the large VA system was no longer needed and downsizing it would enable consolidation of services and centers. I remember that when the Cold War ended, they were practically begging patients to sign up for programs just to keep the lights on. I recall an Amvets rep telling me to sign up for everything I could even if I didn't need the treatment because that would enable someone else, either presently or at a future time, to be able to take advantage of the care offered. Kind of like Johnny Damon justifying his high salary because it would help the pension program for the old-timers.

So even during a time of war in the mid naughts, the numbers of veterans requiring long-term care was in decline, either through death of older veterans or improved safety models implemented and expensive programs were continuing underutilized. I, for one, never thought that it was a blatant disregard for veterans, as I still hold that the problems, especially those related to PTSD, should be addressed prior to inducting an individual into the service, not post and that the public needs to be made aware of what price these kids are going to pay every time we decide to resolve our problems through violence.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:09 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


My immediate thought was that sometime after a rocking kid-play session with the standard toy army (which in my day would include blowing some of them up with firecrackers, and other destructive mutilations (take that, evil enemy soldier!)), these casualty figures should be brought out to reflect on the post-combat life.

But on reflection, I'm not at all sure this would have a good effect on kids -- after all, pretend-playtime is pretending, and sometimes kids just need to vent.. But the casualty models would be a kick-ass addendum to a collector's formal display.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 2:18 PM on May 5, 2011


I too was initially repulsed and on later reflection saw it for what it was. My only remaining issue is that the set needs to include one soldier going to work as if nothing happened. Otherwise it is just dragging out the "wounded and haunted vet" stereotype from the late 70's.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 2:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm honestly beginning to think I'm not wired like most people here. They're little bits of plastic. The artist is skilled, they look pretty accurate as army men go I guess.
posted by codswallop at 2:32 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly beginning to think I'm not wired like most people here. They're little bits of plastic. The artist is skilled, they look pretty accurate as army men go I guess.

Yeah, and books are just words on paper and movies are just a set of images shown in rapid succession that form the illusion of movement.

I mean, I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. The little bits of plastic are meant to be a representation of something much larger. I guess if you don't get it, you don't get it.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:41 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw this the other day and I didn't automatically think "OMG! Repulsive! GAH!" and shut the window. I thought it was great and even if I was repulsed or offended I would take that as a sure sign that the artist intended that and I would have something to then think about.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:50 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


One nephew came home from Afghanistan with a permanent limp; the other came home from Afghanistan with PTSD.
I'm proud of their service and understand completely that, for most of us to live in the light of freedom, others pay a hideous price and must do terrible deeds in darkness.
This is a powerful statement.
posted by pentagoet at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2011


As is my first thought was that I had seen this before, but beyond that I was interested in the interplay between mass produced monotone same-as-same looking toys and the inherent dichotomy in all of that by simply changing and adding a few details to a couple of the army men.
Also the fact that young kids everywhere who play with these innevitably "injure" some of their army men by (burning and using firecrackers on them) is another statement that shouldn't be lost here.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:00 PM on May 5, 2011


But on reflection, I'm not at all sure this would have a good effect on kids -- after all, pretend-playtime is pretending, and sometimes kids just need to vent.. But the casualty models would be a kick-ass addendum to a collector's formal display

I think you might be missing the point here....

the set needs to include one soldier going to work as if nothing happened.

As if nothing happened? Meaning that this vet is in denial about his or her experiences? Or perhaps they served nowhere near the combat zones, and for them the army was just another job? Or maybe that they have subscribed completely to the idea that you can integrate something as horrific as modern warfare into one's psyche and then just get on with your life afterwards without any feeling of dissonance or emotional reaction? Or they are heavily medicated? I can't believe that anybody experiences war without being profoundly affected by it, whether they show it or not. Of course they could be exceptionally shallow or sociopathic... that happens too, I guess.
posted by jokeefe at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2011


for most of us to live in the light of freedom, others pay a hideous price and must do terrible deeds in darkness.
This is a powerful statement.


No it isn't. It's a motherfucking lie.
posted by jokeefe at 3:02 PM on May 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


More like for most of us to live in relative prosperity, others pay a hideous price... "Freedom" is not enabled by sending men off to die 10,000 miles away. It, according to the Founding Fathers, is an inalienable right that is given by itself through expression.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:22 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that so many people are offended by the truthful depiction of the effects of war, yet few are offended that we teach are kids to play war and battle with armies when they are too young to comprehend the value of life.

I know I fall pretty far left on the war-mongering to pacifist scale, but if we want to change the culture let's start with the militarization of our culture and our children.

I respect people who choose to join the military, but more often than not, I think they are young, uneducated kids with few options. Young recruits are just as often victims of the culture that protects prosperity for the few at the expense of many.

Apologies if I'm ranting. I was moved by the statement the piece was making and hope that the plight of so many veterans will continue to gain attention, respect and resources.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 3:36 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't say I was offended, I just figured if a soldier were to see it, they could easily interpret it as making light of a serious topic.
posted by Leisure_Muffin at 3:50 PM on May 5, 2011


My father-in-law (a Vietnam vet who is very active in anti-war activism) would love these. Not that they'd make him happy, but he'd appreciate them, as someone who was fed from a young age the the myth that being violent, going to war, makes you a man.

Unfortunately, I also hesitate to send them to him because he does have serious PTSD and the suicide one with the shotgun is a bit close to home.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:18 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"who since returning from duty in Iraq had been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, drunk driving, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides."

We used to live down the road from Enoggera Barracks here in Brisbane. Naturally a barracks turns the surrounding suburbs into a sort of army village, lots of apartments and townhouses get built, and a lot of AJs ("army jerks") move in.

The thing with Australian AJs, in my experience - which is reasonable, having grown up in Townsville, basically a government and military town and home of Lavarack Barracks, the largest in Australia (last I heard) - is that, while they might be good soldiers, they are generally rubbish people. There's a lot of drug use and alcoholism in the Australian Army, but more importantly there's a lot of downtime. When not firing blanks (it's expensive to use live ammo, after all) on maneuvers, in my experience what happens is AJs like to sit around in groups with their shirts off drinking booze.

Which is fine. We all like to do that from time to time. But the trick with being an AJ is you must be "hard", a tough guy, and when you mix the tough guy mindset with boredom, booze, and hanging around shirtless with your buddies, who you need to impress, you run into scenarios like the one my girlfriend and I experienced a year and a bit ago.

We were walking back from a trip to the supermarket, carrying a bunch of bags. It was about midday, and our trip had taken an hour, and on our way there we passed a townhouse with a balcony that had a bunch of AJs sitting around on it, and they'd obviously gotten up early to get their drink on if the number of empty bottles surrounding them had anything to do with it. Anyway, they started yelling at us to impress themselves, one of them suggesting "I am gonna skull-fuck you!" (which is what clued me in to the fact that they are AJs, as normal hooligan drunks don't yell tough guy bullshit like that) and a bunch of other stuff. I was pretty furious but wasn't going to stand up for myself to a group of four drunk and pissed-off AJs so I just shouted back "Nice work, troopers, keep it up!" and they were quiet for a second until one of them was all "Yeah, I will!" like the dumbfuck AJ he was and still is if he hasn't had his stupid face IED'd off which, honestly, I hope he has.

So we got home with our shopping and by that time I had a really sick feeling in my stomach, like I wanted to go back with my sledgehammer and just fuck these guys up, even though I would've gotten my neck broke in the process, if I was lucky. Anyway, my girlfriend had to go to a dentist's appointment, which would take her back along the same route we had taken. I insisted that she take a different route and she told me she would but it turns out she didn't, because the detour would've been a long one, making her late for the appointment, and she sends me a text message saying that the AJs were still there and one of them had made a "joke" along the lines of "I just got out of jail for rape, don't make me do it again!"

So I called the cops and gave them the address and said there was a balcony full of inebriated soldiers yelling threats of rape and skullfucking at passers-by. Obviously the cops came because on the way back my girlfriend said the drunks were dead quiet and with the music turned down.

Anyway, the next afternoon I was talking to a neighbour down the street. Turns out the official warning had only lasted for a few hours, and at about 1 or 2 that morning the AJs were still at it (how's that for stamina!) and had commenced yelling at people coming home from the city on the train (their townhouse overlooked the station). Stupid bastards that they were, they had started yelling threats and insults at another group of AJs coming home pissed, and a massive brawl erupted in this quiet suburban street, fence palings getting pulled off and used as weapons, some broken bones, and a squad of coppers turned up to separate them and apparently there were tasings and pepper sprayings (which I am all for).

So, I guess the point of my long and rambling story is: fuck the army that creates people like this, whether they are the drunk assholes threatening to skullfuck me and rape my girlfriend, or the PTSD-ed fuckups who come home and kill their dogs, or the ones who get their intestines blown out and spend the rest of their lives hooked up to machines that they can't afford because the government got their pound of flesh. Fuck the army and fuck what they do to people, enemy and ally alike.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Jokeefe, I don't get your point. Are saying that a terrible price isn't paid? I don't think so, because we both know that isn't true. Nor do I think either of us are ungrateful or unaware of it. I think we both know that our freedoms are hard won, no matter where or how our battles are fought.
Oh, and just to spoil the 'young, uneducated cannon fodder' trope., both of my nephews have a advanced degrees as are many of their fellow soldiers. It is true, that, traditionally, the Army has provided opportunities for education and social advancement for people who might not otherwise get those opportunities.
I'm outta here because I'm the thread is taking its usual downward spiral.
Good night, everyone.
posted by pentagoet at 4:56 PM on May 5, 2011


Please excuse the minor grammatical errors in my post. It's been a long day and I'm tired.
posted by pentagoet at 4:58 PM on May 5, 2011


These are all still better than the minesweeper army guy. Man, what was the point of him?
posted by John of Michigan at 5:33 PM on May 5, 2011


As if nothing happened? Meaning that this vet is in denial about his or her experiences?

Or maybe that they learned a way to deal with it? Plenty of people have horrific experiences and find a way to live with it. "as if nothing happened" may be a little strong, but they lead lives very similar to those without such trauma (thinking abused children, etc). And I know plenty of ex-soldiers (who served in Iraq/Afghanistan in combat zones) who fit into this basic category -- there is no dramatic difference between them and most people, they do not suffer crippling depression or PTSD. I'm sure they have things they have to deal with, but thats true of a much wider array of people than just soldiers.

for most of us to live in the light of freedom, others pay a hideous price and must do terrible deeds in darkness.

This is certainly at least sometimes true. I think most people here (including me) would argue it's not true of Iraq or Afghanistan. But it's hard to see how, say, the British fighting in WWII were not protecting and securing freedom for their country. Had they decided not to fight, there isn't much doubt that things would have been much, much worse; despite the inevitable horrors that fighting can bring.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:41 PM on May 5, 2011


Ah yes, WWII, the "good" war. Tell me, are the wars that America is involved in right now, this second-- are they "good" wars, too?

Jokeefe, I don't get your point. Are saying that a terrible price isn't paid? I don't think so, because we both know that isn't true. Nor do I think either of us are ungrateful or unaware of it. I think we both know that our freedoms are hard won, no matter where or how our battles are fought.

Oh, the freedoms that matter to me were hard won all right-- on picket lines and in courtrooms and through relentless, unglamorous, and continual organizing of the three steps forward, two steps back variety. And the price you are referring to-- the ongoing human sacrifices of soldiers and civilians-- that price is paid, as well.

It's just that what you think it's buying-- freedom-- is not what it's buying at all.

My freedom doesn't depend on a child lying in an undersupplied hospital with third degree burns over her body and no morphine to soothe her pain. My freedom doesn't depend on a generation of young American men and women sent to Iraq or Afghanistan and broken physically and emotionally. The price that they are paying is not one that I asked them to, and is one that is, finally, worthless, as those who pay it often find. But it continues to be exacted because people believe, absolutely believe, that the price of freedom demands that the child loose her village, her family, her eyesight, etcetera, so that well-fed generals can parade around with their shiny medals gleaming, and people on the internet can repeat the platitudes that allow the heinous worship of the military, and all those calls of honour and glory that fuel it.
posted by jokeefe at 6:00 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jokeefe: I think you might be missing the point here....

I think you may have misinterpreted my meaning. War is a serious matter, and I alluded to several points in the two sentences paragraph you quote. What is the point you think I've missed?
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 6:44 PM on May 5, 2011


Tuesday After Lunch, this is what I was referencing, yes?

But on reflection, I'm not at all sure this would have a good effect on kids -- after all, pretend-playtime is pretending, and sometimes kids just need to vent.. But the casualty models would be a kick-ass addendum to a collector's formal display.

Well... because these aren't toys. They resemble toys, but they aren't: the artist has merely used the shape of those common and ubiquitous toys to make a serious point about the reality of war. They aren't made to be played with, and they're not made to be adjuncts to already existing toys. They are, in part, an criticism of the little green army guys that kids play with, likely because of the idea that they inculcate children into the narrative of war or that they engage children in the imagery of war as play. But of course, toys are quickly disposable and cannot be hurt, which is where the other part of the criticism comes in: that the men and women of the modern American army are treated as toys-- as disposable objects-- by the powers that be. It's an illustration of the dire costs of war with all the ideology of glory stripped out. The last place these figures should be is in a glass case with a bunch of other "collectible" GI Joes. That is absolutely not what they're for.
posted by jokeefe at 7:09 PM on May 5, 2011


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Rudyard Kipling
posted by joannemullen at 3:17 AM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well... because these aren't toys. They resemble toys, but they aren't: the artist has merely used the shape of those common and ubiquitous toys to make a serious point about the reality of war. They aren't made to be played with, and they're not made to be adjuncts to already existing toys. They are, in part, an criticism of the little green army guys that kids play with, likely because of the idea that they inculcate children into the narrative of war or that they engage children in the imagery of war as play. But of course, toys are quickly disposable and cannot be hurt, which is where the other part of the criticism comes in: that the men and women of the modern American army are treated as toys-- as disposable objects-- by the powers that be.

Hmmm... Toy soldiers have been around a long, long time, and I don't foresee that going away in our lifetimes. My original thought was the post-combat, returned-to-civilian-life figures could be included, as a matter of making things (the kits, the play experience, etc.etc.) more complete. But on reflection, it struck me that that's not how play-time works (not every moment is a "teachable moment'), and a better augmentation would be to include more medical corps and support personal figures, which would at least have the minor positive affect of giving a more realistic idea of the logistical investment required to fight a modern war. (Since at least the Vietnam war, support personal >> fighting personal.)

It's an illustration of the dire costs of war with all the ideology of glory stripped out. The last place these figures should be is in a glass case with a bunch of other "collectible" GI Joes. That is absolutely not what they're for.

Completely agree with your first statement.

In my experience, collectors try to make as complete a set as they can, focusing on historical detail. They're often amature historians, to the point of, say, wanting to insure the correct proportions of special units and equipment applicable to whatever situation they're portraying (battles are popular, sigh). But these collections tend to be of able-bodied combat soldiers; they, too, tend to ignore the huge logistical support -- I rarely see depictions of medical support or the other necessary components of a modern war. That is, they tend to be displays of the heroic mythos of war without the horrific aftermath. I just think a more realistic depiction of war and its costs would make people more hesitant to enter them -- right now, wars are depicted as the quick and easy solution to a political problem. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with war know that's a strong contender for the "most dangerous and despicable foolish idea ever held".

The last place these figures should be is in a glass case with a bunch of other "collectible" GI Joes. That is absolutely not what they're for.

A lot of these collections end up as museum displays, and a lot of displays and monuments are historic displays with a small footnote somewhere of how many people were involved, and how many on-the-battlefield casualties there were.

What do you think should be done with the figures? What do you think their purpose is, if not to direct our attention to the human cost of war and its aftermath?

ps. On preview: Perhaps you're right; perhaps children shouldn't see such things until they're older, just as we don't let children see Triumph of the Will, or learn of other war atrocities until they're older and can better understand..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 5:08 AM on May 6, 2011


These are potent and pack a wallop.

Thanks for posting.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:41 AM on May 6, 2011


jokeef, I think you may be misunderstanding me. I am not saying that the set should include a sociopath whistling gladly on the way home from war. I am saying that the set should include a soldier going about his daily life successfully post war. I know a number of Iraq vets and generally they go about there days uncrushed by their time at war. Maybe to some that means they did not see "real War" or that they are sociopaths,but to me it means that sometimes the most hardcore thing a person can do is get up, take a shower and go to work. Some folks do integrate their experiences. They love their kids and pay their taxes just like everyone else.
And at other times the most hardcore thing a person can do is ask for help. It takes a special kind of strength to reach out when our normal strengths have failed us. Our services and our society still have a long way to go as far as helping all our wounded back to health.

But I think the artists failure to include an uncrushed soldier along side the ones they made only advances the caricature of all soldiers as "wounded and haunted". I know a number of vets and more then once I have heard them say they did not want to be seen as one of those "messed up from the war guys". That stereotype hurts soldiers.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 10:53 AM on May 6, 2011


This seems like a good place to post this song.
posted by ambulocetus at 12:36 AM on May 8, 2011


My freedom doesn't depend on a child lying in an undersupplied hospital with third degree burns over her body and no morphine to soothe her pain. My freedom doesn't depend on a generation of young American men and women sent to Iraq or Afghanistan and broken physically and emotionally. The price that they are paying is not one that I asked them to, and is one that is, finally, worthless, as those who pay it often find. But it continues to be exacted because people believe, absolutely believe, that the price of freedom demands that the child loose her village, her family, her eyesight, etcetera, so that well-fed generals can parade around with their shiny medals gleaming, and people on the internet can repeat the platitudes that allow the heinous worship of the military, and all those calls of honour and glory that fuel it.

In nicer and more accurate terms: There may have been a time when soldiers in the US fought, unambiguously and exclusively, for (or in defense of) freedom. That ship has long sailed. For at least the past 50-60 years, a majority of the conflicts involving US armed forces are initiated for strategic purposes: access or control of resources, to wound an enemy, or to reward an ally. For sure, there has not been a single battle fought in the past half-century to protect US soil or the freedoms therein.

In contrast, there have been many battles fought on the streets of America, including people giving their lives, to fight for new freedoms that we today take for granted, but were not in existence when the US was founded. Not all of the civil rights movements were nonviolence; but all of them, nonviolent or not, experienced violence on the part of the police, army, or others who refused to acknowledge these new freedoms. People died supporting rights for women; people died supporting rights for people of color; people died fighting for fair wages and safe work conditions. It is these people who, for the last 60 years or so, have shed blood for freedom. In contrast, during these same decades blood has been shed in military battles fought in the name of freedom, but whether those battles had anything to do with freedom at all is doubtful at best.

War has always meant civilian casualties. And sometimes, just sometimes, those losses may be worth the price. But lately, that is getting harder and harder to justify.

The two wars we are fighting now, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were wholly preventable. In the case of Iraq, we should not have invaded at all. It was an illegal war and did nothing at all to make us safer (unless, of course, you take the extremely cynical but possibly accurate view that by focusing attention on Iraq, we were able to draw terrorism attacks away from U.S. by outsourcing them to the people of Iraq). The war in Afghanistan is a bit more complex -- basically, it would probably have not been necessary if we had not spent millions (billions?) of dollars building up the mujahideen there, including giving their children textbooks that said "K is for Kalashnikov".

TLDR: For the past 50 years, U.S. freedom has been bought by the blood of activists here on the streets of America; the military forces have been shedding blood (theirs and others'), but not for freedom.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:42 PM on May 11, 2011


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