Saying No to the Army Experience Center
By Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot and Jimmy Tobias
September 17, 2009
"We refuse to be educated for a defense that deforms the defenders
and that which they defend." So read the banner we carried with us as
we marched with 200 peace activists to face-off with police and
military personnel at the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast
Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 12.
We were there to shut down the Army Experience Center (AEC), the
Pentagon's $12 million experiment in the use of video games and
modern media to indoctrinate youth into the military's culture of violence.
The AEC looks like a giant classroom nestled in the heart of the
heavily-trafficked mall, but instead of desks, the room is filled
with cutting edge TV monitors, video game consoles and hypermodern
"mission simulators," each one a tool in the Pentagon's fight for the
hearts and minds of the United States' malleable youth.
On any given day at the AEC, young people ages 13 and older gather to
play the Pentagon's in-house war games: each participant gets a taste
of the "army experience," although the death, destruction and pain of
war are conveniently sanitized, and no one ever leaves the AEC with
post traumatic stress disorder. Pre-pubescent boys are locked in a
macabre orgy of mediated violence. The veteran soldiers who staff the
recruitment center look on, encouraging the gathered youth as they
kill "enemy combatants" on the TV screens and promising them similar
thrills if only they join up. These are our country's modern
recruitment techniquesviolence is fun, war is only a game, and even
children can get a piece of the action.
In 1955, in the wake of World War II and the Korean War, the American
Friends Service Committee published its seminal peace manifesto
titled "Speak Truth to Power," saying this of modern civilization:
"Acceptance of the doctrine of violence is so widespread that man is
becoming hardened to mass extermination, and indifferent to mass
human suffering. Indeed, man's indifference to violence is almost as
disturbing a symptom of our time as his readiness to practice it.
This is an age of violence."
And what can we say of humankind today? The stifling heat of the Cold
War has subsided, but we are faced with a new and more mysterious
enemythe Terroristand once again the youth of this nation are being
educated for a defense which will surely deform them, just as it long
ago deformed whatever it is we are supposed to be defending.
Standing next to us in the crowd at the AEC on Saturday were veterans
who had seen first-hand the violence of war; the hyper-technic
realist aesthetic of the AEC games was an astonishing affront to
their lived experience. They knew that video games could never
approximate the reality of war. How can weas a nation, as a
cultureso carelessly and cruelly render the suffering of war?
We wanted it to stop, and so 200 peace activists, including members
of Iraq and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, World Can't Wait and
the Granny Peace Brigade, stood outside of that inhumane and aseptic
space where kids learn how to kill. We were angry and alive and our
loud, messy angerblaring over bullhorns and plastered on posterswas
in service of humanity instead of the culture of death promoted by
our country's political and military machinery.
After hours of protesting, six protesters and an independent
journalist were handcuffed and taken away, and the rest of us were
pushed onto the street by a wall of approaching policemen. We were
silenced, but we'd had our say. Seven people paid dearly for our
right to speak: they were charged with "criminal conspiracy" and
"failure to obey a police command" and spent the night in jail. But
who is surprised? The government prefers a passive populace to dissent.
Our culture is militarized. The government glorification of
violencewhether in the news media or by way of the violence-exalting
video games which it funds (America's Army, the Halo series,
etc.)coerces us to accept the unprecedented levels of destruction
unleashed by our global dominance. The critical theorist Herbert
Marcuse called this the "pre-established harmony": the U.S.
government produces both the culture of violence and the violence
itself, which join together in a vicious cycle that precludes the
possibility of peace. Our social cohesion is dependent on the enemy
at our door; waging of war stabilizes our society.
The omnipresent culture and the tools of warwhich haunt us from
cradle to graveeradicate our hopes for peace, deform our
imaginations. Still, we refuse our government's terrorization of our
imaginations, its colonization of our minds. We marched to the AEC,
sat down on the ground and told them to "Shut it down!" And we
remembered Dr. King's admonition, hoping it was not in vain: "A
nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military
defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."