10/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Science Fiction of Military Marketing

The rise of video game culture has been criticized by some as encouraging violence. The theory is that the more violent and real-looking the video game is, the more it encourages its players to actually go out and reenact the game's scenes in real life. Of course, there's no scientific evidence to back up this hypothesis -- and as a gamer myself, I find it rather idiotic. I'm sorry -- but me playing Halo doesn't make me more inclined to go out and shoot someone.

However, that's not to say that there's no connection between video games and violence. I think there is -- but it's more subtle. As the authors of Smartbomb suggest, video games don't encourage individuals to be violent as much as they legitimize the broader concept of violence as something normal and acceptable. And that's particularly true when, as I show in my newest newspaper column, the military itself embraces that theory.

During a recent visit to the movie theater, I caught two of the military's most popular and widespread recruitment ads -- and as you can see, they depict war, violence and militarism as just one big and harmless video game:

As you can see, the goal of these ads is to pretend that war isn't violent, causes no casualties -- and especially no American casualties. Indeed, one of the ads insists that the frontlines are entirely unmanned -- an insult to the thousands who have died on those very frontlines.

The message in the ad campaign is no accident. It is -- quite obviously -- calculated by the same military propagandists who were trying to use the media credentialing process to limit war-critical journalists' access to forward areas. And the message is simple: War is not anything to really worry about.

Since the column has come out, I've received the standard load of hate mail insisting that, despite polls showing the public against the Iraq/Afghan wars and supportive of Pentagon budget cuts, Americans love war -- and anyone who says otherwise is a liberal who hates the troops. Here's a taste of one lunatic's letter:

Maybe if education in America were not controlled by liberals trying to brainwash kids with liberal immorality, then we could turn out young people who are not legally dead from the throat up -- that is kids who can actually read, write, speak, think, do math, and reason worth a damn ... Liberals and Democrats believe in peace at any cost, including surrender. The American people do not believe this, regardless of how many boot-licking, apology tours our coward in chief -- I mean the empty suit, Idiot Obama -- goes on.

Again, this is just one of many letters I've received -- and clearly, when it is in response to a column about the obviously dishonest message of these commercials, it tells you that it is nearly impossible to conduct a rational conversation about military issues right now (if ever). Here you have commercials overtly trying to convince kids that violence-by-robot isn't violence, and that enlistment for war means merely getting to play a glorified Xbox. And yet, to even broach the problems of that sales pitch is to be called unAmerican.

I guess that comes with the territory of being a writer -- and the reason I wrote this column is to try (in my own little way) to make these issues available for honest discussion. I think it's particularly important as the military starts relying more on these kinds of sales pitches -- and this kind of impersonal weaponry.

Read the whole column here.

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