Virtual Soldier Boys

Yesterday’s WSJ tells how the U.S. Army is using video games to sell military service to kids. You might have noticed these at your local state fair or other amusement venues; children are invited to pick up a gun and shoot at targets on a screen.

The last time we were near one of these machines my sons pestered me to let them use it. I told them No. It’s not because I want to discourage them from military service, or from owning guns. Heck, their mother and I are well-armed ourselves. What I don’t like is that these games simulate killing without its full effect. The splatter of blood. The smell of someone who has just died. The obscene sprawl of a body that has had life taken from it.

A father interviewed for the WSJ piece explains that he let his 13 year-old use the Army device because “he wanted his son to gain an appreciation of the sacrifices being made by the Army.”

But it’s precisely the opposite that results. You don’t appreciate anything, after toying with one of these games, other than the false sense of power that comes from being invulnerable while luxuriating in the killing of artificial strangers who have no mothers to miss them. It is designed to produce a thrill without the concomitant fear and remorse. I think we’ve done enough to desensitize our children without doing it deliberately, in the name of patriotism, no less.

So my boys can have their toy guns, which they use on imaginary bad guys and animals. When the time comes I will teach them how to handle real weapons. I’ll let them run their fingers over the jagged hole a shell leaves in a can filled with sand. I’ll help them understand what that same shell does when it rips through human flesh.

I hope they never have to kill anyone, but I won’t leave them unprepared to do so. At the same time, I hope I’ll leave them aware of what it costs, the taking of another person’s life. Because it isn’t just a game, not for the person who pulls the trigger, and certainly not for the person who breathes his last as a result.

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