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Making War Cool as Hell

July 4th, 2007 · Written by · 1 Comment

Perhaps more insidious than this complete merger of current events and virtual warfare is the burgeoning relationship between game designers and the military itself. This reciprocal interchange came to a head in 1999 with the founding of the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT). The ICT, launched in California with a $50 million budget donated by the U.S. Army, was designed to link up the military with the entertainment and videogame industries. The result was whirlwind of projects intended to be commercially viable while dually serving as combat simulators for soldiers. Titles developed with the ICT include Rainbow 6: Rogue Spear and Full Spectrum Warrior (the Army’s version is called Full Spectrum Command), both of which went on to become major financial successes. The Marines followed suit with the commercial release of one of their simulators under the moniker Close Combat: First to Fight. But the ultimate manifestation of this war game revolution came in the form of America’s Army. Developed with $5 million in U.S. tax dollars, America’s Army was released by the U.S. Army in 2002 as a completely free, interactive recruiting tool – marketing war as the perfect leisure time activity.


Putting a pretty face on global conflict can’t be fully realized without the help of “liberal” Hollywood. In November of 2001, presidential advisor Karl Rove led a series of closed door meetings with executives and directors from Tinseltown in order to ensure that any depictions of the “war on terror” would be adequately patriotic. There was really nothing new here – ever since WWII, Hollywood has allowed the military to modify its scripts in order to gain access to expertise and equipment, and films like Top Gun (1986) and Behind Enemy Lines (2001) have served as overt recruitment commercials.

“The former head of the Marine Corps film office, Matt Morgan, he told me he joined the military after seeing Top Gun,” said David Robb, author of Operation Hollywood, in an interview with Mother Jones. “People are going off to war and getting killed, in part because of some movie that they saw that was adjusted by the military.”

“People are going off to war and getting killed, in part because of some movie that they saw that was adjusted by the military.”

But a new medium is capable of making militarism seem even more enticing: reality TV. The patriotic fervor of the post-9/11 environment led to collaborations between numerous TV channels, Hollywood directors, and the entertainment liaisons (yes, they actually have these) of each branch of the armed forces. TBS produced War Games, Fox produced Bootcamp, USA produced Combat Missions, and CBS produced American Fighter Pilot. In 2002, ABC upped the ante by teaming up with the Pentagon, producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor), and reality TV guru Bertram Van Munster (Cops, The Amazing Race) to create Profiles From the Front Line – a sanitized reality soap that followed soldiers in Afghanistan with cameras. The show, which Bruckheimer described as “a salute to our military,” aired from February to March of 2003 and became the basis of the phenomenon called “embedded reporting.”


Thanks to the embedding of journalists within military units, the invasion of Iraq played out like a scripted, edge-of-your-seat action movie. Americans were treated to planned spectacles such as the “rescue” of Jessica Lynch (which later spawned the made-for-TV drama Saving Private Lynch) and the “spontaneous” toppling of Saddam’s statue – events that were nothing more than masterful manipulations of the media by the U.S military. Any reports of the real costs of war were glossed over in favor of statistical breakdowns on the armaments used by Coalition Forces. Anchors like NBC’s John Elliot would gleefully show off the latest bombs and fighting vehicles, complete with CG animations of the weapons in action. It seemed war had simply become a testing ground for our favorite testosterone-inducing toys.

The mass-media has replaced the brutality of humanity’s most gruesome endeavor with unadulterated techno-fetishism. Military recruitment ads have latched onto this obsession and now focus almost exclusively on the gadgets and gizmos of war – appealing to the child within. But how are potential recruits going to make an informed choice when the war they’re familiar with is nothing more than a game without any real life consequences? It’s time to remember that even if make-believe war can be fun as hell, real war is anything but.

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