After saving viewers from "Saving Private Ryan," a pro-family group is now urging the US military to replace the videos it uses for troop training. The group says that the videos are graphically violent and may prove harmful to young soldiers.
Warns that graphic death scenes, shoot-outs may be harmful to young soldiers
By Deanna Swift
TUPELO, MS—On Veteran's Day, the American Family Association, a nonprofit pro-family activist group that battles nudity, pornography, and homosexuality in the media, successfully fought to keep millions of American viewers from being exposed to profanity. AFA members deluged TV executives with faxes and e-mails to urge them to protect young people by refusing to air "Saving Private Ryan," the World War II drama starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and a string of profane language; the f word appears 20 times in the film, the s word, 12. Sixty-six ABC affiliates ultimately refused to broadcast the movie.
Now the AFA is moving on to an even bigger target: the training films used by the US military to prepare new troops for battle. According to AFA spokesperson Tom Gilman, films and games like America's Army feature graphic violence that could have an adverse affect on impressionable young military recruits. "We've got study after study that show us that if you bombard young people with extremely violent imagery, you destroy their sense of reality and make it impossible for them to distinguish between right and wrong." Among the imagery that Gilmon and the AFA object to: shoot-outs between soldiers, episodes of friendly fire and a life-like image of what a soldier looks like following the detonation of an improvised explosive device, or IED.
America's Army was developed as both a training vehicle for new troops and an online video game, by Colonel Casey Wardynski, the director of the U.S. Army's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA) at the United States Military Academy. Players assume military identities and move up through the ranks by completing training drills, carrying out missions and following orders. Since its release in 2002, America's Army has emerged as one of the most popular online games in the country.
But the attack from the pro-family group isn't the first time America's Army has ended up on the wrong side of the media spin cycle. The game—and the military—came under attack earlier this year when a group of Army Special Forces personnel staged an urban tactical assault exercise outside the L.A. convention center (download MPEG) where the E3 Gaming Expo was taking place. The site of helicopters swooping down on an urban street, machine guns and soldiers in full camouflage, alarmed local residents and caused some in the media to question the fine line between video game and reality.
For its part, the military has strongly defended the use of training videos and games to prepare young recruits for war. "This is a violent business," said Josh McNamara, a public affairs officer for the Pentagon. "What's really going to hurt our new soldiers: watching a shootout on video, or actually getting caught in one on the streets of Baghdad?"
But AFA's Gilman disagrees. "We give the military an 'F' for its promotion of needless violence. The young recruits who are forced to watch these violent videos are given no warning of what they're about to see. At the very least, the military should implement a ratings system that distinguishes between adult content and that which is appropriate for the youngest soldiers."
Deanna Swift can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org