February 21, 2009

Group Protests Army Recruitment Tool That Violates International Law


An anti-war group protested the offices of video game maker Ubisoft in San Francisco yesterday to bring attention to the company's ongoing work with the U.S. Army on "America's Army", a video game that has been developed specifically to increase the number of Army recruits.

In the absence of a military draft the Army has turned to technological propaganda to meet it's recruitment targets.

The game immerses players in basic training before they can go on to play specialized combat roles. Players travel through Middle East settings using weapons that replicate those used by the US army.

The United States Army and the Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation Institute has stated of the game that "The Department of Defense want[ed] to double the number of Special Forces Soldiers, so essential did they prove in Afghanistan and northern Iraq; consequently, orders ... trickled down the chain of command and found application in the current release of 'America's Army.'"

Since its release, the game has "recruited" over 30,000 players everyday. It now has more than nine million registered users, and a new version is due to be launched next month.

Watch video of the protest:

Commentator Michael B. Reagan recently penned an excellent piece exposing the game as not only a fierce form of propaganda but also as a violation of international law:

Beyond its recruitment goals, the game serves as a training device for both military tactics and weapons, and to condition players for battlefield operations. To this end, "America's Army" game assignments are designed to simulate real world battlefield missions. For example in one mission, "Special Forces fight alongside Indigenous Forces they have trained. For this mission, [players] must rescue and escort a wounded resistance leader who's escaped to a neutral hospital for treatment - or hinder the escape of a wounded enemy courier, depending which side you're on." Missions like this shadow real world military actions such as the November 2004 seizure of a Fallujah hospital, a blatant violation of international law.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has found that Army use of the game, and its recruiting practice in general, violate international law. In May, the ACLU published a report that found the armed services "regularly target children under 17 for military recruitment. Department of Defense instruction to recruiters, the US military's collection of information of hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds, and military training corps for children as young as 11 reveal that students are targeted for recruitment as early as possible. By exposing children under 17 to military recruitment, the United States military violates the Optional Protocol." The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, ratified by the Senate in December 2002, protects the rights of children under 16 from military recruitment and deployment to war.

Furthermore, "America's Army" is not the only video game the army has produced in an effort to vamp up recruitment. A piece in The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the fact that the Army has been touring an exhibit known as The Virtual Army Experience for the past year and a half. This giant videogame, currently stopping at amusement parks, air shows and county fairs, has been in production since 1999 when the Army fell short of recruitment goals.

Spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Douglas Smith, admits that the game is a recruitment tool stating "parents are less likely to encourage their children to consider military service".

Col. Casey Wardynski, director of the Army's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis at West Point has also described the game as a tool to capture the public interest and "an opportunity to shape their tastes".

Of course, the graphic horror of war is completely absent in both video games. Being hit by a bullet translates into a red puff of mist on the screen and soldiers regenerate once they have been killed.

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