War games

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Credit: The US Army

Many people forget we are a country at war. Even across the pond where domestic issues dominate the ongoing presidential race, in a country which last year contributed 41% of the world’s total military expenditure, (China was second on a marginally smaller 8.2%) people seem oblivious. The presidential candidates certainly do. People work, life goes on, travel generally stays safe, and yet for eleven years we have been in a state of war operated almost entirely overseas. More than a decade, more than half of my own current life span has been spent in a country sending soldiers out across the world, to the extent that I am only dimly aware of a life before.

It is a disturbing truth that shocked me when I realised it. By the time I got mature enough to be interested in politics, news and the whirlwind of truth and lies that constitutes whatever is really going in the world, my country had been at war for several years, and yet to me there was no real perceivable difference, nothing out of the ordinary really affected my everyday life. The news might occasionally flicker with another soldier’s death, but it was so far away, so distant from my own reality that it meant nothing more to me than an irrelevant weather forecast, so regular did they seem to come.

It would be delusional to say that we do not live in a period of sustained conflict. We have fought and are fighting in four distant wars since 2001; Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, and that is omitting any number of smaller encounters and operations such as off the Somali coast. Right now I don’t care for the justifications of any of them, but what it amounts to is an escalating culture and politics of militarism, but one which we at home seem to have so little actual stake in it seems disturbing. There appears to be a domestic attitude of resignation and wilful ignorance both here and in the US. And yet our role in the world seems to leak so easily into our culture. Film, drama and video games in particular all offer strange, distorted reflections of reality masquerading as truth.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I see the growth of a ‘Call of Duty mentality’ infecting much of the world that surrounds me. There is a growth in the common knowledge of military terminology, specifications of guns, tanks, bombs, application of supposed tactics that I find hard to believe does not correlate with our societies wider actions. What a decade ago would be the domain of the off-putting gun obsessive has now become assumed common knowledge, particularly among young men and boys. Every avid player of video games knows what a G36C is, for instance. Jokes in sitcoms like Archer rely on supposed levels of martial understanding that could not have mass appeal several years ago. But now they do.

Take my fifteen year old brother. He doesn’t particularly care for military history, isn’t some avid gun enthusiastic who essentially fetishises weapons, and yet his innate level of technical expertise regarding military hardware, language and method is astounding and (I can only imagine) unprecedented. Culture has adapted itself to our currently reality well, none more so than video games. Part of this is of course relentless technical expansion and improvement, as well as a massive growing appeal for something that a decade ago was still a geeky niche, but culture did not have to go down this route. It could have swung in so many other directions. What it did though was to naturally seek to reflect reality, but in doing so turning it into nothing more than a surreal game.

Video games, TV, films and all don’t reflect what is actually going on. All they do is exacerbate the already existing disconnect with incredibly distant conflicts. They set a false standards and distract us from reality. We have become a war like culture, but it is not the same war as the one we are truly fighting. We ignore the real conflicts, the ones we can’t see, in preference for the false ones that we can actually control, where there is no danger of becoming trapped in a mire of conflict for over a decade. We can just switch the television off. At home there is very little repercussion for what happens overseas. Even if defence takes up a large proportion of taxation, people don’t complain. The occasional death is not enough anymore to get people to care. Wars are not casual, they are not easy and they should not be ignored. If we do commit to conflict, we should feel it more at home.

Do not mistake this for an anti-war rant (I am, in fact, generally in favour of military action, and I like Archer and gratuitous video games as well) but rather a caution, a warning that these wars have gone on too long, and that there is far too great a disconnect here at home. People have lost touch with the human reality of war, the sacrifice, ignoring it in favour of the superficial fictions we create from ourselves to enjoy, fictions that themselves reflect our distorted impressions of our own tendency to war.

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