I was rumaging through the last boxes, the little boxes packed within boxes, of things to sort in my new home, when I found this small blue button and its four word slogan, “Don’t buy war toys,” one of several given to me years ago by teacher, activist, and author Joyce Kornbluh, my inspirational first advisor at Goddard College in rural Vermont. The others had to to with the women’s labor movement, her passion.
I held it in my hand as I first considered putting it in my personal treasures box. Not good enough, I thought. I need to wear this again, now, when the frenzy of holiday shopping is at its peak and the fatalities in Iraq are skyrocketing toward the 3000 mark and the newest movies are being heralded as “bloodbaths,” each director trying to outdo competitors in graphic audio/visual detail.
It’s a simple message that flies in the face of all manner of toys: everything from G. I. Joe with wartime accessories to paintball guns, from violent videos to even more violent videogames. It a simple message for a complex time, since we are at war in Iraq and in a war at home against escalating violence, abuse and crime that surrounds us in real life and dominates all media.
I look at war toys as more than toy guns, metallic swords and laser toys that tag victims. Walk through Wal-Mart or K-Mart or any of the major retailers and you’ll be greeted at the entrance with videos — a few of the Christmas charmers for the little ones, a few for us “gramma’s” who still like Miracle on 34th St (the black and white original), and stacks and stacks of violence and horror categories. Walk through the hi-tech departments and you’ll find people vying for $300 game sets and disks in which gunning down police, raping and killing women, stealing cars, filthy language and other such mayhem is the desired goal. Kids want the games, and parents are buying them. Parents are playing them too. Often with their kids. What’s wrong with this picture?
I see this de-sensitization in some of the children around me, young people who don’t really see or undertsand the line between reality and fantasy, between good behavior and bad, between life and the reality of injury and death. It’s not just human versus alien or other beasts, its human versus human, man versus woman, beast (and the beast within us) versus everybody, worlds in which the first shot rarely kills, the primary color is blood red, the goal is domination, suppression, oppression and death. Consequences are irrelevant.
We are long past the superhero comic days which had a certain fantasy, a good versus evil thread, and a level of innocence in art, movement, and motivation. A hero mentality with a moral value attached. What’s been lost is the innocence, the morality, the sense of justice in the victor. Today’s game values tally death and destruction in the winning score.
War toys are more than just the the guns and the games and the hi-tech videos. War toys are an attitude, cultivated by corporations who know their biggest profit margins are on the 16-23 year old male media consumer. But the lower end of that age bracket is falling with each year and it is not limited to that age or gender bracket. There is no such thing as a “good news”; good news doesn’t sell. Peace has no profit margin. War, apparently does. But only if the consumer is willing.
I’ve never bought war toys. Never wanted to. I’ve never subscribed to the overkill of gift-giving either; I like kinder, simpler gifts, that one special thing that will make the recipient know I put thought, love and consideration into my choice. Violence is not part of that picture.
I dusted off the blue button with its pristine white lettering, and now move it from purse strap to briefcase and back again, adding it to other anti-war and pro-peace buttons I’ve collected and wear in my daily travels. I’ll keep wearing it even after the holidays are over. And I still won’t buy war toys.