On January 17, 1961, three days before then President-Elect Jack Kennedy was set to take office, acting Commander-in-chief Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his televised farewell address to the nation.
In it, he speaks of the post-World War II “permanent armaments industry of vast proportions” that has had a “total influence–economic, political, even spiritual…in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government.” While acknowledging its necessity whilst the United States maintained a containment philosophy against a perceived geopolitical threat from the East, the President nevertheless admits the “grave implications” of such an industry.
Building on that summary, Eisenhower delivered what was to be his final warning:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
The warning was perhaps a tad ironic, given the Eisenhower administration’s own global meddling and the excessive growth of the military in his time, but accurate. In today’s society, the military-industrial complex is at its most bloated, with the US Senate approving a budget of more than a half-trillion dollars for 2019 as the country continues to wage armed conflict and sow the seeds of discord all across the world. Most egregious, however, is the way that militarism has been woven into the very fabric of our society, becoming almost “spiritual,” as Eisenhower put it.
Anyone reading this blog has most likely attended public school and could probably recite the Pledge of Allegiance by heart. Any major entertainment event is predicated on a live and bombastic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem which is itself based on a glorious military battle. High schools nationwide have JROTC units on their school, funded by the military, that espouses military history, discipline, and leadership. Ads for the various branches of the military that portray the heroism and bravery associated with them are shown every day on television. Call of Duty, a military-themed first-person shooter, is in the top 5 best selling video-game series of all time. State police use tactics and equipment often field-tested or dry-run by the US military abroad in order to fight various “wars” at home: a war on drugs, a war on crime, a war on poverty, etc.
And now they’re coming for the Fortnite generation and the Fighting Game Community. Rad! As reported by in a sprawling report by Cecilia D’Anastasio at Kotaku, the US Army has now dedicated a portion of its Department of Defense dollars toward E-Sports, by creating its own team to compete in titles like PUBG and Fortnite, as well as hosting a tournament series, streamed live via their own Twitch.tv channel, for Street Fighter V. Why does the DoD feel the need to venture into this strange and wonderful sport, you may ask? Well, you see, the Army has a big problem: they missed their recruiting goals this past year. Instead of maybe scaling back a bit, trying to figure out the philosophical and moral reasons why someone wouldn’t want to sign up for the Army, they instead found the real issue: the damn economy is too good! Who would want to sign up for the Army if they could get good jobs and benefits elsewhere? According to Staff Sergeant Ryan Meaux, one of the recruiters working on the project, it’s time for the Army to adopt “modern tactics” for recruiting if the old way wasn’t going to work.
But really, is this so shocking? The US Military has been involved in video games for a long time, as far back as the 80’s and early 90’s. Games like Battlezone and Doom were eventually re-tooled to be a virtual training simulator for the latest brand of recruits. But the Army wasn’t content with just retooling existing games, and soon sought out to develop their own games that really could be used not just for training, but to help bring civilians into the fold as well. And they did just that, creating games like Full Spectrum Warrior, which had a standard “entertainment-based” release on major consoles in 2004 and an internal, more realistic “training-based” version, and America’s Army, which was also funded by the Department of Defense and distributed as a free-to-play game on the internet. D’Anastasio’s reporting claims that almost 30% of young civvies had positive opinions on the Army from playing the game, which would make it a rousing success. It even has some Guinness Book records, most notably “Earliest Military Website to Support a Video Game.”
So suffice it to say, the Army has been attempting to bury its hooks in the minds of young gamers everywhere for decades. Perhaps that’s why that Kotaku article came and went, with little discussion of just how bizarre the whole thing is. I mean really, think about this: the United States Armed Forces is starting an initiative in order to send “enlisted, reserve and veteran soldiers [who] will be available to answer questions; to ‘bridge the gap.'” In addition, the Army wants prospective recruits and players to understand that “Army Esports would be ‘a unique opportunity because soldiers are already salaried. Then they essentially get to live their dream and play games for the U.S. Army.'”
“Live their dreams” by playing video games in the US Army?
I know how these recruitment methods typically work. All that shit about “warrior spirit,” and the JROTC talking about “improving character” and “being part of a family?” It’s all aimed at a very targeted demographic: young, maybe 18-25, disenfranchised, mostly male, the type that feels as if they don’t have a big purpose in life. It’s exactly the same kind of spiel you’d give if you were a member of, say, The Jehova’s Witnesses, and you needed someone to join the Watch Tower. In a sense, it’s good, right? If someone needs direction in their life, who am I (or anyone, really) to tell them where to get it, right?
Well, pardon me for being blunt, but I think if the purpose of any organization that seeks to give “direction” is to be an enabler or direct cause of global violence, then yes, I’m going to judge. I find it very hard to believe that any FGC tournament would be cool with having Jehova’s Witnesses or Mormons or any other type of theological salesmen at the tournament for the purpose of “support[ing] the recruitment effort,” in addition to playing, so why would should the Army get a free pass? Because it’s “noble?” It’s the same sales pitch, now coated in camouflage paint and the American flag, so now we’re cool with it?
Look, I get that since the Army looks exactly for the young and disenfranchised, there are plenty of FGC folk who are veterans. Hell, I could probably name more off the top of my head than I have fingers! My point is not to demonize those who have served; for a lot of people it was a way out of a bad situation, or a job that would enable them to engage in good jobs like engineering or translating, and not entirely the case of wanting to shoot and blow up people. I get that, truly I do: my father is a veteran of the USAAF, my Grandfather was an Army man, and my Great-Grandfather served in Eisenhower’s Army in Europe, taking a bullet in the name of fighting fascists. While not every single vet is a hero and automatically deserves a sort of deference we normally use for saints, there are real people who have fought and died for what they believe to be noble causes. I get that, truly I do.
My goal here is merely to question the often deeply cynical motives of the US Armed Forces when it comes to this endeavor because we’ve already seen that when they go in, they go all the way in. Just look at Baseball and Football, two sports who frequently try to outdo each other in how jingoistic they can be on a regular basis. After all, the Department of Defense regularly shells out millions for these sports organizations to engage in enough patriotic endeavors that would make Kim Jong Un blush like a schoolgirl, so why wouldn’t they try to pump it up to 100? Watching a football game has now joined standing for the national anthem and saying the Pledge of Allegiance underneath the incredibly large nebulous of “supporting the troops,” a phrase that has become utterly politicized and increasingly meaningless. Each game is so loaded with tributes to the nation and the military that it comes across as parody, and if you dare speak out or take a stand against these practices in service of your own personal convictions? Well, get ready for the President to yell at you, because you’re an un-American piece of shit!
In the E-Sports events that they have dipped their toes in, the military doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. Maddy Myers over at Kotaku reported her experience of attending the finals of E-League Major: Counter Strike: Global Offensive, where ads for the Air Force were layered in with your usual gaming peripheral commercials, and there was a member of the Air Force on hand to present the MVP award, sponsored by, of course, the US Air Force. The team that won was American, but again, I have to imagine how weird it would have been for a foreigner to get up on stage and be handed a trophy by a military man in his fatigues. Even the host gives a sort of lukewarm “Let’s give a big round of applause for the troops,” which has the crowd applaud in unison. like trained seals.
Which brings me to the scary part of all this – given the insane amount of weird nationalist gaga that goes on in our pro sports, where does the US military’s involvement with E-Sports end? Because realistically folks, if the Army wants to be involved, they will be involved. I don’t think any entity would ever turn down the kind of cash the military can throw around, and if they want their logos plastered on something, they’ll get it. If they send one of their garrisons out to a tournament, will they demand their logo be featured all over the stream? Street Fighter V just announced it was going to have in-game advertisements to help promote extra content like costumes, but also the tournaments on their pro tour. Would it be so out of line to assume that they would dress up Guile, the series’ US military character, so he’d have actual Air Force logos on him? Could we see Evo have the USAAF or other armed forces as a co-sponsor in the future? Recruiting stations as a part of the show floor, right next to artist alley?
I’m gonna use this last part of the blog to get on my soapbox. The US Government has used military intelligence and its massive Department of Defense budget to do some heinous shit over the last century: training paramilitary forces in Colombia to commit terrorism against its ideological opponents, arming and training the Contras in Nicaragua despite their blatant atrocities, providing intelligence and financial support to the Indonesian Army so it could commit acts of genocide, a host of human rights abuses in Vietnam and the Middle East, invading Panama and causing political upheaval to depose a dictator that they helped prop up in the first place, and on and on it goes. Suffice it to say, the US military may be, hands down, the biggest purveyor of violence and upheaval in the entire world, if not at least top 2. This is all without also mentioning their iffy track record with regards to sexual assault and LGBT servicepeople within their own ranks.
The FGC, lately, has been doing its best to make sure that violence, even outside of a tournament venue, is not tolerated and rightfully condemned. It’s a big step forward, and I do applaud the leaders and players in the FGC for speaking up. That said, I think the FGC should speak out against any attempt to recruit our tournaments into the militarism that has already bled into everyday life. I realize that not all soldiers support everything the US military has done, nor do they all serve on the front lines, and that’s cool, but the reality is that joining and enlisting in the branches of the Armed Forces is a binding contract to contribute in some way, however miniscule, to the efforts and goals of the military. And unfortunately, those goals and efforts are often unspeakably violent and/or have contributed to social upheaval and chaos in the Third World which has lead to terrible violence. In that sense, I think that if we disavow violence of any sort, then there’s really very little need to be associated with an organization that is so lousy with it. I don’t mean to say that every serviceperson you see needs to be harangued in the street, as, again, for most people I’m sure it’s a job that has shitty bosses just like most people who work for corporate America. Even still, I don’t think it’s right that the FGC should just be the next playground for military recruiting to dig its hooks into. Just my opinion.
I realize this is a fruitless endeavor, and most will just write this blog off as anti-American or anti-military and be done with it because “politics don’t belong in the FGC.” One thing that’s hilarious to me is, especially in the wake of Dominique “SonicFox” McLean’s awesome acceptance speech at the Video Game Awards where he was adamant about his identity as a queer black furry, is that a lot of folks will go “Man, keep politics out of the FGC, that’s not what it’s about, man!” Is there anything more political than state-sponsored recruitment tactics masquerading as a fun foray into the realm of E-Sports? I’ve got news for you, fellas: getting the Armed Forces to sponsor you so you can say nice things about them on your broadcast while featuring their logo is literally the definition of paid political propaganda. If you think what SonicFox did is really gross and overtly political, you better be speaking up against the Army wanting to take a bigger role in E-Sports, because I assure you it’s 10x worse. And while I can’t really do much but accept the baggage of the United States’ large, imperialistic military history, I can at least speak out about it and hope people agree that these constant recruitment methods that are in each one of our institutions don’t belong in the FGC.
I’ll close this blog with a potential scenario: it’s Evo 2020. SonicFox has once again taken the top spot in some game. As the crowd is cheering him on, he’s got his fursuit on and has just attached the head, floppy tongue waggling and tail flipping as he celebrates in the ecstacy of victory. He stands proud on the stage, medal around his neck and championship trophy in his hands (paws?). Behind him, splashed on the screen, is his name in lights, followed by a small little splash logo of some branch of the United States Armed Forces. Soon, a man (or woman, it’s 2020) in full military dress comes out, with a similar trophy in hand, and hands it to Sonic. It’s the special MVP award, sponsored by the military, and its just been handed to a queer, black furry.
This I can’t defend.