July 31, 2011
Let’s Play Army Men!
Remember the war?
Perhaps this plastic toy soldier will seem merely odd or offensive to some. For those of us who spent countless hours of our childhood playing with World War II combat figurines, this molded amputee is a shock to the memory system. I was at once transported back to childhood’s idyll and confronted with the harsh reality of the present. What seemed harmless becomes patterned denial of the human costs of war, and real damage done today seems already on the way to oblivion. The miniature scale, cheap industrial material, and obvious naivete of a classic war toy have been reworked artistically to capture how easily people can get used to the suffering of others. If we imagine these toys being moved around on the carpet, we begin to grasp how war is insinuated into the small spaces and formative experiences of ordinary life–and with that, easily forgotten once preoccupied with the more pressing business of adulthood.
Unless you’ve served in a combat zone, of course. Then you might have seen and done things that are hard to forget. Were you designing the toys, the typical idealization might be reversed. Instead of the usual figures of rifleman, machine gunner, and the like–straight shooters, never wounded, incapable of PTSD–you might think of what happened to the women, or your buddy’s suicide. And if that isn’t something anyone should dwell on, it does need to be recognized, as these are casualties, too, and not ones that show up so neatly in the government body counts.
Most of the time, however, the heavy “collateral damage” is hidden away behind more reassuring images; images that work like toy soldiers, you might say. And to get a sense of how common that is, all you have to do is look at these disturbing alternatives.
– Robert Hariman (cross-posted from No Caption Needed)