THE VigilanceVoice 

Wednesday... January 9, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 120

GI-Joe's "Sgt. Slaughter"

Is It The Right Tactic To Teach Our Kids?
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

            The pulse of a nation battling Terrorism beats ferociously at FAO Swartz’s famous toy store in New York City--the store throbs with GI Joe Vigilance.
            Yesterday, my wife and I swung by FAO--our favorite place to take our grandchildren.  We were searching FAO Swartz's limitless toy inventory for a small replica of Fluffy, the three-headed dog from Harry Potter.  The kids wanted to place Fluffy at the entrance of their make-believe Paradise.  Fluffy's mission:  ward off the dinosaurs who constantly attack Paradise.
            Fluffy was to back-up the Prince of Paradise Land who stands vigil on his white horse with the Princess at his side.   Fluffy was going to give the Magic Unicorn—the Prince’s current back-up sentinel—a break.
            I had no idea who Fluffy was.  Unfortunately, I left Harry Potter before the movie ended.  I found the story  far too slow and not engaging for my tastes.   My wife remained to see the movie to the end.  So I went to the coffee shop across the street near busy Union Square.  I found a window seat looking out on Broadway, jammed with Holiday foot traffic.  I had my digital camera with me and began to shoot candid pictures of passersby gawking into the window, or just walking to some unknown destination.  I pretended I was the late Alan Funt of Candid Camera, surreptitiously clicking photos of the people outside without their knowledge.
           I've found that a person’s face is like a book. It reveals the chapters of a happy or sad life.  Some are scribed in wrinkles or smiles, in grimaces or glows that flow from the forehead to the chin.  Some walk with blank, empty stares--lost souls ambulating down the sidewalk of life.   Others lower their heads defiantly, assuming the attitude of  the prow of  an  Exxon oil tanker burrowing through the masses in an angry, “get-out-of-my-&%#@!@#$-way” tack.  
           Still others appear as nervous as mice.  Their eyes flicker here or there, exhibiting  meek, intimidated natures.   A few walk with arrogance, heads above the crowd, shoulders back, gliding as though they were riding in a royal carriage, oblivious to the mass of humanity spilling around them.
           A few walk and laugh and talk, as comfortably as they might repose in the living room with friends and sip champagne.  They radiate a joviality that ignores the cold breezes gusting up the street, or sirens blaring or “crazy people” yelling at blank air.   Combined, they all make fascinating pictures and provide me with endless entertainment when I could be bored.
           My circuitous point is—I missed seeing Fluffy in the movie.  So, a few weeks later, as we entered FAO,  I had no idea what a three-headed dog named Fluffy looked like.  Little did I know it was scary to say the least--something a dog-lover like myself might not want to buy for his grandchildren.
            Inside FAO, we asked for directions to the Harry Potter display from one of the smiling employees.  “Turn left at the top of the escalator, and then another left and go straight down and you’ll run right into the Harry Potter display,” he cheerfully offered.
            We took a wrong turn.   Instead of hitting Harry Potter Land, we found ourselves ambushed by  GI-Joe Land.
            It was an awesome display, filling both sides of a narrow pathway between two main sections of the store.
             GI-Joe glass-encased displays rose from the floor to the ceiling. Each exhibited different uniforms and configurations of warriors in fierce battle with the enemy.   There were jungle scenes, desert scenes, mountain scenes, sea scenes and snow battles.   GI-Joe was kicking everyone’s butt.   In one, GI-Joe characters were assaulting a town, throwing hand grenades into buildings, shooting flame throwers, blasting machine guns, firing rocket launchers.
            Another display showed Special Forces GI-Joes.  They were “kung-fuing” the bin Laden boys—high kicking them in the face, throwing them on the ground, stomping them.
            GI-Joes were not without air support.  Suspended above the GI-Joes were helicopters with massive armament—rockets, machine guns, troops inside—blazing away at the enemy on the ground.   Some of the helicopters I had never seen before.  They were super high-tech.  Others I remembered from my Vietnam days—ancient stand-by “warrior ships” that ferried us in strike forces from one battle to another, hovering overhead to lay fire on the enemy, or swooping in to extract us.
            Personally, I loved war.   As a kid, I grew up playing war as my perennial pastime.   Outdoor games were almost always the “good guys” versus the “bad guys.”   It was society's pre-pubescent training to become a man—training to learn to kill without compunction.  Toy guns were common gifts, and the better the gun, the more status you earned with your buddies because the more of them you could "pretend kill."   My GI-Joe training stuck with me.
            I joined the Marine Corps because if I was going to war, I wanted to be with the finest warriors.  I learned my trade well.  But after coming back from Vietnam, and being spat upon, and derided and demeaned for being a "baby killer," I placed my "warrior nature" on hold.  America became a land of "flower children."  America's attitude toward war continued to be negative.  Political correctness swallowed patriotism as we shoved Pearl Harbor into the background and apologized to the Japanese.
              Desert Storm didn't last long because it was a high-tech "surgical war" fought in 100 days.  Following its success, the citizenry voted out the commander-in-chief for a "I-feel-your-pain leader" who sold vital computer data to China on the promise they wouldn't use it to deliver ICBM missiles within six-feet of their target.  We started to dismantle our military, reducing it so that it could only fight one war on one front, versus its previous ability to fight two conflicts at the same time.
           I was sure America had buried primal warrior training in its political correctness--in its eagerness to be the "global good guy versus the world's policeman."  I figured GI-Joe was dead and buried by Jane Fonda and her anti-war buddies.  That is, until I walked into FAO Swartz the other day.
            As I grew older and my grandchildren were born, I began to see the need to teach a child something more than how to “kill” to be a “man.”   My thirst for blood was replaced by a deeper need to find resolution versus revenge against those who had harmed me.  Human emotional strength of character became, in my mind, a more important measure of manhood than the ability to cut someone’s throat, or sink a bayonet in the enemy's guts and twist it to inflict maximum damage.
            Since my older daughter and her husband are anti-violence advocates and active protesters for peace, I reluctantly set aside my history of being a living GI-Joe.  I learned there were other ways to evaluate a man than by measuring his ability to run through the gauntlet of violence unscathed.   I learned to respect human  “character.”   So it was that a Harry Potter "Fluffy" watchdog was about as violent a toy as I had in mind for my grandson and granddaughter.
            As I walked down the rows of GI-Joes displays at FAO,  I realized  America had adopted a new Sentinel of Vigilance—a toy—an action figure—a symbol of violence.  I felt time reversed itself, racing back to the days when I was a young boy, just after World War II, when everyone I knew played "how to kill."
            My wife, an aficionado of war and combat, glued herself to the displays as I tried to ignore them.   She loves war, and studies the history of it far more than I do.   She often says she wishes she could have been a man and fought in one—a throwback to her upbringing where “women were women” and “men were men.”  
            “Cliff, look at this.  Wow!”  She kept calling me back to examine the intricacies of the tanks, the mortars; to admire the reality of each figure and the collateral war equipment articulately placed in each of the various displays.
            My angst for war was partly my own fault.  For the past year I had been working on my memoirs about Vietnam, reliving the battles and grueling memories of the often senseless killing of people.  I had described in detail the twists of human character that war delivers upon the young men who fight it, and how the "Beast of Terror" consumed many, turning them into vicious beasts of violence.  Ashamedly, I admitted how I had been consumed by the "beast of Terror" against my will.   So, I looked upon the displays as scenes of horror—tools to teach young boys that the ideal "manhood achievement" in life was to kill.  
             Having “killed” in real life, and experienced a life-long sense of remorse that the reason I took lives wasn't as justified as I had once thought it was, I was disturbed by what  the displays represented.  I had no desire to teach my grandson the glory of killing, or to consider that employing violence was a measure of manhood.  I had learned the hard way that manhood meant many other things than driving a bullet into an enemy's heart.
            What bothered me the most about the displays, was the idea parents were eager to teach their children that vigilance against Terrorism is gauged by the barrel of a gun.   From my own experience, I knew that manhood comprised much more than racking up “kills.”   Yet, as I looked at the renewal of the GI-Joe displays, I sensed that America had found a new way to feel secure—and that was to give its children toys of violence--to teach them "killing was okay!"
            And why not?  As I thought about it, the single goal of America over the past four months has been to cut bin Laden's head off and roll it down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Why wouldn't a child want to be part of America's constant search and destroy mission to "kill evil?"   It was macabre thought, but a reality I was forced to face by the presence of GI-Joes.  Killing was now politically correct.  At least, killing bin Laden was.   And, if we could kill bin Laden, why not anyone else who challenged us?  GI-Joe was right on schedule.
            When I got home, I ran to my computer and Googled GI-Joe.  (Google is a search engine I use that gives me instant sources of information).   I wanted to know as much about him as possible.  The Hasbro character of GI-Joe was first introduced in 1964.   He stood 12 inches high and had 21 moveable parts.   He was tough, with a scar on his right cheek to show he was a hand-to-hand combat vet.   He was named after a 1945 movie, The Story of GI Joe, starring one of my favorite actors, the late Robert Mitchum.
            As the anti-war tides rose in the 70’s, Hasbro shifted the GI-Joe character into more action roles, making him an adventure figure exploring deep into jungles or space rather than a "nasty war-monger."   He rose to become the “King of Action Figures,” rivaling Barbie as the “Queen of Beauty.”  
            Now, thirty years later, he’s back in top killing form.  But, I fear a danger in his presence.  I fear a child might dilute the true meaning of vigilance by embracing the false power of violence GI-Joe represents..
            Instilling vigilance in a child is not about teaching violence.   It is about teaching character.   Character is the greatest shield against any enemy—including Terrorists who threaten a child’s physical and emotional security.           
           Violence, per se, is a retaliatory force against fear.   When “fear” strikes, a human being faces two choices—“fight” or “flee.”    However, there is another choice often overlooked.   It is “standing up for what you believe!”  Another word for it is "courage."
            Terrorism brings to us the ability to deal with fear, intimidation and complacency as we never have before.   Unlike a conventional enemy, Terrorism attacks our emotional well-being.   It permeates our way of life like a dark cloud hanging over our heads, constantly shifting and changing with the wind so that we can’t put our hands around it, or corral it, or envelope it as we might an aggressor nation where the geography would allow us to “invade” its homeland and quash its leadership as we did against Germany and Hitler in World War II.
            Terrorism is an attitude.  
            It must be fought at the roots of its being by addressing its most powerful weapons--  “fear,” “intimidation,” and “complacency.”
            If we are honest about what Terrorism’s real threats are, they are not guns or bullets or bombs or airliners smashing into the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, but rather a set of emotional booby traps that ignite and incense our “internal emotional security.”   Terrorism's venom makes us feel “unsafe.”   
            It creates insecurity and confusion because we have no real defense against Terrorism.   We cannot protect ourselves from a 15-year-old disturbed young boy who flies his Cessna into a building.   We cannot protect ourselves from a madman who fills a van full of fertilizer and blows up a federal building in Oklahoma City.   We can’t protect ourselves from a person who straps a bomb around his or her waist and climbs on a bus and blows up people.   Or, defend ourselves from a maniac who laces letters with anthrax.
            Individual acts of human destruction are indefensible.   No one can predict when a Charles Whitman will climb up on a tower and start shooting people.   Or, when some drug-crazed person will shoot someone for ten dollars to get money for a fix, or, at what precise time or place a disgruntled employee will walk into a post office or McDonald's and start “taking out” everyone.
            GI-Joe suggests we can protect ourselves with violence..   GI-Joe implies that if we arm ourselves with enough bullets, guns, tanks, helicopters, hand grenades, and put a scar on our right cheek, we will ward off “evil.”
            That’s the rub.
            That’s the danger.
            While vigilance certainly doesn’t discount the need for a person to be able to defend himself or herself by learning how to “fight” another in self-defense, it certainly doesn’t suggest that violence in and of itself is the solution.
            All wars are finally won not on the battlefield, but at the negotiating table.   When the smoke clears and the bodies are counted, sanity returns.   Humans stop killing and start talking.   Sometimes that talking is forced by the killing, as it was in the case of the atomic bomb dropped on Japan.   Other times the negotiating is driven by the relentless waste of human resources, where neither side wins or loses the battle, but instead tires of the destruction and chaos of war.
            Angry human beings yelling at each other in domestic disputes reach a point where  vitriolic emotions no longer serve any purpose and, if the parties don't kill each other in the process, they tire of the battle.  Then, they sit down either in a counseling session or with divorce lawyers to negotiate a settlement of differences.  
            This is where the GI-Joe syndrome loses it punch.   It shows a child that violence is a solution, while ignoring the fact that violence is only a step toward a solution—and often, an unnecessary step.  
            With Terrorism, violence serves little to resolve its core issue.    If we believe that Terrorism is an “emotional assault” on the “character of our being,” then guns and bullets and bombs have little to do with the resolution of it.
            Vigilance for children and families in today’s climate of Terrorism is best battled not with GI-Joe figures, but with the Pledge Of Vigilance.  Under the principles of the Pledge, a parent or loved one takes on added responsibility to protect the child from "emotional" as well as "physical harm."   Essentially, the parents' job under the Pledge is to become a "character coach,"  helping the child build strength from within.
            If parents seek an effective way to teach their children to defend themselves against Terrorism, they must accept and address the weapons of Terrorism—“fear,” “intimidation” and “complacency.”
            The Pledge of Vigilance provides “weapons” to counter Terrorism’s destructive tools.  They are: 1.) “Courage to stand up for what you believe versus the fear of running from it.”   2.)  The “Conviction to weather the storms of fear and intimidation when it seems that they overpower you.”   And, 3.)  The “Action necessary to to resolve the issues and grow from the experience rather than be demeaned or marginalized by it.”
            In a nutshell, the Pledge of Vigilance is about emotional evolution.  Its tenants teach a child to not be afraid of the unknown--to stand up for what he or she believes, despite pressures from peer groups to “go along with the crowd.”   And, it promotes taking actions to validate those beliefs, so they become realities within the child rather than illusions or unreachable fantasies.   Human character growth replaces the need to have a gun or "kill" to be a "real man" or a "real woman.."
            Of course, it is easier to buy a toy and placate ourselves we are teaching our children vigilance than to take Pledge of Vigilance and promote the principles of Semper Vigilantes--Always Vigilant.  Character building requires we build our own in conjunction with our child's.   That is a lot to ask of people who would prefer to buy "character" at a toy store in the form of a GI-Joe.   The problem is, "character" is not for sale.
            I don't believe the victims of Nine Eleven would argue that point.   If they died for a reason, it wasn’t revenge.   To avenge their deaths provides them no solace.  Vengeance only pours blood on blood.  It leaves no valued legacy for our children or our nation to build upon.
            I believe the victims of Nine Eleven sacrificed their lives so that we might all learn more about the true meaning of Vigilance.    I believe they--all whose bodies are buried under the heaps of rubble and twisted metal--want us to learn to turn fear into courage, intimidation into conviction, and complacency into action. 
           I don't think they want us to buy GI-Joes for our children. 
           Instead, I believe they want us to take the Pledge Of Vigilance.  They want the value of their death to live for generations through a new and clearer understanding of Vigilance--through the evolution of character.
            I also believe if we as Parents of Vigilance take the Pledge, the victims of September 11th will have died for a great reason—to teach us how to build more character in our children, and, as a result, how to evolve as stronger human beings who become “fearless” in the face of any enemy.
            I don’t think those who died on September 11 would give their children or yours a GI-Joe to remember them by. They would prefer a legacy of Vigilance to be passed on rather than one of violence.


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