Tag: Army recruiting

The killing game: Army recruiting illegally targets kids

A few weeks ago, Wisconsin peace activists successfully challenged the Army’s use of a “Virtual Army Experience” game, aimed at recruiting young people, at a lakefront music festival. As reported then, the festival asked the Army to shut down the game, which offered a chance to shoot at life-sized human targets from a Humvee, replace it with something less offensive, and set an age limit of 17 to participate.

Now comes the charge that by targeting young teenagers the Army is actually violating international law:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has found that Army use of the game, and its recruiting practice in general, violate international law. In May, the ACLU published a report that found the armed services “regularly target children under 17 for military recruitment. Department of Defense instruction to recruiters, the US military’s collection of information of hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds, and military training corps for children as young as 11 reveal that students are targeted for recruitment as early as possible.

By exposing children under 17 to military recruitment, the United States military violates the Optional Protocol.” The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, ratified by the Senate in December 2002, protects the rights of children under 16 from military recruitment and deployment to war. The US subsequently entered a binding declaration that raised the minimum age to 17, meaning any recruitment activity targeted at those under 17 years old is not allowed in the United States.

Before complaints from Peace Action-Wisconsin, Veterans for Peace and others, recruiters at Summerfest were allowing teens as young as 13 to “play” the “game” and collecting their personal information, for recruiting purposes, before issuing them a card that gave them access to the tent with the Humvee, machine guns and lifesize targets moving on a big screen.  The Army first raised the age at Summerfest, but ended up shutting down the game and replacing it with a tamer offering with stationary targets and no Humvee.

By the time the Army’s exhibit opened at a Duluth air show, the Army had raised the age limit to 17. Here’s a link to a report from Yahoo gaming news on protests over the game in Milwaukee and Duluth, and a report from a Duluth area activist.


Wisconsin peace activists win skirmish with the Army

I wouldn’t blame you, dear reader, if you are weary of this topic, but I feel obliged to write one more time on Milwaukee Summerfest and the US Army.

Having now visited the Army exhibit at Summerfest, rather than relying on newspaper accounts, I am ready to say that Peace Action-Wisconsin, Veterans for Peace and others made some real gains. I had questioned that earlier when Summerfest appeared to back off.

As Julie Enslow of Peace Action-Wisconsin said:

This is a victory. We asked for the Virtual Army Experience to be removed and it was… They removed the Humvee and the huge screen with the virtual ride through the streets of a middle eastern town with people appearing on the streets to shoot at. After a temporary shut down of the tent to remove the virtual experience game, it was reopened with two rifle practice targets.

One target was a typical circular target and the other, according to a TV reporter on the scene, were black silhouettes of the upper body and heads of people such as are used in police target practice, and I guess some arcade games.  I cringe at the thought of the black silhouettes but it is a heck of a lot better than the virtual experience exhibit. Its not often you can take on the Army and win.

I had reacted more negatively based on Summerfest's statement on the issue, devoted in large part to licking the Army's boots and kissing its rear end. But actions speak louder than words, and Summerfest did the right thing.

Peace Action reports that, "There are still heavy recruitment tactics going on, including asking young people to sign up with their personal information which allows you to get a DVD game of the Virtual Army Experience to take home and allows you entrance into the tent to the target practice where you can choose between a rifle or a lazer pistol."

But it's certainly progress.

Summerfest and Peace Action have received lots of irate, vile telephone calls from right-wingers, hopped up from listening to talk radio.

If you have not yet called Summerfest to thank them for removing the Virtual Army Experience Exhibit, please do so. They need to hear some friendly calls from us. 414-273-2690.  

Under pressure, musical festival licks Army’s boots

One step forward, a half step back.

We said it yesterday, in urging people to thank Milwaukee's Summerfest for doing the right thing and shutting down an Army exhibit that featured virtual killing:

It is never easy to publicly take a stand and reverse an earlier decision — not to mention facing down the military.

Summerfest found just how hard it is after a right-wing radio talker on Wisconsin’s most powerful station, crazed by the decision, spent hours urging his listeners to call the festival and complain.

The result? A "compromise" which allowed the game to begin operating again, replacing the human targets with inanimate ones. (To see the “game,” click here and wait a few seconds.)

“The decision to reopen “America’s Army” was announced late Wednesday afternoon in a joint news release from the Army and Summerfest faxed to the Journal Sentinel on Army stationery," the newspaper reports.

Peace activists stop the virtual killing at music festival; UPDATE: Festival under fire, needs help

UPDATE: A rabid radio talker devoted two hours of his morning show today railing on Summerfest for asking the Army to shut down a virtual killing game, urging listeners to call those wimpy Summerfest folks and complain.

Actually, Summerfest needs to be thanked and congratulated for doing the right thing. It is never easy to publicly take a stand and reverse an earlier decision — not to mention facing down the military.

Please take a minute to call Summerfest at 414-273–2680. They need some support.

In Milwaukee, one small step for humankind:

At the request of Summerfest officials, the U.S. Army on Tuesday removed a virtual urban warfare game that allowed fest-goers as young as 13 to hop into a Humvee simulator and fire machine guns at life-size people on a computer screen.

Peace Action-Wisconsin launched a campaign Tuesday to shut down the “game,” and Veterans for Peace, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice also joined in asking their members to call Summerfest to complain.

Summerfest officials reported “a handful” of complaints, but it took less than 12 hours to get action, suggesting there was more than a handful of callers, which forced Summerfest to take it seriously.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

“We’re determining it’s probably not something that we want to have shown at Summerfest,” John Boler, vice president of sales and marketing, said before the decision was made to request removal of the game, called Virtual Army Experience… Summerfest officials received a handful of complaints and first requested the Army raise the minimum age of the players to 18 and to stop giving out a DVD of a similar virtual experience. But officials later reconsidered the whole game.

The Army’s defense?  This isn’t about killing, just what it’s like to be a soldier:

An Army spokeswoman said the game isn’t meant to teach people how to shoot, but rather educate them on the life of a soldier.

“It gives them a glimpse into what it’s like to really be a soldier,” said Pat Grobschmidt, a public affairs officer.

Grobschmidt said the game is one component of a larger game that is extremely popular with more than 8 million registered users. More than 500 Summerfest goers played the game on opening day, she said.

It was displayed at a concert in Madison and an air show in Janesville last year and did not get any complaints, she said.

Yesterday’s diary on the subject.


Music festival puts a smiley face on killing (Updated)

Peace Action-Wisconsin has launched a campaign to get Milwaukee’s Summerfest, which bills itself as the world’s largest music festival, to shut down an Army recruiting exhibit allowing festival-goers as young as 13 to shoot at life-size targets from a real Humvee.  Summerfest’s logo is a big smiley face.

Peace Action says:

This year’s Milwaukee Summerfest (June 26-July 6) features a “Virtual Army Experience Exhibit”  at the north end of the grounds.  The tent contains a real Humvee mounted with 4 machine guns that interacts with a huge screen.  The screen projects the virtual experience of traveling through a town.  You can shoot the machine guns at people on the street as you pass through. The people are generic-looking – could be from anywhere.  You must be at least 13  years old to enter the exhibit and identification is asked.  They take down that information and it will likely be used for recruitment purposes. They also give away a free DVD video game of a similar virtual experience when you leave the tent.

Call the Summerfest office and demand that the exhibit be shut down now.   414-273-2690

Points to make:

War games should NOT be presented as entertainment.  War is NOT a game.  

Summerfest is meant to bring people together for a good time in peace, not to present opportunities to practice shooting people. The exhibit is totally inappropriate and offensive and should be removed immediately.

The person you talk with will fill out a form with your concerns and will ask for your name and phone number.  You do not have to give your phone number but they will want your zip code.

Please act now.  The more calls of complaint they receive the better. (Please remember to be pleasant to the person on the phone – the exhibit is not her fault.)

While that seems unlikely that the exhibit will be shut down, one activist, Kristina Paris,  who called the festival reports some progress already:

I just got through to a person: they reviewed the situation, have upped the age to 18 years with an ID, stopped handing out free DVD’s but are still allowing the virtual killing.  When I asked if a peace and social justice group could be there with an alternative to killing, they said they would be very open to most groups who pay for the booth space.

Michael Mathias at Pundit Nation writes:

I can’t imagine what the management of Summerfest was thinking in allowing this horror show of death and violence onto the grounds, or how it would help their image as a family-friendly event to let anyone set up something in such obvious poor taste.

The fact that participants are invited to stand aboard a Humvee while playing the game is particularly galling. Scores of US soldiers in Iraq have died riding on Humvees that critics have derided as poorly designed and ill equipped. Among them is Cedarburg native Stephen Castner, whose family, aided by US. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, has been searching for conclusive answers about how he died since 2006.

A small battle in the context of the global war?  Perhaps.  Worth waging?  Absolutely.

UPDATE: Veterans for Peace is involved, too, with this message to its Milwaukee chapter members:

The military has a clear and dangerous presence at Milwaukee’s Summerfest (June 26 ? July 6, 2008).  One exhibit is especially offensive: kids as young as 13 years old can aim automatic weapons from atop a humvee at a large screen to virtually kill people.

We do not want to desensitize our youth to the violence of “war,” nor cultivate the twisted  reality that our aggression in the Middle East is “war,” when the truth is that the overwhelmingly casualties are innocent civilians.  The setting for this bloodshed is a residential area with “targets” of uncertain identity moving through the streets.  This aggrandizement of violence and glorification of our illegal invasions abroad is xenophobic, profane, and undermines the basic values we strive to live by in America.

This Army atrocity is located next to a rock stage as it targets youth; while they ask for an ID to prove age 13 or older, they willingly accept a child’s word and collect their name, age, address, etc.; no doubt for future recruitment.

Summerfest representative Dan Minahan barks that the festival is a place to “forget about the war” where one can “enjoy real high entertainment value.”  War is NOT a game, and this exhibit needs to be shut down immediately.