The Coward

Dave Thomas | 20 Sep 2005 12:01
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The reason AA doesn't get piled in the dozens of other contemporary, first-person shooting titles is because like Linux, you don't have to pay to play. Both the little operating system that could and the government's own best-selling videogame are products most notable because they are given away. And people find it hard to imagine that anything worth having could be had without a hitch.

So what's the hitch?

The Army can be kind of coy about this, and, frankly, anything they do that costs millions or even billions of dollars. But I think it boils down to this: The Army would like you to spend a little less time thinking about the pick up work they do for the Bush family and a little more about heroes.

Be All You Can Be
Somewhere in the Pentagon is the guy who worries about people who are not in the Army. His job is to think about the people who the Army protects, who the Army hopes will continue to pay them their substantial allowance for fatigues and cruise missiles and will also be willing to encourage their sons and daughters to spend some time in that most excellent overnight camp known as military service.

These days, though, it sucks to be this guy.

Thanks to a war that nobody really wants to be in, but no one seems to have the slightest idea how to get out of, the Army is missing its recruitment goals by hundreds of thousands of enlistees a year. Politics aside, the arsenal of democracy is running out of floor staff. McDonald's has less trouble staffing the fry station than the Army has putting butts in state-of-the-art combat vehicles.

Even worse, since Vietnam, and maybe even as far back as Korea, Americans have come to think of the Army as the tool of the current administration. Hate Johnson's Asia policy? Blame the Army. Hate the Bush Agenda? Blame the zealots in the Pentagon.

What the Army needs is a PR campaign, a way to reach out and touch America and convince people the Army matters, to help them understand that Democracy with a capital D depends on a healthy and effective military. The public needs to understand a subtlety and the Army knows full well that Americans gobble up subtlety the way the Saudi research solar power.

This new message is that the Army is not just a tool of the current administration, although it is proud and happy to do the job it was asked to do. But even though they may be at the beck and call of a George Bush or two from time to time, sooner or later they'll be taking marching orders from someone else, someone democratically elected into office. The Army of Democracy depends on this - a sort of removed objectivity about getting into whatever scrap, conflict, dust up or flat out war they are asked to enter. This is how democratic armies should work. Because armies that start asking questions start with "Why this war?" but inevitably end up posing the much scarier, "Why are we taking orders from a bunch of civilian chumps? Shouldn't we just be running the show? I mean, guys, don't we have ALL of the tanks?"

The delicate fabric of democracy depends, in part, on the willingness of the Army to play the role of big, dumb and loyal Doberman. But now the pet needs to play seeing-eye dog for an increasingly confused master.

In order to lead the American public in the right direction, you have to move delicately. You have to focus on simple concepts. "Foreign affairs," for example, is out because it already violates the law of simplicity by using two words. Instead, how about "Hero?" And how do you plan to deliver this marketing ordinance? How about by using a medium known for its massive appeal with young males, tendency to avoid complicated messages and its hurdy-gurdy of reason-confounding multimedia? Why not make a videogame about heroes?

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