The Coward

Dave Thomas | 20 Sep 2005 12:01
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The last time the military had a really good story to tell was when Tom Cruise was in the starring role. "Top Gun" proved that military propaganda was alive and well. And whether or not the Navy needed a bunch of popcorn munching recruits queuing to suit up for air combat, you can bet the Navy brass enjoyed the attention. Not since the Lee Marvin slipped into an SS Officer's duds in "The Dirty Dozen" has military uniform looked so cool.

Today our images of soldiers are of dusty men and women with goggles propped on their helmets and tired looks on their faces. Our cultural cache of military snap snots includes Lynndie England with cock-eyed cigarette in her mouth and finger pointing at a hooded prisoner's cock. Uncle Sam used to point at the public and make a demand of service. These days, we just point and laugh. Or maybe cringe.

Even when the military does something we like, say by finding Saddam, the joke seems to be on them as they haul a homeless tramp out a hole. Our search for decent villains seems as hopeless as our search for heroes.

As a nation, we've become so thirsty for images of heroism that some of us hauled off and elected yet another actor to govern California. It seems they remember he did something heroic. Never mind his most notable heroic act happened while wearing a loincloth and involved giving a giant snake god a tonsillectomy with a broadsword. At least it left the smell of heroism in the air.

But where Hollywood has reconstructed the hero as a new kind of fiction, the American Army has captured a little bit of a complicated truth in the imaginary world of their game. If a little bit of the pride, a little sense of the real heroes who understand that to serve their country means to serve a greater good, can come from a videogame, then the game serves a higher purpose.

And that's something you can raise a glass to in any bar.

David Thomas is the founder of the International Game Journalists Association. He also provides commentary and criticism at

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