The “military-industrial complex” warned against by President Dwight D Eisenhower — who characterised it as a dangerous intertwining of private corporations, the armed forces, and the federal government — grows more potent by the day. And it can be seen here in Australia as well as in the US.
Some weeks ago US Nation Institute fellow Tom Engelhardt featured a guest editorial called The New Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex at War and Play in his blog TomDispatch ( www.tomdispatch.com). The editorial, by graduate student Nick Turse, focussed on the ever tightening web of connections between the American worlds of entertainment and destruction.
Turse revealed a US military “in the midst of a full-scale occupation of the entertainment industry, conducted with far more skill (and enthusiasm on the part of the occupied) than the one in Iraq.” Not only had the military and its partners in academia and the entertainment industry blurred the line between entertainment and war in the latest range of toys and video games, he charged, but it had also created a media culture thoroughly capable of preparing America’s children for armed conflict.
Turse revealed how entertainment and gaming industry stalwarts such as Epic Games, NVIDIA, the THX Division of Lucasfilm, Dolby Laboratories, Lucasfilm Skywalker Sound, HomeLAN, and GameSpy Industries have been working with the Army to develop “America’s Army,” a training and combat style videogame which is available online for free as well as at recruiting stations.
“Chris Chambers, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a former Army major and the deputy director of development for ‘America’s Army’ admits that the game is a recruiting tool,” Turse wrote. “However, in response to criticisms that its scenarios of blood, violence, and killing are excessive, he says, ‘The game is about achieving objectives with the least loss of life’.”
And Turse reported that the Navy-produced “America’s Army” is only the tip of the military’s video iceberg. Amongst other things, the Army played a significant role in development of “Full Spectrum Warrior” (FSW) — a videogame for the recently unveiled Microsoft Xbox system that will be released to the public early in 2004. The game teaches the fundamentals of Army strategy, tactics, and weaponry. Moreover he notes the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), a $US45 million joint Army/USC venture begun in 1999, is involved in a “full spectrum” of other military projects from “Advanced Leadership Training Simulation”, a partnership between ICT and entertainment giant Paramount Pictures designed for training soldiers in crisis management and leadership skills, to ‘Think Like a Commander…,’ a collaboration between the US Army, the Hollywood filmmaking community, and USC researchers designed to ‘support leadership development for US Army soldiers’ through software applications.
But never ones to be left behind, scientists from Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) are also getting in on the military-industrial complex act. DSTO recently played a part in a major land-based Defence exercise, Headmark 03, designed to test the Navy’s future maritime operational concepts.
One of a series of virtual experiments under the Headmark Experimentation program, Headmark 03 used simulation-based wargaming in which military judgment is synthesised with operational analysis to test the interaction between people and systems in operational planning roles and realistic maritime battle situations. And yes, commercially available computer systems played an important part in the exercise.
“DSTO researchers develop constructive simulations using commercially available computer wargames such as Harpoon 3,” announced Dr Nanda Nandagopal, Director of DSTO’s Systems Sciences Laboratory in a press release. “The results of these experimentation activities are expected to inform the ADF’s capability development process and influence force structure and future warfighting concepts.”
The game’s web page describes the Harpoon series as the world's most accurate unclassified simulators of modern air and naval warfare, and says it lets users to control all elements of a modern naval task force and explore the intricacies of 21st century combat. “The Harpoon series is, in fact, considered to be close enough to the real thing that it has been in use for years by various military branches around the world as a training and what-if simulation tool. For a more intense battle experience, you have to be in the navy,” its developers say.
But while the Navy may benefit from such collaborations, Turse sees this intersection between game developers and the military as a cause for serious concern.
“While helping along the creation of advanced fighting vehicles of a sort that once might only have inhabited movies like Star Wars, the great DARPA race of 2004 is likely to forge yet more complex collaborations among entertainment and high-tech companies, the military, and the older branches of the military-industrial complex, connecting them all in ways that must leave Ike (Eisenhower) spinning in his grave,” writes Turse. “With military spending locked in (even without the supplemental requests the Iraq war is sure to inspire) at nearly $400 billion in 2004, with a $10-plus billion videogame industry, a toy industry that brings in $20-plus billion each year, a transnational entertainment and media industry that tops out annually at $479 billion, and with no outcry from the public over the militarisation of popular culture, who knows what the future holds? Can the day be far off when DARPA gets a producer credit for an ABC TV combat reality-series and Kuma Reality Games is granted office space in the Pentagon?”
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