Undeniably, the United States has a culture of violence. From its sky-high rates of sexual assault to violent acts on TV, American society fetishizes aggression. In fact, by the time an American turns 18, they will have seen 200,000 violent acts on TV. However, these examples pale in comparison to one of the deadliest organizations in the history of the world: the United States military.
Since 1945, our armed forces have directly killed at least 20 million people in 37 countries. This astounding figure shows a true world atrocity. Nonetheless, the military continues to adapt and grow stronger, learning new ways to kill. Moreover, it learns new ways to convince people to kill and die for it. A long-standing example of this is the concept of American exceptionalism and patriotism. As time passes by, though, they create more intuitive ways of doing so. A recent example actually perpetuates the violence already present in American culture. In the past couple of years, the military has used Call of Duty and other violent video games in order to desensitize soldiers to killing, making it easier for them to do so in battle.
Since the turn of the century, violent video games have become a major category of entertainment, especially in America. From Grand Theft Auto to Halo, shooting games are widely popular among a diverse audience, young and old. Unfortunately for Middle Eastern civilians, the trend has spread to the military.
The United States military strongly encourages all combat units to participate in games like Call of Duty. Their several varying reasons for such are each about as reasonable as a full invasion of Canada.
A Simulation of Real Combat Experiences
One Iraq War veteran described the experiences of Black Ops 2 as “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat”. Presumably, the former soldier has held both a gaming controller and a gun, and also witnessed both reality and a digital world. The two are vastly different, and it is disturbing that someone who holds a gun for the United States does not think so.
However similar the decisions may be, a video game simulation can never mirror the weight of having to kill another human being. Pressing the R button on a controller simply does not equate in any way to stopping a beating heart. Such equivalencies may belong in sci-fi works like Ender’s Game, but not the real world. Terrifyingly, though, this soldier is not alone in his belief.
It Desensitizes Soldiers to Violence
In 2012, Brock Bastian and several other psychologists ran a study on the effects of violent video games on the brain. Unsurprisingly, they found a deeply chilling result: the games could actually desensitize soldiers and other people to real-world violence. By simply pressing buttons on a controller, these people reacted less to the suffering of other people.
To the military, this is an ominously great gift. Of course, the very goal of the organization, every time it goes overseas, is to kill enemies for American interests. That is a simple fact of how militaries work. Even though we created many of the enemies, such fact is often irrelevant. In order to carry out their goals, the armed forces require people willing to kill and die for them.
What better way is there to draw these people and ensure their participation than by crippling the parts of their brains that feel for other human beings? From a strategic standpoint, the move is brilliant, as it inevitably will reduce rates of disobedience and deserting. Yet, from a position of morality, the move is nearly as awful as the military actions themselves. To rob a man or woman of morals and feeling is to rob that person of their meaning and being. From an institution with the blood of 20 million in 70 years on its hands, I expect nothing less.
A Mindset Without a Call of Duty
Recently, The Conversation interviewed a number of soldiers and veterans about Call of Duty and other violent video games and their service. Many of them reported the importance of remaining “in the mindset of a soldier” while they were not currently on a call of duty. The argument here falls apart both morally and practically.
When a doctor goes home, he or she (most likely) does not run MRIs on his or her family. Yet, upon returning to work, even after a vacation, that doctor does not lose abilities. If knowledge as deeply complex and difficult as how to be a doctor does not vanish with time away, why would that be true of a soldier? It takes little skill to be one in relation to a doctor. Yet, doctors can take time off without staying in the doctor mindset and still return to duty.
The only way this could be necessary for soldiers, then, is if the job requires doing something that the normal human psyche would oppose, like killing. But of course, that is exactly what being a soldier entails. Yet, this argument still backfires morally. If being a soldier violates basic human nature and decency, why should anyone reinforce it with continued violence?
Surely, Call of Duty and other violent video games are having detrimental effects on American soldiers. By desensitizing troops to violence and making poor simulations of combat, the games make a dangerous promise: to add to that 20 million, the next time American boots touch some foreign sand.
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