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The Real Consequences of War Fought Virtually

Illustration for article titled The Real Consequences of War Fought Virtually

The blowup this week over gun-camera footage showing an Army operation raised comparisons to "video game-like" behavior by the men pulling the triggers. NPR's "On the Media" looked at this controversy and the relationships among games, tactics and weapons systems.

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"On the Media" spoke with Clive Thompson of Wired for 10 minutes. "I'm a little uncomfortable judging the behavior," of the soldiers involved, Thompson said. But he did acknowledge the footage's similarity to the mission "Death from Above," in the first Modern Warfare.

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If I'm reading Thompson and his host correctly, the discomfort people have with this kind of behavior is the fact it's completely depersonalizing the taking of another's life, regardless of whether it looks like a video game or not. "There is a moral and ethical aspect to the way weapon systems are designed," Thompson said, meaning the ease of killing they deliver, the distance they place between a human operator and his target, and the manner in which they depersonalize that target it or make it seem less real in life.

Thompson discussed games that actually sensitize players to the concept of death and violence, mentioning an example from God of War III in which players see Kratos through the eyes of his victims as they're killed.

On the whole it's a balanced examination of both games and military operations that keeps the purpose of both in their proper contexts. It's worth the 10 minutes of your time. Thanks to reader NINgod for sending this along.

Click to view

Virtual War [On the Media]

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DISCUSSION

After seeing the original news break about the video, I looked up the video on youtube. The whole thing is 39 minutes long.

Having watched the whole thing and seeing what these guys see, I clearly saw atleast one guy with an weapon, and probably an AK as they're the popular weapon of choice. Two people carrying something, but cannot be identified, but they don't look like AKs. These guys request permission to engage as there had apparently been a firefight in the area earlier that day. Reasonable request depending on the RoE (rules of engagement) that day. However, it was not until after they had spotted a guy peeking around the corner with what appears to be an RPG that these guys take action. On their next pass around after reporting the RPG, they are cleared to engage.

Now, let me pause here for a moment... Soldiers are not just guys wearing camo outfits trained to use a gun, or fly a helicopter. They're not guys who are just trained to kill the bad guys when fired upon. They are trained to defend themselves and their brothers/sisters. They are trained to protect from both foreign and domestic threats. When some Iraqi starts poking his head around the corner of a building, with what appears to be an RPG... You are faced with two immediate options, and hesitation is not one of them. You open fire, and defend yourself from the chance of being killed, or do nothing and leave your life and the lives of everyone with you in the hands of the guy peeking his head around the corner... And chances are, considering he's holding an RPG, it's not something he carries around with him to blast fish out of a pond for food. I would have without hesitation, lit those guys up.

Which brings us to another problem with the media. The media has feasted on the whole thing of "Light em all up." Sadly, the media and civilians don't seem to comprehend the military has their own way of talking. "Light em up" is how people in the military say "fire" or "kill em." I am just glad these guys didn't say something like "Kill those fucking hajjis." because the media would have brought the rain saying the military is a bunch of racists. Meanwhile, if any civilian heard the way guys interact and talk to each other, I'm sure most of them would be so shocked, they'd need therapy for audio trauma.

Granted, I myself have never been in the military, nor raised around anyone in the military. Infact, until just a couple of years ago, I had a very stereotype view of the military and those who serve in it. However, because of Rolling Stone's reporter, Evan Wright and his book Generation Kill; people like Nathaniel Fick, Brad Colbert, and more importantly, Rudy Reyes, whom I had the honor of actually talking to... My views of the US Marines changed completely. Since my understanding and views of not just the maries, but the Navy, Army, and Air Force have all changed. There are two undeniable facts about anyone in the US military.

1. These guys chose to be be there. For whatever reason, and I don't care if it was to avoid jail time or whatever, THESE guys chose to be there, so those of us who don't serve never have to. All civilians should never forget that.

2. Because they are the ones there, they are the ones who have to make the decisions to engage or not engage in a situation that could mean their life and the lives of others with them, or the lives of those they may or may not engage. DO NOT question their decisions so lightly as if you were there. At the end of the day, these guys, are defending their lives so you don't have to. So your parents or your kids don't have to. At the end of that day, THEY have to live with the choices they make.

At the end of the day, the guy firing on these Iraqis had to live with the fact he killed two kids in the van. Their blood is on his hands, he knows it, everyone who was there knows it. It does not change the fact though, they are in hostile environment.

Nowhere in that video did I see white fences, kids playing basketball, or anything remotely close to what looked like a nice American neighborhood.

I saw a guy with an AK, a guy with an RPG, 2 guys carrying objects that can't be identified. I would have shot too. They did the right thing.

The van pulls up eventually, tries to pull somebody into the van who trying to crawl away. I agree that while nobody had opened fire, the threat appeared to be supressed, but I do not know what the RoE was that day. Nor do these guys know if there's a guy with another RPG in the van.

Iraqis don't wear uniforms that say "hey, I'm a bad guy!" No no, these guys dress like everyone else, walk around with women and children just to blend in. They'll bring their own kids with them, they don't give a damn. It is those very tactics these people use that make them so dangerous and hard to spot. Often by the time you realize the guy walking around looking like he's calling his wife to let her know he's coming home isn't calling his wife, the IED has already killed you and your buddies. Or perhaps he was a spotter for a sniper, or mortar fire.

When it was mentioned to the gunner a kid was injured, he says "Ah damn, ah well" and the ground team tries to call in an evac team to bring the kid to a hospital. Now, another statement these guys make shortly after is probably also another media feeding frenzy. "Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle." Perhaps that sound cold, but people seem to be in denial that this is the kind of place where kids are constantly in the middle of the battlefield. I don't know where it's written though that somehow this urban war we started is somehow supposed to be taking place in an open football field without civilians.

It is eventually seen the guy who appeared to have an RPG, indeed did have an RPG. So, these guys made the right choice. Shooting up the van, I think depends on what the RoE was that afternoon. Which I hate to break it to some of you, but there are days where the RoE is, if you see movement, you shoot. There are days if you think you are in any danger, you shoot. There are days where the RoE is you do not shoot unless shot at first. Commanding officers decide the RoE, not the guy firing. If the media wants to feed, feed on the guy sitting at his desk or the guy who's watching it from a TV hundreds if not thousands of miles away. The guys on the battlefield are simply protecting themselves from dangers most of you could never comprehend.

I had thought about something after watching that video, and reading how the news media was feeding on it like a pack of starved rabid dogs. This whole war in Iraq... This is all your doing. This war, all the blood spilled in this war... It's on the hands of each and every individual who voted for George W. Bush. It was people who voted for him that placed that man, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld into power that made the war happen. The day he was elected, I knew we'd return to Iraq (and everyone thought I was crazy for suggesting Bush would do that without reason...), and we did just as I figured we would. Jr just had go finish what daddy started.

On a final note... WTF is this media bulls*** about how this video looks like it's from a video game. Last I noted, this video was taken in 2007, 2 years before Modern Warfare 2 was out seeing as people are comparing it to the AC130 gunship. Has it ever occured to anyone in the media... The game looks like the real thing, instead of the real thing looking like a game? Last I noted, these games aim to look realistic, not real life aiming to look like Pac Man.

enough said.

And just to be nice since this is a huge post...

CLIFF NOTES VERSION!

A. Guys in the helicopter did the right thing.

B. The news media is f***ing retarded.

C. Real life isn't imitating video games, video games are imitating real life. Stop comparing this f'ing video to a game.