Thursday, February 09, 2023

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B. Comic Books, Video Games, and Other Dangerous Decoys

These efforts to recruit extend beyond direct contact with recruiters under NCLB. Since September 11, 2001, the military has employed other aggressive and innovative approaches to reach younger and younger audiences. In 2002, for instance, it established the Army Marketing Brand Group (AMBG), which released a free online video game called America's Army, which targets teenagers as young as thirteen with its high-tech, realistic features. As of 2009, the game has been downloaded from its website more than forty million times and has had an unprecedented impact on recruiting.

In order to keep young audiences engaged over time, successive versions of the game have been released. Today teens can download such enhanced options as America's Army: Special Forces (Overmatch) and America's Army 3, the latter advertised in the image below.

Figure 1

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The game's website includes numerous disclaimers that neither the United States Army nor the Department of Defense endorse it. But it also declares: EMPOWER YOURSELF and DEFEND FREEDOM while offering links to the stories of Real Heroes from the United States Army. Clicking on this link takes youth to the photographs and web pages for nine current soldiers who are at the forefront in the defense of freedom. The website, which includes numerous official Army logos, also explains that the United States Army assisted in the game's development:

Nobody knows military simulations like the world's premier land force, the United States Army. So, when the Army began making the America's Army game to provide civilians with insights on Soldiering from the barracks to the battlefields, it sent its talented development team to experience Army training just as a new recruit would. The developers crawled through obstacle courses, fired weapons, observed paratrooper instruction, and participated in a variety of training exercises with elite combat units, all so that you could virtually experience Soldiering in the most realistic way possible.

The military has also launched a campaign to target minority boys and girls through another popular new media, a graphic novel series called Bravo Zulu. In the first issue, Bravo Zulu: Don't Give Up the Ship, the Army spotlights five fictional soldiers, young men and women who appear to represent different ethnicities and races:

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The novel dubs the multi-ethnic and multi-racial soldiers the Crypt Crew; in the game they are sent into an underground vault during basic training and there, by touching a tomb, catch a glimpse of their futures. In those visions they see that they each contribute to saving the world from [d] estruction and [d] espair, with one male youth being told there is a future where you graduate first in your class. One of the young women sees that in her military future she becomes a mother and fighter pilot known as Smokin' 1.

In the introduction, the novel's author Deborah Franco explains, Bravo Zulu is no pretend world . . . rather, I created it to reflect a phenomenal place in our country where young people are shaped into some of our nation's best leaders and prepared to serve their country with honor and courage. The term Bravo Zulu is military speak for job well done. The Naval Academy distributed copies of the first edition of the graphic novel to seventh and tenth graders who attended its summer camp. The military plans to release later editions that track the future adventures of the characters.

While the United States military is using such efforts to increase its troop size to address terrorism and human rights abuses overseas, others have argued these very recruitment techniques violate international human rights norms. The Optional Protocol of the United Nations's Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the United States ratified in 2002, forbids child soldier recruitment and service. The Protocol provides that children under the age of eighteen may not serve in the military and should not be recruited when under sixteen-years-old. It is clear that the United States falls short on both measures. Beyond this, such practices conflict with our own Supreme Court's jurisprudence. Over the last few years, the Court, in striking down the death penalty and life without parole sentences for those under age eighteen, has recognized the special vulnerabilities of children and their susceptibility to influence.

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