NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« Signature Issue | Main | Bush In Crawford: Calling It Curtains »

Aug 26, 2005

Iraq: The Game



If you missed it, this cover story in the NYT Mag a week ago was surprisingly informative for coverage of America's war in Iraq.

It outlines in disturbing detail how soldiers of fortune -- oh sorry, I mean "private military companies" -- oops, I meant "private security companies" or "P.S.C.'s" --  have come to play a major, central and surreal role in our foreign adventure.

What I couldn't decide about, however, were Nathan Fox's illustrations.  (The top image was on the cover, and the snippet below was from a longer panel inside.)  Certainly, they earn a plus for capturing attention.  On the other hand, they essentially turn this private war into a screen shot from a video game and a couple of comic book clippings. 

From that perspective, don't they just make these mercenaries look cool (glamorizing Bush's folly to a younger demographic) and trivializing a war that could hardly get more abstract? 
(You can see more illustrations, and read the article here.)

(Autoposted for your review while the BAG is taking a hike.)

(illustrations: Nathan Fox. NYT Magazine. August 14, 2005.)


Thanks for expanding my brain...even on autopilot

Privatization never saves money in the long run and it puts important government responsibilites in the hands of individuals concerned primarily with profit. Explain to me again why a soldier earns a fourth of what these mercanaries earn? Regardless of what they rename them, they are mercanaries. And on another note, when did this country become so stupid that renaming something Americans dissaprove of with a pleasant name grants it instant approval? Patriot Act, Healthy Forests Act, Clean Sky Act. I'm waiting for them to name a bill banning aborton the Freedom of Choice Act.

Privatization takes career soldiers away from our armed forces. That hurts.

The colors chosen for this illustration are happy, cheerful, and bright. Not any words I associate with the situation at hand.

Bag, nice choice of words describing Bush's legacy in action. In our house we refer to the war as "The Petro Folly."

I took these drawings to be an exercise in irony. As a comment on the President's apparent attitude to war, as essentially childish and cartoonlike. Oh, and something that's pretty and simple. Like boys playing army. Which I used to do, by the way.

The Times states "Still, the British hired 30,000 German Hessians to help them battle the revolutionaries in the American War of Independence." In NYC they made them the police, near the Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn where the Explorer's Club used to meet on Doughty Street (he was the first English minister in New Amsterdam, burnt out of Masbeth, Queens). I read 1/2 of them defected over the British Policy. Many of the troops set against Virginians were Irish merceneries according to the remains anylized at Fort Niagara. Bad policy makes for defection, should we worry?

The first thing I thought when I saw the cover image was, 'Chinese fire drill.' See recent Jim Kuntsler interview, here:

we need these professional militia men. They're doing all those jobs that ordinary Americans don't want to do. Why, not even black Americans want these jobs!

it's better to have these experienced professionals doing the difficult stuff, while your all-volunteer soldiers serve as truck drivers and armed escorts for convoys full of stuff to support the all-volunteer officers and grunts sitting on their asses in Green Zones, staring at computer screens, figuring out what kind of stuff they need to order from MilSupply DOT com, next.

remember this, kids: it wasn't War Protesters or the Media, or even the Viet Cong resistance who caused the Vietnam War to end. Truth is, the U.S. Military just ceased functioning.

In IRAQ, the American military isn't fighting a War ~ they're an occupying force. Your "boots on the ground" have been de-militarized : either into truck drivers and supply schleppers in an endless, horrendously inefficient military occupier / consumer economy; or, they have been transformed into the police, SWAT teams at best ~ simpleton "shotgun" security guards who support this mobius-strip supply-chain nightmare.

it would be interesting if, when your local newspapers posted the days' / weeks' tally of the U.S. dead, they were to reveal what they were doing when they were KIA. The most revealing thing is, how FEW of them die while ACTUALLY FIGHTING in anything resembling COMBAT :-/

I, too, get the impression from the illustrations that they are meant to suggest the people involved in the "private security" operations in Iraq treat their jobs like a comic book or video game. It seems to me the people who would do such a thing might see acting outside the influence of the military are seeking some form of simplified adventure that might be similar to playing a video game. Of course, this is a "real war" and "real people" are involved in it, but when you're really just a mercenary I'm sure the "rules of engagement" or whatever they're calling them these days aren't very important when you're just doing it for the "adventure" and money (mostly money, I feel).

Ya, ya know these comments remind me of the skull squadron stuff Bag posted a while back. I don't know how to get back to that post/link but this whole situation has comic book themes throughout.

I can see the video-game kind of image for the soldiers/mercenaries, and I can see where that would appeal to boys especially. But the boy doesn't seem right at all. He looks like a suburban American kid in a nice new soccer uiform.

Did anyone read about how the miltary recruiters are working on kids as young as 10 or 11? Not to sign them up at that age, of course, but to try to instill a pro-military attitude.

See Who's Next

They appear like something out of Marvel Comics or DC would put out in the 80s, somewhat realistic and borderline critical of what is going on, yet "cool" enough to let the reader believe that he may want to be part of the scene. If this were a graphic novel or gritty comic book then yes, it would be adecuate, but not in a newspaper.

Sometimes the worst dangers are the prettiest: snakes and frogs and flowers dripping with toxins or venoms.

The candy-colors in this comic-book art remind me of child's play and the illusions of such play: "bang-bang, you're dead!" but now made horribly real.

It is a game to many of these men. How high can you score? Who is the first to make a kill? Can you pilot this thing remotely (ie: while safe back in the states), yet still shoot to kill? Let's hide in this nook up here and frag anybody or anything coming down the alley... 2 points for a donkey, 5 for a woman in a burka (hey, that might be a bomber in there), 10 for a teenage boy. Double points if it is a reporter with a camera... we don't want anybody to know that we "security boys" rule this country.

And then they scream "yee-haw" if the explosion turns a building into rubble or shatters an extended family into unidentifiable bits.

It *is* a game to them.

Why else would the military be funding almost all of the companies doing serious games? Serious games USED to be about hospital procedures or flying helicopters or building and managing cities or training people for new tech. Now they are ALL about military simulations. At the last Serious Games Conference, not one single company was free of the military. Who could turn down all that pretty money?

This was my industry, but I don't work on shooters. I don't want to train killers or reward them for a job well done, when the only thing they are learning is how to target human beings... and get rich at it.


I understand about the "happy colors" comment, but in its composition, the picture is heavily ironic. The mercenaries flow around the vehicle, guns at the ready, prepared to blast anything that might arise. But what are they defending? A truck, a small truck. And that's how Americans fight this war: driving around the country, "patrolling," pouring out of vehicles at times of trouble, and removing themselves to safe havens when they are not patrolling. And a little Iraqi boy runs by kicking a soccer ball, hinting that the "soldiers" have no clue about the culture around them. They live in a bubble -- afraid (and rightly so) that the situation they are in could turn horribly bloody in an instant.

I like the tie on the guy gettin gout of the truck. It's all about people in western business suits buying the best protection that money can buy. What the heck is he doing in a war zone?

Paul Bremer used to wear smart business suits (sent to Kuwait for dry cleaning), but he wore combat boots with them.

The nest Serious Games Summit is set for Hallowe'en in Washington D.C. (I'm NOT kidding!) From the latest newsletter "... now is an exciting time to be in the field of serious game development." Wrong! They are in it for the money... and teaching people even better ways to kill and destroy. :(

"Spotlight On: Speakers Elaine Raybourn and James Belanich


Elaine M. Raybourn, Ph.D. (intercultural communication with an emphasis on human-computer interaction and social-process simulations) brings an expertise in understanding culture and communication to the design of simulations, games, and groupware. Her research concerns intelligent community-based systems, intercultural agents, collaborative virtual environments, social simulations and games for training, and intercultural learning. Elaine currently leads a serious game project for the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces.

See Elaine Raybourn in the session Adaptive Thinking & Leadership: New Ways to Assess In-Game Actions


Dr. Belanich is a research psychologist for the U. S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, researching advanced training methodology. He is currently working on research projects involving the use of game-based learning. Dr. Belanich has authored/co-authored 18 publications on distributed learning, instructional technology, and adaptive technology. He has also presented/co-presented 46 papers at regional, national, and international conferences. In addition, he has conducted five symposiums on a variety of subjects dealing with instructional technology and communication, including one specifically on the use of games for military training. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology – Learning Processes from the City University of New York.

See James Belanich in the session Game-Based Training Success: The Impact of Gaming Experience and Expectations."

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003