Over the past few years, increasing objections to the recent flood of children's toys which glorify aggression, violence, and war have been voiced by concerned parents and activist groups across the nation.
The sale of war toys has been steadily rising since the reintroduction of Hasbro's G.I. Joe in 1982 as "Real American Heroes," a product line of five-inch action figures and high-tech weaponry. The older G.I. Joe, originally manufactured as a foot high doll, had been removed from the market following the Vietnam War's end in 1975. A spokesperson for the War Resisters' League, the first national organization to take action against the current crop of war toys, explained last year that at that time, G.I. Joe "declined in popularity because the reality of war was very clear to people." In the age of Reagan it seems this reality has been once again whitewashed by an administration intent on revving youngsters up to die in Nicaragua, the Philippines, etc.
War toy sales amounted to a record $1.2 billion in 1985, a year during which Transformers, Gobots, G.I. Joe, Voltron and Masters of the Universe made up five of the top six selling toys in the United States. Continuing through 1986, war toys accounted for more than half of the twenty top selling toys.
Unquestionably, then, there is a huge demand for such war-oriented playthings. What irreparable harm do they cause boys and girls? The only child-development studies which have focused on the psychological effects of war toys show that children clearly exhibit more hostile and anti-social behaviors after playing with toy guns or militaristic toys than after playing with board games, stuffed animals or engaging in other "non-threatening" activities.
With the emergence of television shows which star many of today's most popular toys, including all five of the war toys listed above, the crucial creative element of a child's play is encouraged to take a back seat to imitative behavior. If children watch their favorite toy characters act out scenarios on television, it is likely that their play will comprise, to some extent, a re-enactment of such scenarios.
Blatantly false concepts are projected and reinforced by most war toy lines and promotional tv episodes, most notably G.I. Joe's half-hour television program. Here's a recent critique of this show, printed in an anti-war toys newsletter:
"Violence abounds, but none of the elite Joes ever die. Cobra Commander is the Joe's faceless enemy. His allies include the Baroness, who has a heavy Russian accent, and another sporting an eye patch. Most of the other enemies have foreign accents, are disabled or are dehumanized in some way. There are token Joes of different ethnic groups and colors, and a few are women, but most are white men, unlike the real military."
The program's basic premises thus feed children images which are disturbing, at best. It desensitizes war, as do all war toys, teaching that weapons do not cause good people to die and that one need not face the consequences acts of violence bring, as long as they are on the side of "the good guys". By presenting the enemy as foreign and disabled, and proselytizing that it is acceptable for the faceless enemy to die, this show follows in the tradition which during WWII portrayed the Japanese troops as "little brown monkeys" and the Vietcong in later decades as barbaric "gooks," in order to remove traditional taboos against killing from the psyches of our nation's own enlisted men. The program teaches children to unconsciously distrust people with disabilities, while idolizing those who are "perfect physical specimens." Female Joes are consistently portrayed in skin-tight clothing, sporting large breasts, and are delegated to using their feminine wiles and charms as weapons of deception...time and time again it is only the male Joe members who are "privileged enough" to experience combat.
Other war-oriented toy lines also manage to portray women in this predictably sexist sense. The advertised description of Katherine Taylor, the romantic interest of Coleco's Rambo figure, reads as follows: "She wants to be treated just like one of the boys, but she sure doesn't look like one!". So not only do war toys legitimize aggression and desensitize children to the dangers and harm of violent actions, they foster racist and sexist attitudes as well. It's the same old nationalistic, militaristic slop being shoved down our throats once again. War toys are profitable pieces of plastic propaganda that the military-industrial ruling class would love to see in the hands of every young and impressionable American.
Donnelly, Kate. "Stop War Toys Campaign Targets G.I. Joe". Peacework, Nov 1987, p. 7.
Field, Jana. "The War Toy Debate". People's Daily World, 24 Dec. 1986, p. 16-A.
Rodriguez, Johnette. "War Toys". The Newpaper, Mar 25-31 1987, p. 3.