Small Wars Journal


What Do Video Games Say About the American Experience with War?

Mon, 06/25/2012 - 7:58am

In an essay at The Atlantic, Michael Vlahos, a Naval War College professor, argues that the state-waged long war has brought a hint of defeat and self-destruction to popular culture - particularly Modern Warfare 3.  Many may roll their eyes at the linkage, but the essay is smart, short, and if nothing else, brings some pretty unfamiliar references (Zouave regiments, Prussian pickelhaube, a late Roman adoption of Gothic trousers) to The Atlantic's entertainment page.  I highly recommend clicking through to his reference on "The Culture of Defeat."  An excerpt from Vlahos' essay follows.  Read it all here.


Like German Stoßtruppen remade in fire, our warrior-heroes find identity and realization in the firefight. Battle itself is meaning; battle is pure; battle becomes the only reality—and as it was for Junger, compared to the venality and corruption and aimlessness of modern life, its destruction is cleansing.

MW3 reveals how this long war reaches back to seize us in ways we can only sense. ...

[Young gamers] are connecting at the gut level. Yet it is there that allegiances are made. They do not want to be Muslim Ghazi, but they do want to be American Ghazi. They want to fight like Ghazi and if necessary, die like Ghazi. In their deepest dreams, think Beowulf. Think berserker.

These dreams mean something. Something the Washington political realm might yet wish to see before it is too late. This world might wish to reflect on how a war fought solely by and for government and its military has placed our larger national identity at risk. In the original Call of Duty, players relived an American way of war now forgotten: where people and their government fought as one for sacred goals like freedom and democracy. MW3 shows us what the U.S. government's long war has brought: instead of straight-up defeat, a more corrosive loss of self.