Friday, June 29, 2012

A Line No Man Should Cross

There's a line that men like us have to cross, says Captain Martin Walker after we are bombarded with images of him shooting, stabbing, and murdering people amidst the explosions of warfare (and, seriously, is that the voice of Michael Douglas?). This is the trailer for the new third-person shooter video game Spec Ops: The Line, which comes out today (June 29).

While I am not a fan of violent video games to begin with, especially those of the Military Entertainment Complex, the slogan for this new game has me totally disgusted. Captain Walker's catchy phrase upsets me for a couple of reasons. First, it is an imperative: men like us have to cross the line. It gives the impression that this kind of violence is an unavoidable fact of reality. There is no other choice, someone must cross the line. Is this not the great lie of militarism? It is this rhetoric of the imperative that teaches us that violence is the only solution and we have no choice but to cross the line. Second, it smacks of an elitist machismo that depicts war and murder as something only the strongest men can do. The slogan shrewdly provokes adolescent male audiences to prove their manhood by crossing that obscure line that is war.

I recently learned just how obscure this line can be. A few weeks ago one of my father's friends, who is in the Army Reserves, was in California leading a squadron through a virtually simulated training session. After an intense firefight with enemy soldiers he and his unit learned that they failed the training session. They failed because he, being the commander, had told his unit not to shoot a 12-year-old boy who had picked up an I.E.D. 

Is this the line that some men have to cross? Is this the line that only certain men are strong enough, brave enough, patriotic enough to cross? Is this the line that must be crossed to maintain life as we know it? 

Forgive me for being dramatic. I don't mean to take one example and extrapolate it into a polemic. It's just that I am tired of militarism's lies. I'm tired of video games and TV news that tells us that war and violence is OK - because we don't have to see real blood, hear real screams, or smell real dead bodies. We get a nice, clean war (thank you Hollywood), not a real, bloody war. We get Captain Walker and the Spec Ops, not a war in which grown men are forced to shoot young boys holding explosives. We're told that there's a line that some men have to cross. No. I'm sorry. That's a line no man should cross. 

And isn't this the tragedy of war? It creates total lose-lose situations by forcing human beings to cross lines they were never meant to cross. The soldier who shoots and kills another man doesn't win. She or he loses as well. Anyone who's read Anthony Swofford, seen Jarhead or read about PTSD knows this.

As you can see, I'm not explicitly writing to gamers or calling for the wholesale renunciation of video games (not even this one). But I am saying that this new Spec Ops game is yet another pawn in militarism's game of control. And if we choose to passively accept the ideas of the Captain Walkers of the world, there is no hope for a time when we "learn war no more," (Isa. 2:4, Micah 4:3). As long as we believe that war's horrific lines must be crossed, there is no hope for the Reign of God. But perhaps there's a line that followers of Jesus have to cross. Maybe that's the line across which we move from the way of militarism to the way of Christ: love for enemies, proactive peacemaking, and non-violence. If you ask me, crossing this line is probably the most "violent" thing a person can do.


  1. ... a game played by a human being with a malleable human brain living in a malleable human world.

    "Virtual reality simply generalizes this procedure of offering a product deprived of its substance: it provides reality itself deprived of its substance. ... What happens at the end of this process of virtualization, however, is that we begin to experience 'real reality' itself as a virtual entity." - Slovaj Zizek