Did you see the story being floated that the U.S. Army is considering outsourcing Fort Belvoir as a propaganda tool? According to the Washington Post, the idea is to build a military theme park at the suburban Virginia fort, which is located just across the Potomac from that other theme park, Washington, DC.
The Army apparently is rationalizing the theme park concept as a device to help pay the costs of the Army museum already planned for Ft. Belvoir. And they're entertaining proposals from a Florida developer who imagines a Disney-like approach to the opportunity. The Post quotes from the proposal, "You can command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner."
What a spectacular recruiting device a military theme park might seem to the Pentagon brass, especially at a time when the Army is facing serious problems meeting its quotas for new soldiers. And what neat diversion at a time when the number of Army and other U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq is approaching the total killed during the September 11 attacks.
The Army as family entertainment!
There is plenty of precedent for such folly. As I note in my book profiling soldiers who oppose the Iraq War, Mission Rejected, the Army tries to seduce high school students to join by cruising campuses showing off Hummers dressed up with flame paint jobs and fancy chrome wheels, blasting rap from giant woofers. Go to one of the Army's recruiting web sites, check out the action at www.goarmy.com. There you can play the video game called America's Army. The teaser page promises, "You'll face your first tour of duty along with fellow soldiers. Gain experience as a soldier in the U.S. Army without leaving home." America's Army, the game, is "rated 'T' for Teen," according to the copywriters at www.goarmy.com. It is state-of-the-art battle simulation and a fun thrill for plenty of teenagers.
Projections suggest that as many as three million visitors a year may add Armyland to their vacation itineraries if the government decides to go ahead with its amusement park. That's more than visit other nearby theme parks. What a neat device to use to seduce the kids just at the age when they might be tiring of their G.I. Joe dolls.
If the Army goes ahead with the project, counter recruiters might be forced to meet the escalation with a counter theme park. Perhaps a mock-up of Dover Air Force Base would be in order, where visitors could view flag-covered coffins returning from a mock battlefield. Or, since this would be an amusement park, they could buy extra tickets and get a ride in the coffins as an alternative to the competition's offer to " . . . defend your B-17 as a waist gunner." How about a mock-up of Walter Reed hospital? There the park visitor could buy a ticket for the opportunity to be fitted with a wheel chair or crutches. Or perhaps build an obstacle course where the lucky customer tries to avoid roadside bombs, snipers, and kidnappers? And why not offer special tickets allowing for the opportunity to play at being an Iraqi civilian living in post-U.S. invasion Iraq? As a temporary Iraqi civilian the park visitor could sit in a faux Baghdad apartment in simulated summer heat and without electricity to power the air conditioner, or go to a marketplace and hope a simulated suicide bomber doesn't explode.
The possibilities really are limitless for providing near real life military experiences for millions of holidaymakers each year, experiences that might just convince the kiddies that war is not all fun and games.