Annihilation Vacations

Why war games are getting to be more like the real thing

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It used to be that playing Risk with a bunch of friends in the rec room was about as elaborate a war experience as you could get short of enlisting. Not anymore. Moving beyond the more detailed (and wildly popular) war board games that are Risk's successors, the war entertainment industry now includes the soon-to-launch Military Channel, which will offer round-the-clock coverage of wars past and present and will include a home-shopping service that will supply combat and adventure gear to solider wannabes. If you want your kids to join in the fun, Omni (Feb. 1995) reports that the Fightertown Virtual Simulation Center in Orange County is expanding its standard fighter pilot simulator offerings with a 'Battle over the Pacific' feature that is geared towards families.

If none of these options seem real enough, take heart: An article in The New York Times Magazine (Sept. 17, 1995) reports that it is now possible to take war vacations complete with 'front-line battle exposure, including being shot at and viewing the full effects of heavy artillery.' For those whose find the idea of dodging shrapnel exciting, then there are even more advanced war vacation options. According to Covert Action (Winter 1994-1995) an elite Guatemalan army unit called the Kaibiles are training US tourists on paramilitary vacations where the twelve-day 'Special Forces Advanced Scout/Shooter Course' provides the opportunity to not only 'improve your shooting abilities' but also learn to use camouflage, tracking, and land navigation.

What's going on here? One of the owners of the vacation packages is quoted as saying that many of their visitors are people who, 'somehow missed Vietnam,' adding that 'war has always been considered a right of passage' -- no doubt a rite that they are happy to provide. COVERT ACTION sees the trend as a bit more alarming, citing it is as evidence of the growing allure of militarism. Maybe its about being able to trangress laws and codes of ethics without being arrested. Or maybe its just that death and war have always been fascinating to most citizens and in this tabloid tell-all culture, people are feeling more permission to let it all hang out as long as they're sure to duck and cover.

Original to Utne Reader Online