The Taser's Edge

Ah, the Heroism of Suicide Bombers (as Entertainment)

Halo: Reach for Xbox 360 (as of 9/14 being sold out internationally) is not the first piece of mass entertainment to obscure the morality of suicide bombing by portraying it as heroic service (in my own short memory, that would be Independence Day), but it is the latest:

Yes, there is a different set of moral questions when the target for the suicide bomber is, we assume, military rather than civilian.  But weaponizing the human body and turning it into an instrument of death has a whole load of of moral issues which we are expected not to think about in this ad for a video game.

Cue the heroic music.  Cue slow motion.  Be caught up in the moment.  Whatever you do, don’t think about what you’re seeing.

In Independence Day‘s alcoholic crop duster’s case, his suicide is his redemption for a wasted life, as we are probably to assume that his protesting son will one day realize.  In Halo: Reach, it might even be worse.  Sprinting hero gets hit and falls.  Will the hero survive?  It doesn’t matter.  The hero doesn’t matter, only the bomb.  Another expendable drone arrives to ‘save’ the day.

For this post, I can only hint at the hair’s breadth difference there is between weaponizing the human body in an overt way–as suicide bomber–and in a covert way, as member of the military.

One of these things looks exactly like the other…

1.) WikiMedia’s recent release of footage of an airstrike in Baghdad.  (Warning: the video is a recording of human beings being shot to death at 2:09.)

2.) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s level, “Death From Above”, for Xbox 360 and PS3.

Credit for the comparison between the Wikimedia video and the particular Modern Warfare level is due to NPR’s On the Media by way of dotCommonweal.  From the NPR transcript:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And video games are used to train soldiers. Part of the training is to sharpen skills, but people who train soldiers also say that part of it is to depersonalize the enemy.

CLIVE THOMPSON: Yeah, the military has actually spent like 100 to 200 years trying to get soldiers to kill people. One of the things they found, coming out of the First World War, was that a lot of soldiers, even faced with gunfire right in their face by the enemy, would not return fire. So the military worked for years on operant conditioning, you know, when something pops up, just sort of shoot at it, to get past this innate resistance to taking human life.

Something interesting to note.  I have heard before about video games being used by the military to desensitize soldiers to violence, enabling them to be more effective at what they do in war (killing people).  Yet, there is this odd distinction.  Video games have apparently been an effective way of getting soldiers to shoot at people rather than purposely missing or refusing to fire.  Yet, there is no proven correlation between playing violent video games and becoming more violent in the long-term.  Are those two observations at odds with each other?