Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toy Guns

This last weekend, I served as the Party Bus Dad for a minivan full of boys. My little guy was turning 10, and rather than one event, he wanted a smorgasbord of a party, a great heaping tapas plate of fun.

Stop number one on this multi-event delight involved unloading my bad self and six fired-up pre-teens at the local laser tag emporium. Both of my boys, and their dad, are most fond of laser tag. It's a hoot. The tactics and strategery of simulated combat are exhilarating. It doesn't hurt that we're not half-bad at it. Of the 45 players in the arena that afternoon, my oldest son rocked the highest score, my little guy came in slightly behind, and yours truly...who specializes in lower-scoring base defense...came in third. Our team, "Team Green," managed to completely rout our opponents. Of course, they were mostly panicked clusters of eight year olds whose grasp of close quarters combat tactics were woefully lacking, but why let a little detail like that dilute the glory? Hoooah!

That fascination with things martial extends deeply into the games my boys play. And, frankly, the games I play. Unlike many progressive parents, who hover and micromanage and try to get their boys to play with happy homemaker sets, I'm quite happy to have my pups charging around with giant squirtguns, or firing Nerf projectiles at one another. I, too, was once a boy. So long as they're aware of the difference between toys and real weapons, aware of the deep difference in cost between play combat and the blood and muck of real war, they know what they need to know.

I do wonder, though, just how many Americans grasp that difference. That wondering particularly applies to members of our Tea Party movement. One of the more dominant threads in American conservatism is the Second Amendment thread. It asserts, as was the intent of the folks who wrote that portion of our constitution, that unrestricted ownership of firearms is necessary if citizen soldiers are to be prepared to defend our nation. Every once in a while, one of the more...um...earnest folks who are affiliated with that movement will darkly grumble about the need for us to have that Glock in our dresser drawer to throw off the yoke of tyrants.

I understand that desire to defend the homestead and the nation. I also understand that fascination with weapons. What I can't quite understand is how you can 1) support gun ownership on the basis of the second amendment and 2) be utterly and uncritically supportive of our current approach to national security. America's warfighters are, by the standards of militaries throughout history, without parallel. Our immense and sprawling defense budget may include a whole bunch of waste, but it has also produced the single most ferocious fighting force in human history.

Because of our engagement in Afghanistan, that budget is increasingly dedicated to developing tools for use against insurgent populations and local militia. Sophisticated drones and Joint Direct Attack Munitions are really rather effective at disposing of little groups of human beings bearing small arms. We're a very short step away from a revolution in military robotics, one that is being actively funded and pursued and could be the biggest game-changer since iron swords sliced through bronze shields like they was buttah. The fantasy of local militia being able to put up any kind of meaningful resistance against an unfettered mid-21st century army is just that. A fantasy.

What I just can't quite figure out is how folks who ferociously proclaim that they own small arms because they don't trust the government to provide health care are simultaneously eager to provide that same government with the most impressive destructive tools in the history of humankind.

Human beings are strange, strange creatures.


  1. As someone familiar with and fond of both the US military and the 2nd Amendment, I can say that I certainly feel the tension. Personally, I'm somewhat conflicted about the way the Civil War was handled. Though it seems clear that African Americans needed relief, there were more issues than that being dealt with during the conflict and the republic appears to have suffered as a result of a rather heavy handed re-integration that didn't really sort out Jim Crow in a timely fashion. Certainly there we see the ultimate tension between integrity of central government and the right to revolution in that conflict.

    Not to nitpick, I'm not sure the JDAM is really the right answer for COIN; robots may not work the way you seem to think they will, either. The DIY crowd has some pretty potent capabilities at this time - and I'm sure they scare the security apparatus. Small UAVs, for example, are probably better force multipliers for the second amendment crowd than they are for the federal military. Anyway, the second amendment wasn't meant to let Joe overthrow the government - it was meant to allow 50% of NY, PA and MD to overthrow the government.

    So then we reach that tension - should weapons that really could let Joe overthrow the government be allowed to Joe, or is there some middle ground, such that a civil war is believable, but not a small terrorist organization attack or some sort of civilian-based coup?

    All of this supposed to be somewhat against the point with handguns... but getting back to the 2nd amendment, I wonder, would the federal government really want to mess with 50% of NY, PA and MD if they all had handguns, Molitov cocktails even, and some unity of purpose? That might just fulfill the promise of the 2nd amendment, if that many people came together, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

  2. Interesting that this brought up the Civil War. As weird as this last response is, it is probably true that the Civil War enshrined in the American culture one fundamental value:

    Might makes Right.

    And that is the fascination with a big defense budget.

    But why pay for defense and not health care? Got me there. Maybe it has something to do with survival of the fittest. Maybe at the bottom of our psyche we believe in survival of the fittest and that the weak should be left to die. In a way it's the corollary to "might makes right". It's all part of the warrior culture. Only the strong and healthy have a right to live.

    As the Klingons would say "Survival must be earned". Besides, real Klingons do not get sick.