A few months ago, I saw a post on one of the on-line blogs in which the author had taken a dollar store armored vehicle, applied a few bits, and made it a science fiction armored vehicle. The genius is that many of the armored vehicles that came in packs of plastic army men were historically inaccurate and generally out of scale but had the right elements to easily convert them for science fiction game involving 28mm figures. Since reading that article, whenever I am in Target, Walmart, Five Below, the PX, The Dollar Tree, Dollar General, or other stores with a toy department, I make a quick trip down the aisle looking for a suitable “conversion fodder.” I have been unsuccessful.
That led to my observation that even after ten years of war in the Middle East, kids must be really uninterested in military toys or military history. There is nothing on the shelves. There are plenty of Minecraft, Star Wars, Marvel superhero, and even Scooby Doo toys, but almost no “army” toys. Recently I found a tub of plastic toy soldiers at a Virginia Walmart, but that has been the extent. Just ten years ago I and my buddies were hitting every Walmart we passed for the 21st Century Toys line of 1:50 and 1:144 WWII vehicle sand airplanes to repurpose them for wargaming. Today, there is precious little on the shelves.
When I was a kid, you became very popular when you brought home the newest G.I. Joe accessory (or one with life-like hair!). Lots of kids came to my house to play with my Guns of Navaronne play set, Anzio Beach back 1:72 set, Blue and Gray Marx play set, etc. What I find ironic is that while video games are becoming more violent (and graphically so), kids don’t seem to play with toy soldiers. They play with toy guns in the form of Nerf guns and their clones, but those always have a science fiction vibe to them, not current or historical military theming.
I find it interesting that when we were kids we read Sergeant Rock, watched John Wayne, and played with toy soldiers, but today kids watch fantasy, science fiction, and super hero movies and play video games. There seems to be little love or interest in history or the military. I think that those comic books and old movies were important forms of education. Yes, education. Watch Sand of Iwo Jima, Objective Burma, or Patton with you kids and see what I mean. Will your kid understand Forrest Tucker saving John Wayne from being picked up by the shore police even though he can’t stand Stryker? Will they understand shared sacrifice and perseverance through adversity as presented by Errol Flynn. How about the ethos of not leaving a wounded buddy behind? Thinking back, I think a lot of my world view and concept of right and wrong was formed by John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart (a real life hero), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (another real life hero), David Niven in The Immortal Battalion (where the important lesson was not letting down your team and your heritage), Randolph Scott, and Gary Cooper — and not just in their war movies. Hoppalong Cassidy was a terrific role model!! Even when Randolph Scott played a bad buy opposite Errol Flynn, he had a sense of integrity missing in today’s media. Those movies taught lessons about camaraderie, duty, honor, and country that you don’t see in Captain America XII or Iron Man XXXIV. In movies like Chisum, John Wayne and the others employed violence in a controlled way and only as a last resort. Contrast that with Fast and Furious MCMVII in which the objective is to sleep with prostitutes and steal cars.
How do kids learn positive lessons about duty, honor, country, comradeship, perseverance through adversity, teamwork, the appropriate use of force, and the importance of something greater than oneself? And how do they role play those lessons without toy soldiers or plastic cowboys?
The term “cowboy” is today used pejoratively by those who wish to vilify, give away, or destroy all that made this country great. Here is what “cowboy” means to me. Many of my childhood heroes portrayed this kind of cowboy. This may not be an accurate reflection of every cowboy who worked a trail herd, but this is how men like John Wayne depicted them. This nation could use a lot more cowboys.