War Toys for Tots

Come next holiday season, war toys for the kiddies will have a whole new look; say goodbye to GI Joe and hello to Tora Bora Ted. For some toy manufacturers the war on terrorism could be the cash cow they've been hoping for.

According to a Reuters report, "toy makers in the United States and around the world are rushing to cash in on the growing appeal for action figures that embody heroic sentiments since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States."

Late last year, the American International Toy Fair in New York City featured lots of new action figures representing fire fighters, police brigades and U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Reuters reported that American toy makers are being joined by international companies like the Hong Kong-based toy maker Dragon Models Ltd. "whose theme is based on the 1993 U.S. army raid in Mogadishu, Somalia" -- the military action that was the subject of the Hollywood movie "Black Hawk Down."

According to data from the NPD Group Inc., a market research firm, in 2001, sales of action figures rose by 36 percent in the United States to $1.62 billion in 2000. Reuters points out that those numbers "made action figures the fastest growing sector in the U.S. toy industry last year."

What might be this year's hot new toys? A new line by Dragon Models called the "American Freedom Fighters: Live from Afghanistan's Frontline" tops the list. Reuters: "That line is also accompanied by individually-named figures from another new Dragon action figure set, which includes 'Tora Bora Ted,' a Delta Force special operations soldier… [whose] mission is centered around Tora Bora, a mountainous stronghold, riddled with caves, where U.S. soldiers battled Taliban fighters in their anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan." (You can view the models on their website.)

Anthony Chin, vice president of California-based Marco Polo Import, Inc., an American distributor for Dragon Models, said his company would like the kids to become a little bit more familiar with the warfront. "A lot of people are aware of the military aspect of our country in Afghanistan, so through these action figures we hope to get them close to the action, in a safe way," he said.

While the little soldier figurines come complete with weapons, thus far, no company has reported an interest in manufacturing a set of plastic weapons. Imagine the joy of playing with little plastic cluster bombs with their own popping bomblets?

Action figure pieces retail from $30 to $50 each, and enthusiasts can grow their collection to whatever number they wish according to Eddie Yeung of Hong Kong based toy maker Blue Box Toys. At the Toy Fair, Blue Box Toys unveiled "Freedom Force," another line of action figures in sync with the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. This set consists of various army units including Marine Corps, the Green Berets, and Delta Force soldiers.

"These are heroes and I can say that you must expect them to be become hot sellers," said Yeung. He said he had seen wide ranging interest in the company's new action figure offering, and retailers like Toys ‘R’ Us may be looking to add the figures to their merchandise offerings this year.

Some groups have not completely ceded the toy wars to war toys. The War is Not a Game Campaign takes place every year between November and February. According to the Kids Can Free the Children website, young people are engaged in organizing war toy "trade ins" and "hold[ing] awareness-raising events within their communities. Once toys have been tallied, youth are encouraged to use the collected war toys to create creative community displays to raise further consciousness about children and war. Children may, for example, create an artistic display such as a giant peace sign out of the war toys and display it at a local museum, their school lobby or their town hall."

Trading on terrorism

In early November, Topps, the King of sports trading card companies, was first out of the corporate chute with a set of pro-war on terrorism cards called the "Enduring Freedom Picture Cards." They were soon followed by a more bellicose set produced by U.S. Trading Cards, LLC. While none of the individual cards will ever be as valuable as a 1952 Mickey Mantle Topps rookie card (which has sold for as much as $50,000), war on terrorism trading cards could become collectors' items.

For fifty years, Topps has been one of the leading names in the sports trading card business. Founded as strictly a chewing gum enterprise in 1933, the company soared in popularity after issuing its first line of baseball cards in 1951. Topps hasn't limited itself to just sports cards -- it was the first company to produce a set of cards during the Persian Gulf War. Although a bit dated, the company's "Enduring Freedom" cards contain few surprises in its 90-card set which depicts the September 11 attack and its immediate aftermath. These are straightforward portrayals of the "evil-doers," U.S. leaders, and the weapons used in early war engagements.

They are packaged in wax-wrapped sets of seven: In place of the tougher-to-chew-than-asphalt-but-always-welcome slab of gum, a patriotic sticker comes with each pack. As the war on terrorism expands, look for Topps to update the series. (For more, see the Topps website.)

U.S. Trading Cards, LLC, has issued one set and the company promises more. Its Series (A) Limited Edition is quite a bit more gung-ho. According to its website, it contains: 42 terrorist cards "depict[ing] some of the most despicable so called human beings on the face of our planet," including Yasser Arafat, Osama bin Laden, Moammar Khadafy, and Sadaam Hussein; 4 "Heroes of Freedom Cards," featuring George W. Bush; 17 "Defending Freedom Cards" with a tag line, "Kicking Some Serious Butt is the Only Thing These Terrorists Understand!" with portraits of the weapons used in the fight against terrorism; 4 "Weapons of Terrorism" cards including a freaky anthrax card; 3 post-September 11 "Aftermath" cards; and 3 "Real Life Heroes " cards. The cards sell for $2.99 per pack or $26.50 for the set.

There's a controversy brewing between the card makers over who should be labeled a terrorist and who shouldn't. Ann, whose message is posted at the U.S. Trading Cards' "testimonials" page, wrote: "I saw that Topps had Yasser Arafat as a humanitarian in a series that was supposed to be opposing terrorism! So my kids can't shop that site anymore. So we went looking for others. And then I saw Arafat again at your site. But where he belonged -- with his fellow terrorists!" The message board also contains some lively political exchanges and a number of suggestions for new cards.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. To see more of his work, click here. To respond to this article, report a problem or provide general feedback to the editors of this site, click here.

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