Have Yourself a Pentagon Christmas
'Tis the season for putting wish lists together! It's the least the toy industry expects of you. After all, according to the National Retail Federation, $217 billion in holiday sales are up for grabs and an anxious toy industry is hoping to take home a sizeable chunk of that (especially given last year's weak $20.3 billion toy market).
As for you, it's never too early to head into the mall maelstrom in search of the hottest toy in shortest supply for your child. Toy industry pundits and child experts are rushing out their lists of recommendations. If you want to catch that blank look of disappointment on your child's face this Christmas morning, by all means follow their advice. Go buy Hasbro's BTR Transformer off the Toy Wishes "Hot Dozen" list; K'nex's Rippin' Rocket Roller Coaster, one of FamilyFun magazine's "Toys of the Year" or strip those shelves of Mattel's Hokey Pokey Elmo from KB Toys annual "Holiday Hot Toy List."
But if you'd really like to "wow" the kids, stick to this list of "Hot as Depleted Uranium Toys for a New Imperial Age."
You surely don't want to deny your child the right to strut an aircraft-carrier flight deck or duke it out in person with Osama bin Laden. So from the Pentagon to you, via us, comes the A (for "Armed to the Teeth") list of presents sure to make this a true military-industrial Christmas!
America's Last Action Heroes
What would the holidays be without little muscularized, molded plastic dolls holding big guns in a kung-fu battle grip?
Now, thanks to Blue Box International your child can pilot Air Force One into Baghdad with Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush, the greatest American hero, dolled-up in Naval Aviator regalia -- a fully posable 12" action figure in "g-pants." "Actual figure," warns the maker, "may vary slightly from item shown" (which is so totally Mission Accomplished!) Then, for only an extra $29.95 (plus shipping and handling) your child can feed the troops a turkey dinner using the George W. Bush Talking Action Figure, the aviator's civilian counterpart, clad in the more traditional Republican dark suit and red power tie. He spouts 17 phrases including the apropos Bush-ism "...working hard to put food on your family..."
And that's only the beginning! Just imagine your son holding his own news conference with the Talking Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld Action Figure ($29.99 plus shipping and handling) to announce that weapons of mass destruction have just been discovered in Bethesda, Maryland. Press his button and catch 28 different phrases from "Rumstud" (as the Elite Aviator likes to call him) including the classic: "I believe what I said yesterday. I don't know what I said. But I know what I think. I assume that's what I said."
And you California parents, don't miss the Talking Governator, hero of Total Recall, the movie and the election, in plastic form... or call him Robot Arnie and fight the world with the T-850 Terminator in his black-leather get-up.
But don't stop here... oh no, you mustn't stop here. What fun's the Elite Aviator if there's no villain to attack him?
Evil-Doer Action Figures
Start with a two-for-the-price-of-one bargain from Hero Builders at a modest $39.95 -- the Talking DOA Uday, a dual headed action figure of Saddam Hussein's son capable of uttering phrases, in a genuine faux-Middle Eastern accent, that go so well with the Yule log and a good stiff eggnog: "Someone must help me . . . I am still alive only I am very badly burned..."
Or how about that perfect stocking stuffer -- Babbling Osama the Dirty Terrorist? "Get your very own talking terrorist... Listen to him babble his terrorist nonsense" says manufacturer Hero Builders, which also cautions, "Don't be fooled by other cheap imitations not made by Americans." We're not babbling nonsense when we grunt our "Hoo-ah!" of approval.
Finally, direct from Gay Paree there's Talking Le Worm, an action figure which bears a striking (but surely coincidental) resemblance to Jacques Chirac. A perfect gift for every child who holds a grudge against America's true enemy: France! Tell the French exactly what you think of them for clogging up New York harbor with that big hunk of scrap metal (off-limits to the public since the September 2001 attacks) by buying your friends and loved ones a couple of these at just $39.95 a piece
Gifts for the trigger finger
While toys are great for tots, we believe that the parent of the older child should forsake honest jingoistic fun for something more educational. In recent years, the Department of Defense has been hard at work with Silicon Valley's video-game makers and Hollywood's special effects artists on games guaranteed to improve your child's hand-eye coordination and urban combat skills. Here then are the DOD's "Trigger-finger 5":
Our save-a-bundle, kill-a-million bargain special! America's Army -- revamped, heavy on military training with genuine combat scenarios in absolutely foreign settings (think Mogadishu! Mombasa! Kandahar!) and best of all the U.S. Army offers it on-line for free. Make your son or daughter a skilled platoon leader for nothing!
Full Spectrum Warrior: The season's top Microsoft Xbox videogame based on an Army combat simulator created by the Institute for Creative Technologies (a $45 million joint Army/University of Southern California venture). Full spectrum military training and full throttle entertainment!
Read the book, play the game, destroy the world! Tom Clancy's "Rainbow Six: Raven Shield -- The #1 videogame choice of Dr. Beth Redden, chief of the Army Research Lab's Human Research Engineering Directorate field element, for testing soldiers' "collaborative situational awareness" and our #1 choice for fun, fun, fun!
Give that special someone something special from the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare Command: SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs.
Is your child a cable-news addict? Stuck on fair n' balanced Fox instead of doing her homework? Finally, Kuma War saves the day, merging "introductions" from cable-news-style anchors, real combat footage AND the ability to re-enact her favorite military missions of the recent past -- like the assassination of Saddam Hussein's sons! A game truly in the spirit of the season!
Toys for Slightly Older Boys and Girls
But is even Kuma War realistic enough? Whatever happened to healthy play in the great outdoors? And we're not talking about running around the backyard with pop guns and Army surplus helmets either! Why not offer your child the "real thing" -- something they could use at home or take overseas with them?
How about an AK-47? -- For American teens in Iraq, the M-16, known in the Vietnam era as "the Mattel toy" due to its light weight and toy-like looks, is definitely out. Soldiers say it jams too easily in Iraq's dusty environment and lacks sufficient "knockdown" power. Many instead prefer the "bitter-enders" weapon of choice. For a mere $250-$500, get your young warrior the AK-47 s/he really wants!
Of course, you don't want send to your child into the world, AK-47 in hand, without some actual bullet-stopping body armor (so unlike the ancient, shrapnel-resistant flak jackets the military has been handing out lately). The Houston Chronicle reports, that the "military has been slow to get the body armor to Iraq," and the Dayton Daily News writes that parents are now taking up collections to buy effective gear for their kids serving overseas. Do you really want your child to be the only one in an imperial adventure without a bulletproof vest? Of course not! It would be embarrassing if the neighbor's kid had better gear. So shell out the $650-$1000 for some ceramic plate (the GIs call it "Sappy Plate") body armor. While the military claims that it is "rushing to get enough body armor into Iraq and Afghanistan by December," we think it's better to ask "Santa" to intervene just in case...
But maybe, given closet space and all, AK-47's and bulky body armor aren't necessary for your little soldier? Not to worry! For kids of all ages not currently in a combat zone there are a host of militarized civilian-issue products absolutely sure to please...
The Hummer: Okay, so what if in Iraq the military Humvee has turned into a death trap? (No more than one out of five there is armored and the Army passed on renewing a contract with Textron, which makes an armored security vehicle capable of withstanding blasts from land mines, so help isn't even on the way.) However, on the American road, where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are scarcer, driving GM's civilian Hummer can still be an empowering experience. Just imagine your thrilled giftee rumbling down the highway, hogging a lane and a half in that 7,154 lbs. Hummer H1 Wagon, rolling past (if not over) the frail Ford Explorer (3898 lbs.) or the positively puny Toyota Highlander (2,261 lbs.).
A civilian model can be pricier than the military version (a Hummer H1 Wagon retails for $117,508, whereas a combat model - with fewer "extras" -- runs between $70,000 and $110,000). But if you're living in Alaska you can deduct the entire purchase cost for the land leviathan (up to $100,000) thanks to the economic stimulus package of Elite Aviator George W. Bush.
Battle Bikes: Can't quite afford a Hummer for that special someone? Why not put a piece of "desert stealth mobility" under the Christmas tree instead? Try "The Paratrooper," a -- count 'em -- 24-speed "tactical mountain bike" developed by Montague Corporation in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Available "outside of the DARPA development circle" for the first time, this bike is sure to be a hit with the arm-chair commando. (We hear that the 23rd and 24th speeds are still classified top secret, but just get to 22 at the top of that hill and you'll find out what they do!)
Shades of War: With "the Paratrooper" stowed in the back of that Hummer, what would look more stylish on your kid than a pair of cool shades by Oakley? Yes, believe it or not, sunglasses manufacturer Oakley is a vendor to the military supplying goggles (and boots) used by Special Forces troops.
The Specialty Corner (For Parents of Children Working in the DoD)
What's that you say? Your daughter, a former staffer in Doug Feith's now defunct Office of Special Plans, already has a Hummer, Oakley shades, and all the video games the military has to offer, everything, in fact, but the Sniveling-Colin-Powell-Does-Munich doll (still under development at DARPA)? Well then, break out that checkbook and get her something she'll really love...
The M1 Abrams Tank: For the four-star general on your list there's General Dynamics' M1 Abrams tank. While the 68-ton behemoth may be having its troubles with roadside bombs in Iraq, your $4,300,000- $5,900,000 gift will ensure that your child can roll onto any American freeway, ignoring yield signs and crushing Hummers.
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle: Is your son a mere brigadier general? Then why not settle for the wonderfully compact Bradley Fighting Vehicle from United Defense Industries? At 25 tons, it may not be a match for an Abrams, but think of the economies - a modest $3.1 million will have him up and rolling! So what if service in Iraq has shown that the BFV is susceptible to $25 homemade bombs? It can still fire 200 rounds per minute from its 25mm "Bushmaster" chain gun and nothing says "happy holidays!" like a high-powered cannon!
Black Hawk helicopter: If a DVD of Black Hawk Down just won't cut it anymore, then kick in the extra $13 million and get the real deal. Sure a Black Hawk can be knocked out of the sky by a simple rocket-propelled grenade, but until some Iraqi "bitter-enders" make it to America (look for such an announcement days before the 2004 election - you heard it here first!), your child will sure look cool tooling around in one of these!
The JASSM: Here's a piece of one-shot shopping guaranteed to "wow" its recipient! At only $400,000 a pop, Lockheed Martin's new radar-evading 2,000-pound Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) is a genuine steal and the perfect alternative to the $1 million-a-shot Tomahawk missile. Gerry Freisthler, director of the Air Armament Center's Lethal Strike project office says, "JASSM provides the Air Force with kick-the-door-down capability." What's a door when it's your own child? We say it'll be "pure holiday magic" when, with that "imaging infrared seeker" and "general pattern match-autonomous target recognition system," it comes down your chimney this year.
Nick Turse is a doctoral student in the Program for the History and Ethics of Public Health and Medicine in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.