soldiering, video games

Metal Gear Deep Dive: COLD WAR, PROXIES, and PHANTOM PAIN

I’ve been on a Metal Gear kick for the past 6 months so when this video popped up in my feed I was excited to watch it. It’s a deep dive into the historical lore that courses through the Metal Gear series and does a good job of tying the game to history, and the genius of Hideo Kojima.

If you’re  fan of Metal Gear, or think that video games can’t be intelligent and informative, the video is worth your time.

@dongomezjr

video games

Sniper-baiting: “The oldest trick in the book”

MGS1-Snake-Sin

This is essentially one of the nightmare scenarios that opponents of women in the infantry use to deflate the argument. In a mixed infantry, the argument goes, (some) men will be unable to control themselves when their female comrades are in harms way. Their masculine protective instincts will kick into gear, and they’ll be unable to perform their soldierly duties properly.

Somehow, Solid Snake manages.

@dongomezjr

video games

The Soldier-Warrior Dynamic in Metal Gear Solid

I’ve recently been replaying the Metal Gear series after completing MGSV:TPP. I’ve always been a Metal Gear fan, but this was the first in the series I’ve completed since Metal Gear Solid on Playstation. I decided I would go back through the series (by order of release) to completey unpack the smart, complicated, and often absurd story.

Over the past two weekends, I finished the original two Metal Gears for MSX and then moved on to Metal Gear Solid. While reading through the SPECIAL files that recap the events of the first two games, I came across this narrative of the final words exchanged between Solid Snake and Big Boss.

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And the surivivor must live his life as a warrior until he dies.

Since I’ve been writing a lot about “warriors” lately, this stuck out in my mind as odd. Plus, I had literally just finished Metal Gear 2 and I was fairly certain Big Boss didn’t use the term “warrior,” but instead opted for “soldier.”

Here’s the conversation referenced:
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And the survivor will love out the rest of his days as a soldier.”

Granted, these are both translations from Japanese, and it would be interesting to know what word was in the original script. I don’t even know if there is a distinction between “warrior” and “soldier” in Japanese, so it might be inconsequential.

Still, I think it is interesting to see how even back in 1998, when Metal Gear Solid was released, there seems to be a shift in terminology, where “soldier” gives way to “warrior.” This is before the Army began using “warrior” in any official or widespread way.

There was another part of this conversation that piqued my interest, though. Big Boss, in explaining the raison d’être for both him and Solid Snake, says the following:

IMG_0157“It” being a place to fight, a place to be “warriors.”

That quote reminded me of this quote by former Special Forces Major(Ret) Jim Gant:

“We will never win in Afghanistan,” he told the team. “But know – now and always – that does not matter. That is an irrelevant fact. It gives us a place to go and fight, it gives us a place to go and be warriors. That’s it.”

soldiering

Our odd “Valhalla” obsession

viking_by_saeedramezani-d4zvblg

On Tuesday I wrote about the “Centurion” and professionalism articles, both which compared elements of the modern military with Rome. At the end, I mentioned how the odd obsession that many military and veteran personnel have towards all things Spartan and to a lesser degree, Roman, is giving way to a new obsession – Vikings. Over the past few years I’ve seen more and more references to “meeting up in Valhalla” and Viking memes used to express a particular viewpoint.

The popularization of the Spartans in military culture is long-standing, but grew over the last decade and especially once the movie 300 was released. This happened at the same time the Army started using the term “Warrior” interchangeably – and often as full replacement – with “Soldier.” All Soldiers were “Warriors” and with it came an automatic reverence. The Solider-Warrior dynamic has been written about at length – there are three great articles here that capture the phenomenon. The Spartan-obsession has also been taken on – see The Best Defense here.

I jokingly said on Twitter the other day that it’s the beards that make Vikings popular today, and I was only half-joking. I think there’s an element of the Viking aesthetic – at least in popular culture – that makes them appealing to many members of the modern military. The ability to grow beards – for whatever reason – is one of the small things that young servicemen admire, along with the ability to wear civilian clothes. Beards have become more popular generally recently, but this is especially so in the veteran community, where the newfound permission to grow facial hair is capitalized on upon ETS, often for years after separation from the military. There is also this idea that Vikings are singularly focused on fighting, which is attractive to a young member of a professional military who signed up for that, but finds himself in a much more mundane position on a day-to-day basis, feeling saddled by the rules and general discipline required of a modern military.

What I wonder is what the constant referencing of ancient warrior cultures says about our own military. Much of the referential treatment towards the Spartans or the Vikings likely comes from popular culture and not pure history. It’s a fantasy. Do we (as members of the military) have unrealistic expectations of military service that cannot be fulfilled, or is the military failing to meet these expectations?

@dongomezjr

reaction

Are our officers “Centurions?” Tactically proficient but strategically inept?

Roman Pic 14

Over the holiday break, I read two articles anchored to the Roman era to explain current issues with the modern military.

At Small Wars Journal (to which I am still blocked on Twitter), John Bolton writes in the Price of Professionalism that our All-Volunteer Force dangers the American republic through separating the soldier and the citizen.

Bolton writes:

“The AVF, by disconnecting the military from society, enabled a generation of American militarism, highlighted by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since the AVF, American foreign policy has become overly militarized and simultaneously devoid of public consideration. These two factors are cancerous to the functioning of the American Republic. The AVF created a military unimaginable by the Founders and unfamiliar to its people.”

In the Autumn 2015 issue of Parameters, Jason Warren compares the (successful) modern Army officer to the Roman Centurion – a tactically proficient leader of a roughly company-sized group of soldiers. That is, our officer career path selects and promotes those officers who demonstrate tactical proficiency at the company level, without ever really developing or selecting those who show promise for strategic thinking.

The “centurion” model is one that is very easy to see inside of a Brigade-sized element, but once outside of the Brigade, it is precisely those officers who performed well at the tactical level who move on to strategic positions, often without the advanced education one would expect would be necessary to perform in those roles.

Warren writes:

Army promotion soon became linked to the command of standing units, the vast majority of which operated below the strategic level. This linkage contributes to the development of an astrategic officer corps, in which some officers may disbelieve military leaders have a role in formulating military strategy. 

And…

The tactical dominion eventually became king of the realm for post-Korean War promotion, which the training revolution elevated to the throne. Summer 2004 in Iraq found Casey upon a tide of sinking strategy and he believed the war was lost before Petraeus temporarily righted the ship. Petraeus’ surge of forces was but a current of success upon an ocean of failure. Petraeus’ preference for well-educated subordinates and officer broadening soon receded with his departure to the CIA, in an Army culture hostile to non-tactical endeavors.

Both articles are worth reading in their entirety. Bolton’s article tackles a much larger issue and weaves around, while Warren’s article is much more focused on the promotion of “centurion”-like Army officers.

As an aside, I still find it odd and a little off-putting that we still lionize all things antiquity. Given our unhealthy obsession with Spartans which I think is now giving way to the Vikings, I would bet many officers nod approvingly at being associated with centurions, even though the purpose of the article was to point out how ultimately limiting that is.

@dongomezjr