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Green Army Men and the March of History

ArmyMan

Of course I had green Army men when I was a kid!

And I had them right up until last week 😉

When I am asked by teachers or parents or kids about how I came to love history, my short answer is that I was 10 during the Bicentennial party and was excited by that. But there are many, many other things that fed the History fire. On many of those points it’s hard for me now to say which came first, the History or the influence. Did I play with green Army men because I loved true American stories? Or did I come to love American History after I enjoyed playing with green Army men?

With my oldest son off to his freshman year in college, my youngest son and I are remaking their big bedroom and finding stuff that hasn’t been played with in years. From underneath the bunk bed we disassembled there came a drawer full of plastic Army men. Most of them saved from when I was 10. I saved a lot of my toys because I didn’t have many toys growing up. I valued what I had. I was really proud that I had requisitioned not just a full company of green Army men but also a plastic green Army truck, two plastic howitzers, and two TANKS! I was EQUIPPED! I had some GI Joe figures, too (yes, the full-sized ones; that’s how old I am), but to do a whole battlefield action the green Army men worked better. I even once used them as my actors in a short film that I did in a summer camp.

In the 1970s, my friends and I didn’t think much about the Vietnam War — we play-acted World War II. It fascinates me that World War II still has a firm hold on the imagination of my sons’ generation. My World War 2 Tales book sells very well. Why? Why not more play-acting about current global conflict? Why not more throw-backs to earlier fights (does anyone play Cowboys and Indians anymore?). I think the answer is traceable to another event that hit me like an explosion when I was 10: the first Star Wars movie. A lot has been written about how the Star Wars storyline is just a space retelling of World War II, so I won’t repeat that. But I’m not sure people see how the continued popularity of Star Wars (and even the way the prequel trilogy echoed the political dynamics of Europe in the 1930s) reinforces the 10-year-old’s attraction to the WW2 storyline. Our culture has handed down WW2 as one of the simplest examples of good vs. evil that a young man will ever find in the history books. You look at the sales of videogames over the past 15 years, and you’ll see Star Wars takes a lot of the top spots in the fantasy genre and WW2-based games take a lot of the spots for nonfiction-based games. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

But with all the videogames out there, would any boy actually still play with the real plastic green Army men??? For me, there doesn’t seem to be much point in keeping green Army men now that the Toy Story movies put them firmly back into pop culture. (Heck, you can find a slew of photos on the Internet of people dressed as their favorite Army man pose for Halloween!). I kept a few for nostalgia, but I thought it was worth a shot to transfer them to Alpha Base — my niece and nephew’s home in Alabama. Their parents were both military, and the transfer included a C-130 plane that I picked up when my boys were young (my brother was a navigator on C-130s!).

The day the package arrived, my sister-in-law sent me this:

“The kids (Matthew) are thrilled with the tanks and soldiers (how many does one boy need?!?!).  Zadie is a little disappointed that there are no “girl” things in the box! I tried to convince her that Mommy was once a “soldier” but I don’t think she believes me. I showed her a book from our shelf about women in the military, and she looked at it for a minute and then she decided: OK! Seriously, it’s pretty cute watching Zadie make blasting sounds and fly the C-130. Matthew is pretty cute, too!

Regardless, my vacuum cleaner thanks you!  :-)”

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 at 10:06 am and is filed under Author's Purpose, History Teacher. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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