31 October 2011

The Arsenal of Fun and Freedom

One of the great benefits of having younger children is the excuse to peruse the local toy shelves. AlphaDad's gotta maintain proficiency in the arms race happening out there in Superheroland and Barbiestan: Foam tomahawks. Gatling dart guns. Heroic helmets and warhammers. Playing war is a business, and business is good.

I love the smell of Nerf guns in the morning.

Like Sherpa at that age, 4-year-old Rain loves collecting miniature Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. I'm man enough to admit that I have a few mint-on-card vehicles stashed away in Sherpa's Footlocker of Military Memories: A couple of soft-sided Humvees, in both desert tan and woodland green. Military bulldozers and armored personnel carriers. And a 1965 Shelby Cobra that Hot Wheels inexplicably and fantastically painted out in olive drab.

That must've made for a wicked-fast command car. Like "Patton" meets "The Fast and the Furious." (The resulting film of which would be called ... "TFATF: Messina Drift.")

Back when I was hanging out with combat engineers, I took a liking to a Transformers character called "Bonecrusher." I'd never really gotten into the cartoon from the 1980s, but the rebooted movie was cool enough. And the fact the toy converted from robot to a "Buffalo"Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected ("M-RAP") engineering vehicle—complete with bomb-scooping "claw"—pretty much put the target-lock on my wallet.

Rain hasn't seen many of the original Transformer cartoons--and he's way too young for the more recent PG-13 blockbuster explosion-fests. Outside of my influence, however--I was still in uniform and out of town at the time--he dressed up like good-guy Transformer "Bumblebee" last Halloween. I guess the proverbial Energon Cube doesn't fall far from the tree.

So, given all this M-RAP love, imagine my glee when I recently discovered that Matchbox had issued a MaxxPro M-RAP truck lookalike painted as a law enforcement vehicle. I've got any number of Red Bull buddies who are also cops, and this toy seemed like it was right up our old Afghan I.E.D. alley. While I prefer the basic black version—it looks like Darth Vader's paddy wagon—a powder-blue variant reminds me of my youthful "U.N. peacekeeper" fantasies. How could something so cute possibly want to harm us?

Of course, an armored M-RAP truck would be about as useful in stateside law enforcement as shooting, moving, and communicating on the battlefield in that high-speed Shelby Cobra. (In another favorite example of questionable utility, Matchbox once produced a lime-green, racing-striped toy version of the B-2 stealth bomber!)

Consider the purple prose on the Matchbox "S.W.A.T. Truck" package:
Sirens are blaring as emergency forces surround the captured building. When the situation gets critical, it’s time to call in the SWAT Truck. Its high-tech interior and fully armored exterior will crush any obstacle that appears in its path! Time to restore the peace!
In reality, the MaxxPro is an ugly, top-heavy truck designed to survive driving over bombs. While I'm a big fan of mine-protected stuff, I'm not so sure I want my pre-schooler to yet contemplate a world in which roads explode and death is arbitrary.

I'll keep the mil-toys locked away for a couple of years, until Rain and I can talk about what they mean to me. And the Red Bull. It might prove to be a good, accessible way into the topic of Afghanistan. "You know, son, Dad used to ride around in one of these ..."

Generals may fight the last war, but toy companies play with it. Keeping an eye on how war is re-packaged and sold back to our kids is a perennial part of parental sentry duty.

In other words, war toys are two-edged swords. Even if they're made of foam. Or are 64 times smaller than real-life and painted powder blue.

Like G.I. Joe said: "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle."

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