Military Industrial Toy Box: Barbie and G.I. Joe


Metamodern World. Military Industrial Love Triangle

”So what came first, the weapon, the tool or the toy? It depends on the application.”


By EJ Wickes
Photo (above), from “In the Dollhouse” series by Dina Goldstein

It’s called the Military Industrial Complex. And it wasn’t until the Gulf War that public relations had crystallized into Machiavellian perfection. Since the dawn of Mankind calculated warfare has dominated and domesticated life on Earth. There have been civilizations who have avoided conflict in the past. In the metamodern social construct finding remoteness from any violence in the world is rare without some effort. There is conflict portrayed in the cave paintings of the Stone Age; scenes of battle and ambush. As history shows, more frequent displays of violence in Stone Age art was revealed, although many anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists differ on just how warlike pre-historic man really was.


A topic dealing with war in any social context must recognize the extensive research already done. At one time or another during our adolescent years we may have been told to act “civilized”. In that context “civilized” might mean being polite, avoiding violent confrontations or projecting kindness or offering assistance. The terms of civility to some may mean nothing more than good etiquette or empathy and consideration toward others. To a naïve majority it defines a society that has reached some measure of peaceful coexistence through its own technological and cultural development.

Montesquieu proposed three levels of social evolution: Savagery (hunting), barbarism (herding) and civilization (organization, technology). Others (Tylor and Morgan) evolved the model and compartmentalized them even more but the basic premise remains the same. In the popular definitions from academia describing what a civilization is, there will be no mention of social graces. There is no mention of any measurable amount of peaceful coexistence through mutual respect or manifestations of elevated social consciousness. Nor fraternity among the inhabitants of the society or its compatibility dynamics with any other society.

What define a civilization to scholars are the communication; writing, technological developments, civil engineering and organizational structures of the culture. Whether or not that culture has developed a higher consciousness for peaceful coexistence has absolutely no relevance to their construct. Civilizations are not always civilized in the philosophical sense. In tandem with this monumentally broad subject comes the purposed theory that our (civilized) capitalist society cannot exist without periodically engaging in war. Production is the means to support capitalism. It has been argued by many experts that there lies a symbiotic relationship between capitalism (economic growth) and war and that public opinion needs to be coerced into believing it.

This theory is supported by the fact that war production expands into many facets of industry; including hardware, apparel, chemistry, biology, technology and just about everything it would take to sustain a “civilization”. But instead of cars, we make tanks; instead of toy spacemen and toy rocket ships we make toy soldiers and toy missiles. Drops in defense spending do seriously affect the economic sustainability of a warrior nation. The industrialists and neo-cons love war. But, according to two time Medal of Honor recipient, Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC Retired, war for any other reason than domestic defense or the liberation of an oppressed people, is a racket.

According to Professor Esther Lòpez-Montalvo from the University of Toulouse, France, “Recent research has largely overturned ideas of peaceful farming societies.” In the same article published in, anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson of Rutgers University explains how he believes that there was a period of peaceful coexistence with fewer conflicts in the early stone age period up until the late Neolithic as warfare increased and spread throughout Europe and Eastern Asia.

“Based on his own studies, along with his analysis of Wright’s (1965) data and further studies and analysis by Tom Broch and Johan Galtung (1966), William Eckhardt (1975: 55-62) argues that ‘anthropological evidence’ points to the fact “that primitive warfare was a function of human development more than human instinct or human nature.”

Even though an extensive amount of research has been done in this area it still bears some renewed attention. It is no secret that propaganda pervades society. Social indoctrination and psychological vaccines have immunized many of us against the abominations of war. From an early age we are taught to accept the roles of gender, patriotically and occupationally and for many of us it begins with our toys.


Children have been engaging in games of skill, strategy and role playing since history can recall and continue to do so throughout their adult lives. We play simple board games like Chess or Backgammon; being very old, to Risk; a popular postmodern war game. Risk, originally developed under another name in France by Albert Lamorisse and was acquired by Parker Brothers, now a division of Hasbro. In 1959 it was released as <em>Risk: The Game of Global Domination</em>. Today we have single shooter video simulations that depict every form of virtual violence metamodernism has to offer. Every encounter in life has its own game theory, including warfare. Much research and debate comes with the relationships between sports and war. This topic alone takes up volumes but I’ll attempt to give a Cliff Notes version.

Two points of view emerge: The Drive Discharge Model supposes that there is an inherent form of aggressive energy in us all and that war is the hydraulic expulsion of this unrestrainable pressure. This model suggests an inverse synchronic relationship. The more warlike a society is the less combative sports it will have and vice versa. The Cultural Pattern Model supposes that we are not inherently aggressive and that aggression is acquired as a by-product of conditioned behavior. This model suggests that there is synchronic relationship between sports and war. A more warlike society will engage in a higher ratio of combative sports and a less warlike one will engage in less combative sports.

Are sports a rational substitute for releasing this internal pressure described by the Drive Discharge Model as an alternative to war? Or do combative sports suggest a societal trend paralleling military training as preparation for war? – Source

The warfare of metamodernism has begun developing its own digital interface between the player and the combatant. As commercial gaming devices and laser tag arenas are used to simulate artificial combat scenarios, the military uses sophisticated gaming devices to train for real-life scenarios. The combatant and the visceral connection to the brutality of warfare become more detached through technology (or civilization).

So we see how our civilization or the capitalist society becomes more civilized, not through peace, but through the manifestations of technology and science. Not by its humanity or how it utilizes the new found technology. Civilization has enabled us to desensitize; almost popularize social evolution through combat. Digital technology, censorship and commercialization have enabled even more detachment from the horrors of war.

“By 1914, people could buy Christmas crackers decorated with Dreadnoughts (British battleships). Shops offered toy machine guns and a board game about sinking German submarines, called ‘Kill Kiel’. Teddy bears had been a new craze in the early 1900s. The German toy maker Richard Steiff made the finest bears of all but when war broke out, German teddies became unthinkable. British toy makers rushed to make patriotic British bears instead.” – Source

By the mid 1930’s the threat of war across Europe had factories retooling for armament production and the demands for toys replicating military hardware were overtaking the market. Toy guns and bandoliers were replacing toy hammers and cars. As the government propaganda offices prepare the hearts and minds of the citizenry, so are the children’s hearts and minds by the toy manufacturers.

After 1941 requirements to conserve raw materials for the second war effort began. Roosevelt enacted the War Production Board to monitor the use of critical materials in all American industries. Toy companies were no exception and they were challenged to produce children’s playthings containing very little metals, rubber, synthetic fibers or plastics (Bakelite was replacing celluloid) such as paper dolls and board games.

According to Tara Winner, a cataloguer from The Strong National Museum of Play, “Toys, board games, and hobby sets with military and war motifs also became standard playthings. Ingenuity developed out of necessity. For example, Lionel Corporation, famous for its trains, produced military items such as compasses during the war.” This is one small but noticeable relationship between toy manufacturers and the Military Industrial Complex.


Children have been roll playing and imitating adult life scenarios for generations. Girls have been having mock tea parties and boys have been having mock sword fights. Girls have home economics and cheer-leading and boys have shop classes and football. Not until very recently have there been challenges to gender specific sports, military specializations; career choices and pay standards. But these are still the exception and hotly debated by advocates from both sides.

The fifties brought the emancipation of women once again through technology with atomic age ovens and washing machines. By 1959 Mattel’s Barbie was introduced and became the doorway to gender specific compartmentalization of adolescent girls nationwide. The Easy Bake Oven, invented by Kenner Toys from Ohio in 1963, was a best seller. Kenner soon became a division of Hasbro. By 1964 Hasbro had introduced G.I. Joe, Congress had passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and all-out war was declared on North Viet Nam.

Priorities and social imperatives? Finally, a defiant stand was made in behalf of all men and women in 2012 when McKenna Pope from New Jersey started a petition requesting Hasbro to offer the Easy Bale Oven in gender neutral packaging. Hasbro then introduced a black and silver version attempting to keep within the design trends of the time. “Be ashamed to die before you’ve won some small victory for Humanity.” Horace Mann would be proud.

Mattel and Hasbro have competed for television advertising since the 1950s on children’s programs. Eventually children’s shows and cartoons would be the delivery system for their product. It was becoming apparent that the cartoon, beyond its narrative had become the commercial for the toy. What comes first, the concept development for the toy or the TV show that inspires the manufacturing of the toy? The child was already absorbed into the TV narrative and would surely desire the accompanying idol to emulate and play with on his or her own.

“Thanks to my G.I. Joe alter ego or ‘avatar’, I could play with my sisters when coerced on those rare occasions. I could justify playing with dolls and still maintain my boyish masculinity as I tried to force an over-sized Joe behind the wheel of Barbie’s dinky little Dream Car.”

By 1980 the two major toy manufacturers were Mattel and Hasbro; Mattel, the makers of Barbie and Hasbro, the makers of G.I. Joe. Toymakers like Playskool and A.C. Gilbert; maker of the classic Erector Set construction kits were becoming endangered species in the marketplace. Since 1938 Playskool has been making durable, practical toys for children that encourage some form of critical thinking and role playing other than war. Hasbro eventually acquired Playskool in 1984 and Mattel absorbed Fischer-Price by 1993. Since then educational toys have been taking up very little space in the big box toy marts and are likely found only in the toy shops catering to a small demographic of specialty and educational toy admirers, or those preparing to have a child.

Metamodern World. Military Industrial Toy BoxAs pervasive as the arms industry and Military Industrial Complex is, G.I. Joe is also engaged in his own arms race, with Hasbro producing newer and better hardware, accessories and state of the art weaponry for Joe and his comrades. Hasbro and Mattel have succeeded in manufacturing self-propagating lines of accessories in tandem with consumer trends and military developments, always keeping the young warriors and house-wives well-groomed and up to date with the latest technology and learning aids. Barbie made new friends and Joe has new comrades, all requiring the latest fashion upgrades and state of the art gear.

Through an article published in, Richard Gottlieb explains how his industry is seen as the Military Industrial Complex for children. He notes the comparisons and differences between roll playing with military themed toys and single shooter video games and observes how society went after gun manufactures and 2nd Amendment initiatives while generally ignoring the toy industry. As toys are his bread and butter, in closing he offers this somewhat ironic analogy: “A number of years ago, I read an account of the initial reaction to novels as they became widely popular in the 19th century. It seems that parents became extremely concerned that their children were spending too much time in their rooms reading books and getting bad ideas.”


“What you [broadcasters] do matters more over the long run (if our civilization has a long run ahead of it) than what anybody else does. Because you are more persistently shaping the minds of more people than all the rest of us put together…. The programs lumped together as entertainment have as great an influence on the minds of the human beings who watch them as programs which claim a more serious purpose. Indeed, they have a greater influence…. Every program you put on is “doing” and will have a consequence, whatever you may call it.”Archibald MacLeish

TV shows evolved with classic romance, Indian adventures, and military cavalry battles and into modern war-time dramas. Soap operas, the primary delivery system for daytime advertising started to permeate home entertainment. Instead of living our own lives completely we learn and live vicariously through Hollywood’s staged intrigues and newsroom dramas. It’s been widely documented that Government, CIA and Defense Department agencies have advisers and liaisons in Hollywood. After George Orwell’s passing in 1950 the CIA produced the animated film Animal Farm. Agent Howard Hunt (of Watergate fame), sent two agents from the CIA’s Psychological Warfare Workshop to the U.K. and negotiated the rights to Orwell’s story. With a few rewrites they released their own version; which was more compliant to the anti-Socialist PRopagana of the period.

Metamodern World. Military Industrial Toy BoxFlashy Super Bowl graphics and elaborate studios are produced by Hollywood set designers, always in color combinations of reds, whites, blues and golds; Team America’s colors. According to the New York Times article “Operation Iraqi Infoganda”, the Department of Defense allocated $250,000 to convert a warehouse in Qatar into a television studio. A (newsroom) production designer was hired for authenticity and the Central Command’s stage was shipped from Chicago for another $47,000.

The regulators of media are diligent in censoring scenes inappropriate or too graphic for the viewing audience. They embed reporters and the units are instructed to hide the reality of their war until the embeds leave; a lesson learned from Viet Nam. But righteously deny the French fry its place in American cuisine as a symbol of patriotism. Hence the Freedom Fry, an idea whose time had come, filling the shoes of the once revered Liberty Cabbage; America’s patriotic substitute for Sauerkraut in the culinary lexicons of WWII.

Younger Americans live a very isolated life from the rest of the real world. The only connection civilians have to war is what they’re allowed to see on TV and the artificial, harmless replicas of very dangerous tools that they enjoy playing with. Not many bombs go off in our own backyards compared to the rest of a much older world, and this detachment has more negative social implications than positive.

Would anyone in their right mind so casually accept war as a condition for global survival and economic sustainability if they were consistently bombarded with the graphic brutality of war each and every day? Would we look so casually upon war if our own children were stepping on long forgotten landmines here in America? Why do we censor information too “inappropriate” for younger or specific audiences? The answer is easy. It would be bad for business. As a parent I would consider it my obligation and responsibility to make sure my child begins to see the depth of man’s inhumanity to man. Perhaps some empathy for life might be cultivated at an early enough age to stimulate new social imperatives as alternatives to war.

With geological conflicts the decision to go to war is generally made by those who remain the most detached from it. It is usually the military personnel who are the last to support or the most reluctant to accept it. Our military out spends the combined defense expenditures of the next seven countries on the list and the neo-cons still don’t think it’s enough. This is the dark alliance shared between capitalism (civilization) and the Military Industrial Complex.

In America the gun has become the go-to answer as the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. We have the Mattel-itary Industrial Complex to thank for reinforcing our distorted sense of patriotism and its causes and effects. Television shows that portray individuals sitting and having a polite conversation to peacefully resolve their differences do not survive the ratings.

Life is sacred, until the fetus reaches 18. Then we can send it to cook, procreate and die for the realm. As long as “men are men (G.I. Joe) and women (Barbie) know their place” the good ol’ boys of the Military Capitalist Industrial Congressional Complex will sustain themselves for generations to come.

Metamodern World. The Mattel-itary Industrial ComplexWhat inspired this article was a rumor that Mattel Toys was manufacturing the M16 rifles during Viet Nam. It’s been suggested that Mattel may have made the plastic hand-grips but they did not manufacture any other part of the weapon. Snopes has also confirmed this to be true. I was in boot camp in 1975. We were issued the M16 A-1. We drilled, trained and qualified with them on the range. It was a newer model that came with a forward assist mechanism, since the earlier version jammed. Stamped into the magazine chamber of my M16 A-1 rifle was the Mattel Toy Company logo.

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