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August 15, 2008 / calebdresser

Georgia on my mind…

“The year is 2008, and the world teeters on the brink of war. Radical ultra-nationalists have seized power in Moscow. Their objective: the re-establishment of the old Soviet empire…”

 

A recent alarmist headline? Nope. Its actually the voice-over from the intro movie for Ghost Recon, a rather violent video game I played during the early part of high-school six or seven years ago. For the second time in my life, I am having the uncanny experience of seeing things I’ve already seen on a computer screen unfold in reality before my startled eyes.

 

The first time it happened was in northeastern France in a small village near a nondescript amalgamation of steel girders known as the Pegasus Bridge. During the invasion of Normandy by the allies in 1944, the bridge was a key strategic objective and was assaulted during the wee hours of D-Day by glider-borne British commandos. After crash-landing in a nearby field, they stormed German defenses at the bridge and then, with nothing but small arms and a few captured weapons, proceeded to hold it until relieved after several hours of heavy fighting by troops advancing from the nearby beachheads.

 

Soon after I got out of the car to explore the Pegasus Bridge battlefield and nearby museum, a weird feeling came over me. Everything was too… familiar. Walking through the village, I knew intersections before I came to them. I took cover behind that hedgerow, I fired a Bren gun from that doorway in a vain attempt to cover troops pinned down on the far side of the road. No, no – delusions of grandeur, carefully programmed bastardizations of someone else’s heroism. There were tanks here, at least in the game on my computer… and in the actual battle as well, according to the display in the museum. The game developers for Call of Duty had certainly done their homework; their digital rendering of Pegasus Bridge was so good that I spent much of my time there in a dazed state of deja vu, superimposing sandbags and explosions onto a pretty French village full or roses while trying to make myself understand that the murderous lines of fire in the video game were probably an accurate representation of the hell the glider assault teams had to deal with sixty years earlier. It was a surreal experience. In the end, though, it was no more than a fun and amusing anecdote on a family vacation, something to discuss in mumbled half-sentences while seeing who could stuff the most Brie and baguette into their mouth.

 

This second convergence of computer-game-world with reality is hardly something to talk about over fancy European cheeses. If the Russians are reporting 2,000 civilian deaths in South Ossetia, the figure is likely to be higher. It is also worth remembering that the population of the entire province was only a few thousand, so if the numbers are correct, virtually every family in the region is dealing with acute personal tragedy above and beyond the military chaos.

 

If I recall correctly, once one had watched the intro movie for Ghost Recon, in which Russian tanks enter a number of countries including Georgia, it was time to begin a “campaign” – a series of infantry engagements that pitted guerrillas and American special forces soldiers against the grinding monster of the Russian invasion. Last time I checked the real-life news, America was sending in troops to “cover a humanitarian mission,” and heavy fighting was engulfing the nation. Deja-effing-vu? Another thing that caught my attention was stories of the hundreds of Georgian civilians picking up arms and traveling to the combat zone in a desperate attempt to protect their nation. Thinking back to younger days, eating Cheetos while picking off little figures on a computer screen, I wonder how many of our country’s youth would actually get up from their couches and video-game bravery to put their comfortable lives on the line if the time came. Its an open question, not a judgment.

 

There is something refreshingly honest about the Russian invasion. I haven’t heard too many assertions that they are bringing freedom, fighting terror, or any other high-minded nonsense. The impression I get is that Russia is carrying out its operations without the smokescreen of international PR we’re used to in the States, as if to say “Yes, we’re heavily armed and thuggish. We’re here to take your land and we are killing people. Deal.” No doubt their domestic propaganda is different, but the face the world sees is that of an unrepentant child caught in the act of stealing pies who keeps right on chewing while he is scolded. While I certainly don’t support the Russian attack, it does highlight, by contrast, what a weird new politico-military climate we live in. The invasion of S. Ossetia and now Georgia is a throwback to older, simpler times, times when nations fought with the forthright nationalist goal of dominating others, rather than trying to cast their actions as altruistic. I’m pretty sure a lot of the fighting today is as greedy and nationalistic as ever – its just better camouflaged. Georgia is a rare case in which it is easier to read between the lines, something we might want to learn to do, especially those of us who live in militarily aggressive countries whose public presentation of the reasons for military action has been anything but transparent.

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