August 25, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 347

Heroes Of Terrorism
Heroes Of Vigilance

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, August 25--Every child needs a hero.  It's part of the chemistry of youth.   When I was a child, my hero was Golden Arrow, a Clark Kent-like character who had his golden palomino hidden and would change into the Indian brave garb to save the damsel in distress from the evil ones.  He shot golden arrows, much like the Lone Ranger shot silver bullets.   

       I was drawn to his anonymity--the fact that he was "normally" a quiet, unassuming person who, in the face of danger or evil, transformed into his alter ego--The Sentinel of Vigilance, the Johnny-on-the-spot hero who won the eternal battle of good over evil for a brief moment, and then slipped back into obscurity to await his next calling.
       Commercially, the toy and story book industry seek to fill the child's need for "hero worship," or "hero identification," with a variety of images, characters and trends.    One is the famous "Barbie" collection--elegant female figures, clothes and accessories that make a child "want-to-be-like" the image they project.   

      Another is GI Joe, the action figure series with cigar smoking sergeants who grimace and shoot all enemies, teaching a child that violence begets even fiercer violence--the wrath of GI Joe and his buddies.
       Now, there is a new toy series out that sings the song of Vigilance to children, and instead of wanting to convert them into shapely beauties or cigar chomping killers, this series focuses its attention on self-sacrifice, on risk, on vulnerability.
       Produced by Fisher-Price, a division of Mattel, the highly successful pre-school toy line is called "Rescue Heroes."

 BILLY's Message to Kids: The secret to being a good leader is to set a good example. You can’t expect
your team to follow rules that you don’t follow yourself. Don’t just tell them what to do—show them.

       The first two of the Rescue Hero series, "Billy Blazes" (Firefighter) and "Jack Hammer" (Construction Expert) shipped in December 1997.  They were followed in February 1998 with the debut of "Gil Gripper" (Scuba Diver) and "Rocky Canyon" (Mountain Ranger).  Behind them came "Cliff Hanger" (Air Rescue Specialist) and "Jake Justice" (Motorcycle Police Officer).
       When Mattel's Fisher-Price division launched the Rescue Heroes, they employed Dr. Janice Cohn to help them.  She is a child psychotherapist and author of Raising Compassionate, Courageous Children in a Violent World.
       The $25-billion-a-year toy industry was given a boost after September 11 when Fisher-Price's Rescue Heroes sales rocketed.   According to the Toy Industry Association, Billy Blazes and his buddies helped catapult the action figure category to a 36.2 percent increase for 2001, driving sales for action figures alone to over $1.6 billion.

    Chuck Scothon, senior vice president of marketing for Fisher Price says the Rescue Heroes were questioned when they were introduced because they don't follow the historic pattern of action figure toys in the struggle of good versus evil.   "Where's the evil?" chimed one critic.   Scothon and Fisher-Price were betting on a "positive toy for mom to be excited about."  Instead of defeating others, the Rescue Heroes' mission is to save others.  "We set up emergency scenarios such as fires or floods or cats trapped in trees that children must use their imagination to solve," he said.
      Rescue Heroes fly in the face of GI Joes and Max Steel, good vs. evil action figures. 
      Ironically, Billy Blazes Firefighter, was designed after New York City's Firefighters in 1997.   It wears the exact uniform of FDNY firefighter.  

      "Little did we know how poignant this symbol of dedication and spirit of New York firefighters would become," says Neil Friedman, Fisher-Price president.
       The company's executive vice president for design and marketing, Jerry Perez, says: "We've all been caught by surprise by the profile of the FDNY in the common consciousness. The thing we're proudest of is that the Fisher-Price FDNY relationship didn't begin on 11th September."   However, post 9-11, the company produced a special  Billy Blazes Firefighter with FDNY emblazoned on the uniform and donated $1 million to the FDNY relief fund.
        I have a special kinship toward the Rescue Heroes.    Back five decades ago, mine was a Rescue Hero of another order--my Golden Arrow.   But he died an unpopular death, disappearing into the cracks of a world suddenly thrust into the Terrorism of nuclear war.
       I grew up as a child learning how to crawl under my desk and cover my neck when the air raid siren's wailed, and to imagine that "communists" were everywhere--my Terrorists of the Times.

       When I joined the U.S. Marine Corps in January 1964, it was to the beckoning of a recruiting poster that barked:  "We Make Men!"
        I wanted to be G.I. Joe, even though I'd never played with that exact toy.  I had grown up playing Cowboys and Indians, and playing "war."  

Model of P-51 Mustang

 My favorite was making airplane models from balsa wood, and my two most precious models were the P-51 Mustang, used in World War II,  and the F-86 Saber Jet, a Korean War U.S. fighter.
When I joined the Marine Corps, I missed a shot at being a pilot by one point, and never retook the test as I was asked to do.  I ended up being a GI Joe, fighting on the ground in over 100 combat missions.
       One might think I'd be a GI Joe fan, not a Rescue Hero advocate.   But time changes a man's sense of violence, his idea of Vigilance.
       As a mature man, a father and grandfather, I'm not big on teaching my grandchildren to "kill things."    Having killed, I wouldn't wish that action upon anyone.  
       That's why Rescue Heroes help me today see a more Vigilant world for the children of our society, and the world.    Traditional action figure toys were based on "good" versus "evil."  They justified killing.  They promoted Terrorism.

      In the Marines, I was trained to kill.    It was my mission.  Even though I was a U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent, my primary duty was to eliminate the enemy and anything that threatened our security without blinking an eye, and then to write about it, glorify it, legendize it.   I did both very well.
       Part of my "killing instinct," or, my "Terrorism Instinct," was founded in what I played as a child, what I imagined, what society expected out of a "manly boy."
       Today, I cringe when I see a child with a toy gun walking down the street shooting at people for "fun."  I saw a mother and young boy, maybe three, walking down the sidewalk.  He had a huge plastic "ray-like-gun" and was "zapping" people as he scooted by.
       On another occasion a friend of mine from California came to visit near Christmas with his wife and young son, about my grandson's age. When I stopped by the hotel to visit, the youngster had a pile of GI Joe's his dad had bought at FAO Schwarz, and was bombing and shooting and obliterating the "enemy."   Strangely, I didn't see a little boy playing, I saw a little beast learning to rip and shred other human beings.
        Terrorism has nefarious tentacles.   They can entwine a child's sense of compassion and choke away the idea of empathy toward others with a blood thirstiness of the most primal nature.    We don't see it happening.  It occurs in the quiet of a child's being as his or her parents sanction the "playing of violence."  
        My older daughter and her husband are pacifists--that is, they believe in non-violent confrontation.  They certainly aren't cowards.   They have been arrested numerous times for protesting violence.  My son-in-law was deported from El Salvador for standing up to the military who threatened to kill a host of villagers.  My daughter faced the barrel of Terrorist machine guns.    Pacifism doesn't mean Complacency.   It means, at least for them, a non-violent household.   They don't allow violent toys, or toys with guns, or swords, or the playing of "killing" by their children.

ROGER'S Message to Kids: There’s no "I" in team. It’s all about "WE". Everyone has a job to do. And when you work as a team, there’s no limit to what you can achieve together. So when the mission is completed, you can all be proud to say, "We

       Paradoxically, our other daughter is a federal law enforcement special agent.  She works under cover, and carries two 9mm Glocks, constantly facing danger with her weapons loaded and ready if necessary.
       Even she, who lives by the gun night and day, doesn't endorse the teaching of violence in children through the use of toys or "killing games."
       Rescue Heroes toys move our children to a higher level of Vigilance.   Instead of triggering the desire within us all to be "violent," the toys remind a child and the parents of a child about the Power Of Vigilance. 
       That power is about helping rather than hurting others.  It is about thinking of others first, and being Courageous enough to fly into the face of fury to "save others."  

WENDY'S Message to Kids: You can do anything! If you believe in yourself and you’re willing to work hard, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish—from getting good grades in school to becoming an astronaut...or a firefighter!

        Our grandson and granddaughter have over seventeen Rescue Heroes.   Fisher-Price includes Wendy Waters and Ariel Flyer for girls, a female firefighter and veterinarian respectively, and Aidan Assist EMT who is confined to a wheelchair but can help save anyone a child's imagination can put in peril.
        Wherever we go, Matt, 6, is conjuring up some scenario where he is Jake Justice (Policeman) or Bill Barker (ATV Patrolman) or Cliff Hanger (Hang Glider) and dishes out to me that I am Matt Medical Doctor, or Sandy Beach (Lifeguard) or Bob Buoy (Coast Guard) or Sam Sparks (Firefighter) and we have to rescue people or put out fires, or use the EMV (Earth Moving Vehicle) or call upon Swoops (Rescue Eagle) or employ Smokey (Firedog) or Claude (Mountain Lion) to help us safely transport the "hurt" to safety.
       In a world riddled with Terrorism of both Emotional and Physical threat, I find it refreshing to play Rescue Heroes with my grandchildren.   I am taken back to my own Rescue Heroes days when I was Golden Arrow, saving the world.
       I'm glad that the September 11th generation of children have an option other than GI Joe-type toys.  
        The formula for Vigilance  comprises Courage, Conviction and Right Action.   Rescue Heroes toys promote that concept.   
       Violence based toys, in my opinion, further Terrorism.   They could teach a child to "kill" or "hurt" or "maim."   Terrorism's formula is Fear plus Intimidation equals Complacency.   We fight others out of fear, we often are driven to it by intimidation, and ultimately, we justify our violent actions by being Complacent that "good" must conquer "evil," and make the world a black and white arena in which a child must choose between the sword or nothing.
        But that's not the case.   A child can learn to choose between "saving" and "killing."  A child can learn that there are grey areas between the blacks and whites of society and peoples--they are Compassion, or Empathy or simply just Caring.

       As Parents of Vigilance, Citizens of Vigilance, Loved Ones of Vigilance, we can ill afford to trigger the "Beast of Terror" in our children.   All humans are born with the natural instinct toward violence--it is our link with our primal nature.
       But Vigilance is something that needs to be nurtured, trained, molded.  
       Our pacifist daughter knows when her children are at school, or unattended by parents or grandparents, they can chose to be Terrorists or Sentinels of Vigilance.   If they so elect, they can play "war," and "shoot people," and do what most kids do when they play.  But, they can be restrained from that violent nature within us by examples from their home.   They can talk their friends into playing Rescue Heroes instead of war or battles that maim, hurt or otherwise diminish another's human value. I recall my grandson telling his friends to play in Winnie the Pooh's  'Hundred Acre Woods' instead of the Power Rangers battlefield.

       Rescue Heroes are, ultimately, our Sentinel of Vigilance toys.   They are at our disposal to help us teach children their imaginations can be directed toward the preservation of human dignity, not the elimination of it.
       If you are a parent, a grandparent, a loved one, stop by a toy store and get a couple of Rescue Heroes and take them home.   Before you give them to the child, play with them yourself.   See if you can enjoy the imagination of a child, if you can break through the barriers of your own years of black and white thinking, and soar on the wings of Swoops the rescue eagle to some mountain top where people are stranded by a fierce winter storm, or, become Al Pine, Arctic Hero and smash through the ice with your moveable ice hammer to release a family of cub bears trapped there, or call on Buster, Bill Barker's pet dog to run alongside your ATV as you rush to take the wounded to the medical center where Jake Justice awaits with Matt Medical Doctor and his Jaws of Life to lift the victims in his 2-in-1 Ultra Light vehicle to the regional medical facility. Perhaps the entire family would enjoy playing the Rescue Heroes  "Pet Rescue Game'.

            Then compare that use of the imagination to the killing of the "enemy" by GI-Joe, or the blasting of a toy tank against enemy positions, or the taste of blood as a World Wrestling Federation figure body slams the "bad guy" to the canvass.

        If our children are going to live in a world of Vigilance rather than Terrorism, which toys will best guide them to that end?   If what a child plays with is what a Parent of Vigilance, a Grandparent of Vigilance or a Loved One of Vigilance buys for them, or allows them to play with, then it is our duty to give them the ones that will make them evolve into the kinds of people they can be--Vigilant, not Terroristic, children of the future.
      Don't wait.  Go to Toys 'R Us today.

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