In a bizarre crossover event that absolutely nobody asked for, the United States Marine Corps, United States Army, and the FBI have secured booths at Anime NYC. This is incredibly abnormal; the overwhelming majority of booths are, understandably, anime-related. There are some things with only a passing connection to the industry, such as anime-inspired art and booths from companies and individuals involved with animation writ large. Government agencies are of course privy to seeking recruitment opportunities all over the place, especially places likely to have large amounts of younger people and adults. United States schools, for example, often will host military recruiters and those same recruiters will be stationed at a school for months or years at a time with the goal of cultivating relationships with the students. The same is likely true for the military here in a more localized fashion; the goal is to ingratiate themselves with fans by providing an experience thematically similar to some of the booths focused on action anime.
While the FBI rather sneakily has no online description for its booth, the Marines and Army do. The Marine Corps’ booth invites anime fans to compete in a “battle dome” and speaks to people who have “the perseverance, will to win and indomitable fighting spirit” they’re looking for. The Army invites people to meet with “like-minded Army personnel who share a passion for anime” and learn what the Army can offer them. In both cases the clear goal is recruitment, but the especially insidious angle is using themes that resonate specifically with anime fans.
This, in my opinion, is incredibly disgraceful. Even if it is the case that anime fans serve in the armed forces, and that many anime have military themes, using that as the basis for recruitment obfuscates and glamorizes the actual actions of the actual military. The United States actively supports many armed conflicts and destabilization efforts around the world. Irrespective of whether you think they are right or wrong to do that, dressing it up as a super fun thing on the level of a Shonen Jump title is incredibly disingenuous. The United States at this very moment is continuously enabling genocide in Gaza while keeping its metaphorical and literal boots on the necks of the Global South; this is not the kind of presence to have at an anime convention.
Predatory Recruitment – Fun for All Ages
One of the biggest issues with this is access. On the whole, Anime NYC historically attracts upwards of fifty thousand people (55,000 in 2022), likely to be even closer to sixty thousand if the event grows consistently into this weekend. Like New York Comic Con, fans have to wait for hours to even pick up their badges on day one, with some showing up as early as 7 am on the first day to be first to enter at 2 pm that afternoon. People of all ages are allowed at the convention. Those under the age of 6 don’t even need a badge and attend for free. Children under 10 are required to have an adult with them but all older than 10 can come unsupervised. And indeed, it is incredibly common to see groups of teens dress up as their favorite characters and come as a group to conventions like this, especially in New York City where those not old enough to drive can easily get around the city.
The United States is historically one of the only major world powers to not adequately safeguard children and minors from being subjected to excessive voluntary military recruitment efforts. Our federal government quite literally requires that all military recruiters have access to national public high school data specifically for aggressive recruitment. This is and always has been a militarized form of predatory grooming, normalizing the presence of the military in children’s lives by painting a warm picture of conflict for them at a time when their brains are still developing. It’s much easier to approach a 14-year-old about joining a rifle training course when the members all all high school classmates and the coach is a JV coach. Young soldiers consistently have some of the worst health outcomes from military service despite high rates of recruitment, including alcohol and substance abuse, PTSD, and depression, as high as 60% more often than older soldiers during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This “battle dome” is the ultimate form of a lieutenant coaching a high school soccer team. It invites children of all ages, many unsupervised by either a parent or a teacher, to have “the armed forces are fun and only fun” injected into their minds right after they finish doing other fun things at the nearby booths. The United States and Somalia are the only two countries not to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which would ban this practice entirely. It is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the entire world.
The Military and Manufactured Consent for Genocide at Anime NYC
Manufactured consent is an important concept to understand. In brief, it involves the consent of the governed, which is the idea that a government’s right to use (often violent) power is made legitimate by its people consenting to that right, and how that consent is gained. In the US, consent is often manufactured by printing propaganda on news, social media, and elsewhere that induces people into backing something via the control of information. An example of this is convincing the American people to support a war by painting the target of that war as aggressive, anti-American, and evil needing to be stopped.
A similar process is at play here. The United States military (all of its constituent parts) is actively supporting and condoning the genocide of the Palestinian people by Israel in Gaza. All legal frameworks for genocide describe it as acts with the intent to eradicate, in whole or in part, national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Collective punishment, forced displacement, and imposing heinous conditions of life on that group are characteristics of an apartheid regime committing genocide. All are present in Gaza and have been present for decades.
The only way that such atrocities continue is when the United States convinces its people that such actions are just and continuously recruits people who are willing to say the same. Having the military so blatantly try to inculcate people into a mindset of militarism with so few safeguards is absolutely sickening. Thousands of people across America, including in New York City, have joined protests aiming to raise awareness and communicate the imperative-to-understand layers to the disaster occurring in Gaza. Inviting someone to have fun with the Marine Corps in the same way they’d have fun with a Naruto game absolutely should not happen. They have no place here.
Featured image: Attack on Titan Final Season Opening
©Hajime Isayama, Kodansha/”ATTACK ON TITAN” The Final Season Production Committee