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Toon Zone Top 5 Ways "G.I. Joe" Was (and Is) Ahead of History

by on July 15, 2009

To commemorate the return of G.I. Joe to DVD, thanks to Hasbro and the Shout! Factory, Toon Zone presents our next Top 5 list: the top 5 ways that G.I. Joe was (or still is) ahead of history. Face front, strap on your K-pots, check your gear, stow that tongue firmly in cheek, and lock and load! Yo, Joe!

(And click on any image to enlarge.)

1. Get Joint
The problem is that Googling SOCOM now turns up a bunch of stuff for that damn PlayStation game“Joint” military operations are defined as those spanning multiple branches of the armed forces: Army ground forces supported by Navy aviation resources, for example. One of the first effective joint commands in the United States military is the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM, sometimes abbreviated to SOCOM), created by Congressional fiat in 1986. While Army dominates numerically with units like the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Special Forces (a.k.a. the Green Berets), and Civilian Affairs and Psychological Operations brigades, SOCOM draws its forces from units across all branches of the military, such as the Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams; the Air Force Special Operations Wings and Special Tactics Squadrons; units from the newly formed Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC); and a handful of other units that SOCOM would really rather not talk about.

The formation of SOCOM was the result of several prominent failures in joint operations, primarily the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw in Iran in 1980 and the public victory/private SNAFU that was the invasion of Grenada in 1983. SOCOM was essentially forced on Pentagon leadership, many of whom did not understand or believe in the value of special operations forces or in the inherently joint command structure the new organization would require. Luckily, the organization survived until its first large-scale, public success toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Today, SOCOM remains at the tip of the spear in the ongoing war on terrorism, at least partially because it ensures that units from multiple branches of the military will train and fight together for maximum effectiveness more than most conventional units do (which, to be fair, are also more joint than they have been in the past).

Anecdotally, many who serve in SOCOM say that they feel closer to their fellow operators in SOCOM than they do with members of their own branch of the military, the usual inter-service ribbing aside. Many old SOCOM hands like to say that they were joint before joint was cool, but G.I. Joe was presenting successful joint special operations way back in 1983, a month before the invasion of Grenada. Like SOCOM, the Joes are dominated by the Army, but the earliest episodes of the show still made room for Navy SEAL Torpedo, Air Force pilot Ace, and the lovable Cajun Marine Gung-Ho. Like their real-world counterparts in SOCOM, the Joes also enjoy relaxed grooming and uniform standards, and seem to hold the same casual attitude towards rank. Admittedly, all of the Joes seem to be experts in whatever the cartoon needed them to do at any given time, making the need for joint ops kind of irrelevant, and to describe their military tactics as “unsound” would be extremely kind. Still, they were a cohesive unit demonstrating inter-service exemplary coordination and cooperation a good 3 years before anyone forced anything similar on the real military.

2. Let the Ladies Get Some
Unfortunately, Cover Girl's change in hair color also resulted in a drastic loss of speech, tooAlthough the ranks of female combat pilots is slowly growing, Congressional decree currently reqires that female servicemembers be kept out of “combat” roles, preventing them from serving in the infantry, artillery, armor, and special forces. However, the blurred lines in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan have meant that women can engage the enemy under fire no matter what role they are in. In fact, the general doctrines and tactics of of the weaker side in asymmetrical warfare make “rear echelon” supply and support units prime targets, since disrupting them can blunt general military operations of the more powerful opponent quite effectively.

The Joes either do not have such gender-specific restrictions or they ignore them. Joes like Scarlett, Lady Jaye, and Cover Girl were never on the team just to fill some affirmative action quota. As a rule, they’re just one of the guys, proving themselves to be the equal or better of any other Joe in the field, which is ultimately the only gauge that should matter. Given the accomplishments of women servicemembers like the Lioness teams in Iraq, along with reports of a “Funny Platoon” of women serving on the “black” side of SOCOM, it’s time that the United States military followed the Joes’ lead and lifted the remaining restrictions on women serving in the military. If a woman can meet or exceed the standards required to serve in a front-line combat unit, they should be eligible to join it.

And while we’re at it, putting someone as flagrantly gay as Torpedo in the show also revealed that G.I. Joe was well ahead of the curve in letting homosexuals serve in uniform openly. No matter why “they don’t call [him] Torpedo for nothing,” he’s clearly terrific at his job and the Joes would be poorer for his absence.

3. Develop Advanced Non-Lethal Weapons Technology
Weapon of Pinniped Destruction!Although most of the R&D dollars go to bigger, badder bangs that kill more people faster, the military has a real interest in non-lethal weapons technology, especially with increasing roles in peacekeeping and nation building and the general principle that using lethal force during counter-insurgency operations can backfire very easily. Some relatively recent examples of non-lethal military systems include the fearsome-sounding Active Denial System, a.k.a. “The Pain Ray;” trained sea-borne mammals like sea lions and dolphins to capture would-be underwater saboteurs; a surprisingly wide array of weapons designed to cause people to pee, puke, or poop themselves; a bomb that essentially encases an attacker in styrofoam; amnesia gas; and the Gay Bomb, which would trigger widespread homosexual behavior among the enemy to disrupt discipline and morale. Thankfully, that last one never made it out of the proposal stage, although many of the others don’t seem to have fared much better in development. The only wacky non-lethal that seems to have taken root are genuine, honest-to-goodness sonic cannons that generate ear-splitting noises and used effectively in the field at least once to drive off a band of Somali pirates.

Again, however, we see that G.I. Joe was well ahead of history in developing entirely non-lethal weapons systems, going so far as to deploy them throughout the organization. How else can one explain a “daring, highly trained special missions force” that expends hundreds of rounds of ammunition during their firefights, destroying planes and vehicles consistently and shooting guns shot out of people’s hands, but where nobody in the entire outfit seems able to hit a man-sized target center-mass at any range? Luckily, Cobra seems to have also adopted (or perhaps stole) this non-lethal weapons technology, resulting in large, loud, and protracted firefights which cause a lot of property damage but no casualties. If real-world militaries all did the same, perhaps we’d be better off.

4. Arm the Robots
These are the Joes’ P.A.C.K.Rat robots, deploying during “The Revenge of Cobra” (click to play):

This is a picture of MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), the latest version of a remote-controlled ground-based weapons platform, which was actually sent to Iraq for field testing in 2007:

Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply.

Coincidence, or is there a closet G.I. Joe fan somewhere in the bowels of R&D at Foster-Miller? Who knows? Either way, both G.I. Joe and Cobra were arming remote-controlled drones and self-propelled robots two decades before the first effective use of drones in combat in the skies over Afghanistan, and is still ahead of the curve in deploying armed ground-based robotic forces. Then again, considering that the initial tests of armed robots didn’t really go all that well, maybe that’s for the best.

5. Put the Woman with Eyeglasses and a Rifle into a Leadership Position

Despite what it might look like, this is not intended as a Republican joke. Honest.

This article is affectionately dedicated to America’s real G.I. Joes: the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen (and airwomen!) serving the nation in uniform. Read the Toonzone review of the G.I. Joe Season 1.1 DVD boxed set here.

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