Army Considering Fort Belvoir Amusement Park

Living as I do very near Fort Belvoir, I read with interest this morning’s A1 piece in WaPo about the Army’s plans to build a giant amusement park and hotel complex in land owned by the base.

Army officials say they are considering allowing a private developer to build a 125-acre entertainment, hotel and conference center complex next to a national Army museum at Fort Belvoir that could draw more than 1 million people a year to traffic-choked southern Fairfax County. The possibility of adding what county officials call a military theme park arises as about 22,000 employees prepare to be transferred to Fort Belvoir in the next five years because of the federal base realignment and closure recommendations, designed to save $49 billion nationwide.

Having little to say about it aside from grumbling about not needing the added traffic–something only readers who live nearby would possibly care about–I decided it wasn’t worth blogging about. Oddly, however, a minor blogswarm is developing on the left side of the blogosphere.

Steve Benen, among the handful of left-bloggers I consider regular must-reads, writes that, in addition to the traffic issue,

[T]here’s also the question of taste. Particularly in a time of war, combat is a serious matter, not an amusement-park simulation. Those who are brave enough to wear the uniform and put their lives on the line aren’t characters in some kind children’s entertainment show.

I’m no expert, but theme-parks are about amusement, leisure, and fantasy. Is it me, or does military service not fit in with this description at all?

First Draft’s scout_prime skips the serious analysis and posits, “In a neo con world of continuous war I guess this will be necessary to capture the minds of our youth as early as possible. But need I even say this is just sick…”

Wonk engages in what one presumes is levity:

Following closely on the heels of the forthcoming upgrade of the Vietnam Memorial (“frag” your parents with authentic wacky paintball rifle!), the Army is pleased to announce that to pay for its somber, Medal of Honor-shaped national museum at Fort Belvoir, it will have to contract some hucksters to build a theme park.

Writing at HuffPo, Robert Weissman takes it several steps further:

This business of making military combat seem fun and a game — no small thing with dying and wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq, but assisted by the Bush administration’s efforts to block media coverage of the caskets — is no small thing.

Of course, the amusement park is unlikely to mention that one in six soldiers seeing combat in Iraq are coming home with serious mental health problems.

It’s not likely to play up the likelihood of getting injured or killed.

Nor is it likely to depict how military service — especially, but not only, in pursuit of unjust objectives — can be dehumanizing, and lead otherwise good people to commit atrocities. (About which, be sure not to miss Sunday’s Los Angeles Times extraordinary story on declassified Pentagon papers showing that U.S. atrocities went far beyond My Lai.)

And I guess it’s fair to assume the theme park wouldn’t plan to have booths from those who might convey an honest assessment of military service, like Citizen Soldier.

The amusement park, if it does get built, will instead help romanticize war. In our class-riven society, that’s a doubly dangerous thing.

Such romanticization fits right into the schemes of deception used by military recruiters as they target minority, working class and rural kids for military service.

Even aside from the fact that military recruits have more education and come from wealthier social backgrounds than their civilian peers and that black and Hispanic soldiers are disproportionately not serving in the Infantry, this argument is rather illogical.

For one thing, we already have plenty of toys, games, and other amusements that glorify warfare. Haven’t these people heard of G.I. Joe? Or video games? Or John Wayne movies? How about air shows? Or, hell, the Hummer (Note to Wonkette readers: I refer here to the sport-utility vehicle.)?

Moreover, the proposed park would be aimed at visitors to the National Army Museum, to which this would be an adjunct. Presumably, the kind of folks who would be inclined to drive out to Fort Belvoir and visit an Army museum would be, well, interested in the Army. Such a museum would, if like any other similar one I’ve visited, have numerous static displays of tanks, weapons, Jeeps, and the like for visitors. It strikes me as perfectly natural that they would make the visit both more educational and more enjoyable by allowing people (presumably, adults or at least licensed drivers, for safety and liability reasons) to drive some of the vehicles.

Are those complaining about this alleged “glorification” of war concerned about the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds traveling to sporting events and air shows wowing impressionable youngsters with the sexier side of the military? Including, often, allowing kids to crawl around disabled versions of their planes and sit in the cockpit?

For that matter, how about those military bands going around giving free concerts at schools, conventions, and other places where they might give impressionable youngsters the idea that all soldiers ever do is play catchy tunes on the trumpet? Scandalous, I tell you!

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Are those complaining about this alleged “glorification” of war concerned about the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds traveling to sporting events and air shows wowing impressionable youngsters with the sexier side of the military?

    Uh, yes, they are.

    Please don’t tell them that DOD (Army is the executive) runs three world-class resorts, one in Germany, one at Disney World, the other on prime real estate at Waikiki.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Sigh…I recall when there used to be THREE world class resorts in Germany. There’s also the nice hotel in downtown Tokyo…

    But seriously, my beef would be that the government is giving government land to a private business to develop the park, presumably to run as a private for-profit enterprise?

    If they’re expecting 3 million visitors annually, then the traffic situation around the springfield “mixing bowl” interchange is going to become very interesting with the tourist traffic mixing with the commuters. I’m glad I don’t live near that part of the county.

  3. JKB says:

    Sounds like a great idea to me. Playing Army is fun for kids. Except for painting the rides camouflage and adding explosion sounds, little would be different from other parks. The parachute ride will still take you up and drop you, the roller coaster would still take you for a thrill ride. It seems the thought that someone might actually see the Army as anything but bad is the problem some are having with this. Let’s face kids, even today, play army, not angry intellectual. Or at least the kids of people who would visit the National Army Museum play army.

    If you want to dissuade kids from glorifying war, let ’em play paintball war. Nothing like finding out how painful little balls of paint are when your hit to make you appreciate not having lead shot at you.

    Of course, there is always the risk that some small percentage of visitors will decide to test their metal serving their country when they come of age. But, you know, there’s risk in everything.

    As for traffic, it could be part of the development project to improve the traffic and access in the area. This is common for a developer to contribute to the infrastructure to support their project.

  4. DC Loser says:

    As for traffic, it could be part of the development project to improve the traffic and access in the area. This is common for a developer to contribute to the infrastructure to support their project


    Obviously you don’t live in DC.