Like Toy Soldiers…

As I was doing research yesterday night for my entry on Somalia’s Tin Wars [1], I was struck by just how few references there were to warfare over tin (despite its prominence in the current events of Somalia and the history of Bolivia) and how many references there were to toy soldiers.  It was a curious irony to see the toys children use for play warfare to be the subject of such frequently unrecognized real life conflict.  As I have examined the real life conflict over tin in Bolivia and Somalia, I thought it worthwhile to examine the way in which tin is used in play, to make toy soldiers.

First, it appears as if Star Wars commemorative tins are very popular (I wouldn’t know–I have never looked for any), making it ironic that the making of such commercially viable goods itself often involves such fierce conflict.  Additionally, Civil War memorabilia made out of tin is also very popular, another sort of ironic way in which the civil war commemorated in the tin wars itself often involves the same sort of civil conflict in fights over mines.  The same is true of the Revolutionary War tins in light of the intramural fighting between neighbors of different political factions in Bolivia over tin mining.  Life is full of cruel ironies, I suppose.

The most striking irony, though, between the real life and imaginary tin wars is that there is an entire set of games that is called “tin war,” that, so far as I know, does not contain any fighting over tin but contains plenty of (imaginary) fighting pieces with tin soldiers in a computer game.  There are games for Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, though why a computer game would be called “tin soldiers” is a bit mysterious unless it seeks to draw a parallel between the computer game and the common childhood amusement of playing with miniature soldiers (which, I must admit, interested me very greatly as a kid).

It is a bit puzzling how come the parallel between fighting real battles and fighting with toy soldiers is such a rare one in the popular culture.  Perhaps most people who buy products are not aware or interested in the history of what went into the production of what they bought.  Such a connection would make the reality of the gathering of natural resources a subject of great knowledge, with people taking personal responsibility for what they buy, and from whom.  An informed person can make better decisions that are more in line with their beliefs than someone who is ignorant of the world around them.

In this context of widespread unawareness, it is perhaps noteworthy that the relationship between human beings and toy soldiers has been noted in popular songs by two musicians, Martika and Eminem.  Martika’s biggest hit (she is falsely considered a one-hit wonder) drew heavy popularity in part from its ambiguous lyrics that appeared to be about both attraction to an abusive bad-boy as well as an anti-drug message (“only emptiness remains, it replaces our other pain”) over the danger of used syringes to children [2].  Ironically enough, Eminem’s song, which references Martika’s, brings the picture full circle by comparing toy soldiers to the real killing that has marred the rap community, where rivalries between rappers and their associates has turned violent [3].  The fact that tin toy soldiers can be used as a symbol for very real conflicts in a variety of ways makes it a poignant symbol of conflict and hostility, whether one is fighting over mines, a child imagining warfare in your mind, or a rapper trying to keep one’s struggles with others from leading to actual violence.  Either way, we are all a little bit like toy soldiers.




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, International Relations, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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