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War Toys boycott gaining support

Janina Barrett — December 1984

Those of us working in the War Toy Boycott Campaign are often asked, Why a military war toy boycott? What has that really got to do with the peace issue?

We believe that the condoning of military toys in our society prepares children to accept aggression and violence as “approved” ways of dealing with conflicts. The Hasbro-Bradley G.I. Joe toy provides an excellent example. The G.I. Joe “action” toy (not doll ~ the toy industry says dolls are for girls — boys play with “action” or “fantasy” toys) was first introduced in 1964 and then retired in the mid-seventies.

It has been said that the reason for this decision was poor sales due to a lack of popularity in the pacifist/cleaning period during and after the Vietnam war conflict. HasbroBradley denies this and credits the decision to “cost” problems as the reason it was taken off the market.

However, G.I. Joe was reintroduced into the marketplace for the first time in seven years, in 1983, and is selling phenomenally well (10-12 million figures were sold in 1983, with a projected 1984 revenue of $125 million.)

Industry spokespeople attribute the revived growth in sales to the “changed mood” in the country. Alan Hassenfeld, Executive Vice-president of Hasbro-Bradley, dubbed “the marketer many credit, or blame, for almost singlehandedly reviving the military toy category” by the trade publication Advertising Age, has said that “America changed a great deal around the time of the Iran hostage crisis. People started having feelings of patriotism. They started thinking, if we want to be free maybe we’ll have to defend ourselves and what we believe.” It was at this time, he says, that Hasbro decided to bring back G.I. Joe.

Despite the fact that these toys raise very clear political issues, the industry defends them as a reflection of society. In fact, the Christmas after the Grenadian invasion HasbroBradley “air-lifted” 35 thousand of their toys into Grenada and you can be sure one of their best sellers, G.I. Joe “the freedom fighter against terrorism” was among them.

The Alliance for Non-Violent Action (ANVA) started a boycott against military toys last spring. Since then many peace, church, women and school groups have felt it was time for a concentrated campaign against the acceptance of war toys and all of their implications. One of those groups, the Cruise Missile Conversion Project (CMCP) decided to hire a co-ordinator for the Toronto area boycott, to work under the umbrella of the ANVA campaign through this Christmas.

Unfortunately, the ANVA campaign has run out of funds. This means there is no money to get badly needed broadsheets from the printer. or to put together either organizing or press kits in any number, all of which are essential to the effectiveness of this campaign.

Nevertheless, the Toronto area campaign has been picking up momentum. It was a presence in both the Peace Petition Caravan march and the Santa Claus Parade. The same group of individuals that participated in the parade last year made an appearance again this year. Dressed as clowns and carrying balloons, they handed out leaflets urging people not to buy military toys because “war is not a game.”

The Toronto campaign has been getting tremendous press, including an article in a major daily newspaper, representation on a local TV talk show entirely devoted to the issue, and many radio interviews, some local (CFNY, Q107) and some much farther away (Kelowna, BC; Palm Springs, Florida).

For the immediate future some literature, buttons and resource materials are still available, and leafletting outside the Bay complex (Bloor & Yonge) and the Eaton’s Centre (Dundas & Yonge) is planned for every Saturday from now until Christmas.

To obtain more information or to help with the boycott campaign, please call Janina Barrett at xxx-xxxx, or the CMCP office at xxx-xxxx, or write: War Toy Boycott Campaign, c/o 730 Bathurst St.. Toronto, Ont. M5W 2P6.