This the last research paper I worked on in college. I am very proud of it. I hope you enjoy it.

Video Games as a Recruitment Tool for the Military


“Sergeant Anyett didn’t want to wait. . . . A dozen loud booms rattle the sky and smoke rose as mortars rained down on the co-ordinates the sergeant had given. ‘Battle Damage Assessment – nothing. Building’s gone. I got my kills, I’m coming down. I just love my job’ . . . Lt. Jack Farley, a US Marines officer, sauntered over to compare notes with the [US Army] Phantoms. ‘You guys get to do all the fun stuff. It’s like a video game.”

(Marcus Powers Digitized Virtuosity: Video War Games and Post-9/11 Cyber-Deterrence)


Videogames have become a big recruitment tool for the military due the overwhelming need for the populace to be entertained and for the military to fill up their personal quota for recruitment. This may sound like the United States military has solved their issue of recruitment but sadly these practices have been tied to massive secondary problems for the military like suicide and poor soldiering skills. While the military for the most part, has not diagnosed the problem, they have dumped millions of dollars into training what they consider to be the elite soldiers. Their aim has been to create a soldier that has the mental make up to go to war. [1]

A soldier who can be used as a tool for the military, a tool that can be shown to others as what the military stands for, a rugged shoot the enemy down blindly model, however friendly fire has increased over the same time period. The military has deemed the actions of friendly fire as only a small few bad apples, much as they have described the torturers at Abu Ghraib, however nothing could be further from the truth as the new soldiers have been shown to be slower, lazier but carrying high self-confidence and the ability to zone in on a target quickly as though winning some kind of imaginary trophy that the game provides, but reality does not. While the military is convinced that with these games they are making better soldiers, the reality is that they are being offered recruits with bad habits formed due to the games that they play, the same games that military helps create.

With games like America’s Army, Full Spectrum Warrior and Call of Duty, the military has attempted to create an environment where the potential recruit believes in the myth of the military. Film critic Michael Medved in an article published in the USA Today specifically stated “Will computer games win the war on terrorism?”[2]

Essentially the military has spent more money on recruits per soldier than any other time in United States history; they have created a money pit with the United States tax dollar that will never end. They are receiving far less in a return for their investment than a banker would on a loan default. They continuously invest in video games, movies and commercials to no end. At this point if people do not know that the United States has a military that you can join then the potential recruit should not be able to join based on their own ignorance, but maybe that is a recruit that the military would like, then the myth would still be intact.

This research is broken down further into three categories. The first category that will be examined will be that of Societal, or how videogames can be viewed as a cultural social event with many people gathering in order to formulate their strategy or to maneuver through a deceptive mine field.  While this strategy can sometimes be seen as a part of “pop-culture” it can also be seen as a direct influence on how people make friends or associates and how they view themselves through the game itself. Meaning that the normal category of “gamer” describes an out of shape unemployed loner who finds his virtual friends online.

The second research category will be that of political, or more specifically how these games create political influence by feeding into the stereotype of neo-conservatives who believe in a first strike impulse in regards to forging the war on terror or any state viewed as an enemy by the United States. While this tactic may initially show little tie-in with recruiting practices, the neo-conservative movement has been shown to create a whirlwind of support when foreign policy and videogames are concerned.

The third and final approach will be that of economical, or more specifically how video-game manufacturers and the United States military systematically create these games to convince their target audience of the importance of a strong military and the secondary importance of strong political posture. While the belief that video-game distributors would have created these games without the help of the United States military can be partially claimed, the United States military also holds a strong lobbying power for how the games are designed and how the United States soldier is shown, in regards to heroes or villains.

Video games and the usage of World War Two as an inspirational tool – (Societal)

World war II has been viewed by many as the last “good war” that the United States fought in, although if you ask any soldier of world war II “good war” is not how they would describe it. President Bush and others have viewed World War II as a massive credibility or a blank check that allows them to be viewed as cultural and societal heroes to the populace. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Roger Stahl argues that in 2000, Sony, the makers of the Playstation 2 had a concern, their concern boiled over into a problem when the Japanese government equated the power of their new console (PS2) to the power a “guided missile system.” While Sony attempted to dissuade the Japanese government of such charges, eventually they were specific export controls placed on the company and a Trade Control Law was placed. This case is very important due to it being the first time that a gaming system had regulations placed on it due to it being as perceived part of the problem.[3]

Since 2000 video consoles have been created that are far more powerful than Sony’s Playstation 2, for example the XBOX 360, the Playstation 3, and computer games boast far more computing power than that of Sony’s Playstation 2. The growing popularity of these gaming consoles are concerning for a number of reasons. “It has been estimated that 75% of United States households play digital games, with 228 digital games sold in 2005 alone.”[4] While this number may not seem to concerning averaging two games per household, the games that people play is where the concerning begins. [5]

Call of Duty, Full Spectrum Warrior, America’s Army, Desert Tank, Real War, Medal of Honor, D-Day, Battle-Zone, Black ops, Close Combat: first to fight, Virtual Battle space, and Half-Life are only a handful of the games that are currently on the market. These games bring people together in society as a part of a new kind of civilian life, a life that the industry sees as beneficial to the masses, but what came first the military mindset of the individual that plays the game or the game itself. In other words, was the market for these games already in place before the games came about or did the industry create the market? [6]

Aside from individual companies seeking profit, digital war games have become the standard on which most companies want to establish themselves. They have the gamer hooked on shooting and killing and the gamer wants to shoot and kill more and more as their individual score reaches higher and higher and if in the game the gamer dies, well he will just be placed in the last position where he was alive.

These games represent a military fantasy where the player is always the hero and never the bad guy, unless he chooses to play that way. It creates the ability for the military to tap into the subconscious of the game players while designing potential recruits for the military and the military agrees. The military has since 1970 recognized game play as helpful to military strategy and while initially teaching chess to officers it has since transformed their tactics into military game play, recently using game play to teach mentally askew patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder how to course correct with video games, potentially being able to engage them in a war that they have just left from, but if the game depicts the real deployment than could all video game players suffer from the same mental anguish as real soldiers?[7]

In 2002, the military issued their first video game console simulating real world conflicts, the game released on July 4th, 2002 was the first of its kind to incorporate not just real looking video game play but a direct mirroring of a world conflicts as they unfolded. With updates to America’s Army you could take your team through the Afghanistan mountain side and engage the enemy in missions that the military had run in real life. By January 2007 America’s Army boasted eight million registered players world-wide. While most of the players were based in the United States foreign players were involved as well, which may create a national security problem.[8]

The military has also invested in 14,500 square foot arcade or “Army Experience Center” in the heart of Philadelphia, as a way to bring video game players and potential recruits to the military. While recruiters walk around the arcade and speak with gamers, they have one thing in mind; get them to sign on the line in which is dotted. Get them in the military and get them deployed. While these gamers, for the most part, view themselves as just that “gamers” and want very little to do with the military that is unless there is prize money for the winner of a massive tournament for America’s Army, such a tournament was devised in 2005, the winner of the ten thousand dollar prize immediately enlisted in the US Army. [9]

“……..America’s Army targets 13-to-21-year-olds. The T for Teen rating was attained because designers were, as one Army spokesman said in 2002, “very careful on the blood thing.” Designers emphasize the game’s realism, but the game is only realistic on a superficial level. Their conception of authenticity consists of realistic movement, gun clips that fall away at the right speed, and night vision goggles that make the same exact whir as the actual goggles do…..”[10]

Since the introduction to the public of the video game America’s Army many games have been backed and or designed by the military, the game Special Forces for example was specifically designed to encourage players to enlist and attempt to get into the special-forces, a task that is expensive to the military but always a top priority, especially since the recent Special Forces activity in regards to the death of Osama Bin Laden. The Special Forces game was handed out to high school students and potential recruits for months, before recruits that joined specifically for Special Forces spilled into the recruiter’s offices. The end result was a higher percentage of drop outs in the initial wave of selected soldiers. The turnout was higher but the amount of full trained soldiers that ended out Special Forces did not change. Thus the experiment did not create more soldiers just more expensive soldiers.[11]

With the lag time between the war as it occurs and the video game depicting the war becoming shorter and shorter we as a society have become tied to the real time war effort in the game and on the television, we have become a war like society surrounded by the idea, they production and the capacity to go to war on a drop of a hat whether it is a real war or a war based on a video game.

Another way of looking at the societal ramifications of video-games is through the lens of what we were and what we have become as Marcus Powers describes in Digitized Virtuosity: Video Games and Post 9/11 Cyber-Deterrence. Powers describes a deep military war machine that is placed in a bright light with a smile on the face of the military, a smile convincing others that the United States military is a great place to meet people and join teams. Powers continues by “mystifying the relationships between consumers, institutions and economies of violence.”[12] Meaning that the relationship between the consumer of the video-game and the manufacturer is that of shared love of the money and consumption, the manufacturer gives the consumer what they want because the consumer has been fed by the myth of the manufacture, the myth that the United States is the hero and the rest are enemies. This example can be viewed as the recent movement to “buy American.”



Video games and defense conservative political ideology (Political)

While games like America’s Army strike a chord with many gamers it also creates an atmosphere for political change within the society, while many gamers view themselves as loners or distant from the outside world, the military sees them as a potential political ambassadors to the military-industrial-complex. For example, if the gamer plays a War game, he or she will develop an aggressive posture towards the invasion of other countries based on the inherent game that would come from said invasion, this is the myth. What has actually happened is that the gamer is distant from the military and no matter how much money the military invests in the game; the gamer will join the military at the same percentage as it always has been. During times of popular war (9/11) recruitment went up, since 9/11 recruitment has been slowly dwindling.  Essentially the military has decided on a course of action and are going to follow through with said course of action no matter how long it takes or how much money it costs. [13]

In May of 2003, two weeks after President Bush flew a plane onto an aircraft carrier deeming “Mission Accomplished” Green Berets (Special Forces) performed a military exercise for the Los Angeles Electronic Entertainment Exposition, the military enlisted the assists of the Green Berets at a cost of $500,000, what did the Green Berets do for the expo? They repelled from helicopters and hung from military Humvees in order to show the great skill of the military and the great game that was America’s Army. [14]

Initially the game cost $7.5 million dollars to create and at a revolving fee of $4 million per year for server and game upkeep, the military has spent in excess of $30 million dollars on a video game to reach potential recruits. Recruits that have learned to shoot first and ask questions later. While these might seem attractive to a society that acknowledges the military it does not bring high value to the military as a whole.

Friendly fire since America’s Army has been released is up. Recruit drop out is up and the military as a whole has become less and less popular to college students in recent years. This has little to do with game play as game play has increased since 2003. In fact a correlation between game play and the low turn-out for enlistment could be made.[15]

Pat Tillman, a National Football League player quit the NFL in order to join the Army Rangers, while in a combat tour of Afghanistan he was killed by friendly fire. The military as a whole initially attempted to lie about said event. They initially said he was ambushed however, after many investigations the military have concluded that it was in fact friendly fire. While in Tillman’s case we cannot solely blame military war games, but being that the life of every soldier is precious due to the cost of the training and recruiting the end result should be the protection of the service member, alas the protection of the whole is greater than the sum in the case of Pat Tillman as the story created a media buzz, climaxing at a grand showing in front of a Congressional board whereas the Secretary of Defense (Rumsfield) declined to comment on the majority of the case and or decried that he never read emails tying the cover up to the case itself even though his emails were time stamped. [16]

The great tragedy here is that if the military is using the tax payers’ money to fund games that are creating bad habits for potential recruits than the tax payers are partially to blame as well.

As the government spends $15,000 per recruit, the military sees their investment as very minimal, meaning that they only need 300 recruits a year to recuperate their own costs of investment.[17] The United States military has also taken into account a survey conducted in May 2003 that asked the question “Does this game create a favorable awareness of the military?” The overwhelming answer was “yes.”

These games are not just limited to Expo’s in military engagement halls or recruiting stations. Because the games are mobile recruiters are going to high schools and technical colleges in order to bring the game to the user. For example in January 2003, a military recruiter brought a large number of gaming systems to a Kansas City technical college and had 120 players at a time interacting with each other on the America’s Army game, the results were festive and engaging however little came about it in regards to recruits signing up for the military. For the most part, the people who played the game had already played it before or had no real interest in enlisting in the military.[18]

Politically this type of exercise can be seen as a move in a direction towards military strike first capabilities or a military mind set, but for the military they are looking for recruits who fill a number for them. Meaning that each recruiter has a numerical value to achieve per month and it is of little interest to them how they get the recruit to sign on the dotted line. If the recruit has a clean record and can pass a drug test it matters very little to them how they perform overall in the military. This is the exact mindset that created the possibility for increased friendly fire and an aggressive posture to other countries.

In a war if friendly fire occurs, a soldier dies, in America’s Army if friendly fire occurs the soldier in the game is sent to Fort Leavenworth for a ten minute wait period. After ten minutes the lesson should be learned right?

The military has also ventured into contracting both in reality and in its video games, in 2008, the military helped fund a game designed by Electronic Artists called Army of Two. In the video game, the character is a military contractor called “Security and Strategy Corporation” a fictionalized version of Blackwater. In the game, the character is given missions by Untied States officers, the missions involve killing terrorist and hunting down weapons of mass destruction. The object of the game is to collect money. The more money you have the higher prestige in the game. [19]

While Blackwater was under investigation for the mass murder of 17 Iraqi civilians you would think that military inspired games would have regressed in sales, however there was a huge spike in sales while at the same time Blackwater faced these charges. As a matter of fact the game Army of Two had its greatest sales during the trial. [20]

The political ties run very deep as Neo-Conservatives push for more and more money for the military and the military is not going to ever say that the amount of money that they are awarded is too much, hence they create programs to spend money on, like video games. Sony went as far as attempting to trademark the phrase “shock and awe.”



Video games and the presentation of military force in a positive light – (Economical)

Economically the military spends millions of dollars chasing down recruits to fill the military. It has been attempted to perfect the practice over time but they have found little in regards to a trade surplus, they have in respect to a trade a massive, massive trade deficit. The more money they put into the system the less they get out of it. Economically it is a disaster.

An institute has even sprouted out from the relationship between the military and the gaming companies (designers) that create the games. The $45 million dollar, tax-payer funded ICT or Institute for Creative Technologies created a one step process from video games and the military. It side stepped the bureaucracy while capturing the imagination between gamer and recruit. Even if the ICT produces games that are not cutting edge the program will inevitably end out being solved by throwing more money at the problem, but money cannot solve an issue of such high importance, the issue of an ever present military dollar backing games that allow users to literally kill real world opponents.[21]

The ICT, also works with gaming manufacturers to create new version GI Joes with action figure arms and new uniforms that create a sensationalized military experience, bringing the gaming and the toys together in an industry that looks to create an atmosphere whereas joining the military is the norm not the exception.[22]

In December of 2003, the United States military captured Saddam Hussein, while his capture seemed like a natural process, the gaming world saw it as an opportunity to create a mission through America’s Army that created a module for searching for a Saddam Hussein like character. The scenario played out in a way that distance the real Saddam from the Saddam in the video game but essentially it was the same search mission.

In the game Conflict: Desert Storm, released in late 2002, a video was shown depicting a large number of terrorists, this was of course at the beginning of President Bush’s devised ‘war on terror,’ a mustached Saddam Hussein was the target and the invasion of Iraq was the objective. While the invasion would not occur for several months, the military viewed the game as a way of convincing the populace that Saddam Hussein was in fact a terrorist that the military should deal with appropriately. In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, military video game sales doubled and the tie between the military and recruits allowed the military to show positive results. [23]

As previously mentioned Sony attempted to trademark the saying or military slogan of “Shock and Awe” much like Disney has recently attempted to trademark “Seal Team 6,” while eventually Sony dropped the trademark request they did so only after they were deemed as attempting to intentionally turn war into a video game, apparently performing such a task and being charged with such a task are completely separate ideals.

Up to the point of attempting to trademark Sony had already made millions of dollars off of video games, they had partnered with the military on many of their games yet somehow the realization of partnering created an outcry with society and they dropped the trademark.

One of the biggest games for Sony in regards to sales is that of Modern Warfare which depicts soldiers performing tasks in a story mode or sharing cooperative stories with other people online. To date Modern Warfare is the number one selling game for Sony, creating an estimated one billion dollars for the company. Why would Sony quit now, if they make a high profit margin on the game and the military is assisting in paying for its design, it is a no brainer. In one hand take the money and in the other hand receive more money and if for some reason there is some kind of view of trademark infringement from the public you can pull the trademark request.[24]

The gaming community also views the difference between popular wars to invest in and wars that are not as popular, for example the number one depicted war game setting is World War II; the least depicted war time setting is Vietnam. While the video game manufacturers would like to make war games on Vietnam they are skeptical of its selling potential and the military as a whole has discouraged them from doing so by suggesting to not depict a war that was deemed as unpopular.

In September of 2002, during a press conference the White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card made reference to video game play and potential war by declaring that “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”[25] In the next few months the military was mobilized to Kuwait in an eventual invasion of Iraq.

The ties are even more apparent as the military has introduced a marriage to not just contractor in regards to depicting them in video games but also in partnering with them in regards to manufacturing. In a recent agreement between Lockheed Martin and Sega have teamed up to develop games for simulator software for the military. Sega creates the game and Lockheed Martin creates the artificial intelligence microchip for the game. The tax-payer pays not only for the military for training but for Lockheed Martin-Sega to design the game for the military soldiers to train on before combat. Even further down the rabbit hole games that are designed for mass consumption are then sold to the tax-payer and funded by the tax-payer. [26]

The military and their video game industry ties have even branched out to movies and novels as Tom Clancy has become the biggest author to catapult himself from a Novelist to a video game storyteller. Tom Clancy’s books have sold millions of copies in print and the video gaming industry as well as the movie industry has taken notice. With films like the Patriot Game and others, Clancy has become a cash crop for the movie industry and the video game industry wanted to be part of the network as well, hence new games designed from Clancy novels games called Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six (neatly disguised name for Seal Team six) have become hot sellers for the industry, an industry that sells to the highest bidder. If the gaming industry could sell space invaders at a massive scale they would back space invaders. The bottom line is that video games depicting war sell, they sell a lot and since the industry is based on making money why wouldn’t they want to make the most profit for their research and development? Financially, the gaming systems Playstation 3, Playstation 2, Xbox 360 and even recently the wii (Nintendo) have found a source for real revenue and they have chosen not to overlook it. They see the money ahead of them and cannot pass it up and you can’t blame them. They want to create an environment whereas they can make the highest profit margin. This is the same way that the car industry or other companies have based their values in. Create a product and then attempt to make the most profit out of that product.[27]




            In conclusion, we as American’s have funded these games and we have, for the most part, purchased these games. As a society you are what you spend your money on. For example, the majority of the spending in this country is on the military. If we have convinced each other that the military is what we want to spend our tax dollars on then we need to recognize that the military will do what is best for them, they will spend the money on research, development and chasing potential recruits. They are not going to give the money back with a note that reads “You gave us too much money.”  They are going to spend every single dollar that we provide them; in fact they are going to ask for more money after the initial money has run out, much like an out of control teenager with Mommy and Daddy’s credit card.

If we don’t decide that enough is enough in regards to war games than we are going to become what Eisenhower depicted as a “military-industrial-complex” a society that bases all of its decisions on imperialism and the complete spread of our forced democracy on other countries. We cannot afford to invade other countries. If they don’t want to be a democracy we should leave them alone. It has become more and more expensive to fund wars that are unnecessary, not only so we fund the wars but we fund the games that depict the wars, a trick that the military has perfected over time.

We should as a whole stop funding these wars and boycott video games that depict the killing of other human beings but for some reason we are stuck between the addictions that people have to video games and the mind altering dopamine that people feel when they see themselves as winning in the video game. While recruiting for new soldiers we should also be aware of what we are gaining from recruiting soldiers with bad habits who view themselves as the hero and friendly fire being shown as a ten minute wait period not what it really is the complete destruction of another human being.

Pat Tillman, I am sure would love to still be alive and he is only one of many soldiers who were killed in friendly fire. He has become the poster boy based on his high status as a NFL football player, yet somehow the military funds the problem and we allow it. We allow for the military, during Tillman’s hearing to lie to us about the relationship of friendly fire and the recruits that they take on, we allow them to tell us that shooting first is how real soldiers react to a problem, we allow the propagate the myth that being a soldier is honorable and that killing others is a respectable task that should be performed over and over again.

Ideally, we as a country would realize that the death of any human being is unforgivable and our problems with others whether it is in a video game or in the real world should be worked out diplomatically. We can start using our brains instead of playing games with an empty mind, we can acknowledge that we have made mistakes and they we fund a network that gains poor recruits. We can use that information to create games that depict real world diplomatic problems, but how much fun would that be? In society have a gun is cool, yet we, in the United States, have the highest gun fatalities of any other country, but saying that we are a gun loving country would be taking it too far.

When people like Sarah Palin place cross hairs in certain places geographically in a showing that the tea party is going to take out the democratic leaders in that state we may have crossed the line. We may want to roll back our love of weapons a little bit.

So, how can we break ourselves of the cycle that has become the norm for future recruits? We can stop funding military games immediately, partially because it is completely unnecessary, the troops that the military receives that base their individual experience on video-games alone are found to be difficult to train. However, these games will be made regardless if the military assists in the funding of them, because the audience has been created and a hungry audience looking for a fix will find their fix somewhere whether it is a military sanctioned game of not.

Ideally, we as consumers would also come to the conclusion that these games are violent and they bread violent behavior, for example friendly fire. These violent games and video-games as a whole are looked at as a cash cow for manufacturers of the games thus will be in existence until the cost-benefit analysis scales to cost and the money is no longer funneled by the military. We as consumers deserve better, we deserve to understand that there is no honor in killing another human being whether it is in a game, a movie, or in real life. The real honor comes from standing up to the corporations who attempt to dictate your preference to you and telling them that you will not consume what they are offering or that you have chosen a different route. Is it worth it? Could we all end out in a utopia if we got rid of all the violent video-games in the world? Probably not, but it would be a good start.








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Przybylski, A. K., Rigby, C., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). A motivational model of video game engagement. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 154-166.

Rice, M. (2009). A recruitment strategy gamers must find irresistible. Human Resources (09648380), 11.

Stahl, Roger. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

The Tillman Story. Dir. Amir Bar-Lev. Perf. Pat Tillman. The Weinstein Company, 2010

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[1] Lugo, W. (2006) “Violent Video games Recruit American Youth, reclaiming children and youth” page 11

[2] Michael Medved, “Zap, Have fun and Defeat Terrorists, Too,” USA Today, October 30, 2001, 15 A

[3] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC.” page 133

[4] Marcus Powers, “Digitized Virtuosity: Video War games and post 9/11 Cyber Deterrence” page 3

[5] Roger Stahl. “Militainment, INC” page 122

[6] Marcus Powers, “Digitized Virtuosity: Video War games and Post 9/11 Cyber Deterrence”  page 5

[7] Crawford, G., Gosling V.K.(2009) “More than a game: Sports-themed video games and player narratives, sociology of Sport journal page 53

[8] Roger Stahl, “Militaiment, INC.” page 133

[9] Marcus Powers, “Digitized Virtuosity: Video War games and post 9/11 Cyber Deterrence” page 3


[10] Jaime Holmes, “US military is meeting recruitment goals with video games –but at what cost?”

[11] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC.” page 133

[12] Marcus Powers, “Digitized Virtuosity: Video War games and post 9/11 Cyber Deterrence” page 6

[13] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC.” page 122

[14] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 122

[15] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC.” page 110

[16] The Tillman Story. Dir. Amir Bar-Lev. Perf. Pat Tillman. The Weinstein Company, 2010

[17] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 107

[18] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 113

[19] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 129

[20] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 129

[21] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 132

[22] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 132

[23] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 139

[24] Marcus Power, “Digitized Virtuosity: Video War games and post 9/11 Cyber Deterrence” page 6

[25] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 122

[26] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 139

[27] Roger Stahl, “Militainment, INC” page 112

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