Supporters of the US- and Canadian-based international conflict transformation organisation Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) - now known worldwide as a result of the 2005-6 hostage crisis in Iraq - have been challenging the prevalence of war toys through nonviolent actions at a well known retailer.
Earlier this month, on New Year‚Äôs Day, fifteen members of Christian Peacemaker Teams‚Äô winter training group presented a dramatic retelling of the Nativity, complete with a Christmas choir, inside a Chicago Toys R Us store.
The action, part of the group's ongoing campaign to discourage parents and children from buying violent toys, accompanied the grim news of the 3,000th US casualty in Iraq. Leaflets quoting video game packages that promote ‚Äúkilling without mercy‚Äù and which promise valuable military training made the connection to the US war in Iraq.
The scene inside the store began with traditional Magi presenting the Holy Family with life-giving gifts. But soon, military recruiters and vengeful video game characters intruded, offering blood, gore and violence to the newborn babe.
Joseph, in his wisdom, replied with a quiet gesture of refusal as the choir sang: ‚ÄúHear our message from on high/who will pay the consequence?/ Parents, think before you buy/violent toys teach violence‚Äù (adapted from ‚ÄúAngels We Have Heard on High‚Äù).
The group then spent 10 minutes singing adapted Christmas carols to the shoppers and clerks before processing out to the tune of ‚ÄúThe Little Drummer Boy.‚Äù
Outside the store, CPTers and supporters gathered with the assembled media while waiting for the choir and Nativity characters to come outside. They held signs that read, ‚ÄúAt Toys R Us, every bullet is your baby‚Äù and, ‚ÄúAt Toys R Us, guns are the stars‚Äù‚Äîall quotations from video games available inside the store. No arrests were made.
Holiday sales levels for many of the nation‚Äôs top toy and game retailers rose significantly in 2006 compared with the same shopping period in 2005, reports Playthings.com.
Darlene Hammell, a child psychiatrist with Physicians for Global Survival (Canada) says: "The development of values and attitudes begins in childhood and emerges through the child's construction of very many value inputs from many sources. Toys represent a salient source of value messages.
"War Toys attribute a positive value to hurting killing and threatening others. Permission to have in the home toys that convey this value implies parental approval of this value. Because of the pervasiveness of war toys and war fantasies, many parents find themselves by default in the position of conveying inconsistent values about hurting, killing and threatening others."
Alongside CPT, Catholic Worker communities and the pacifist organisation War Resisters International are among those who have protested against toys sold to lorify or glamourise violence.
Since the 1980s, Catholic Worker communities have held vigils amongst the shoppers with appeals to move away from the sale of war toys. Twenty years ago members of an Australian CW group were arrested en masse after enacting a nativity scene to blockade US sailors disembarking from a nuclear warship deployed to the Gulf.
The challneg is not just to the secular market, but to organisations that use religion to sanction violence. A video based on the best-selling fundamentalist 'Left ehind' book series in the USA has attracted huge criticism from church and other groups - being described by some as "like an interactive Christian snuff movie".