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War is hell and so are theme parks

August 15, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

People who are wondering what is wrong with today's armed services need only look as far as the U.S. Army, which last week said it was dumping a proposal to turn Fort Belvoir, Va., into a military-styled theme park.

According to The Washington Post, the Army was approached by Universal Studios with the idea of a public-private partnership with the Army to build an amusement park around stuff like simulated paratrooper jumps and tank rides.

Once word leaked out, however, the Army was in full retreat, allowing that about as far as it was willing to go in redeveloping the fort was a "hotel and conference center."

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Two words for the Army: BOOORE-RIIING.

The Army's recruitment problems are well-documented. But how can you possibly hope to get children interested in killing people at an early age with a conference center?

"In the Army National Guard, You Can." Can what, eat stale doughnuts while listening to a talk on matching inventory to production schedules?

Officers, please. No disrespect sirs, but you are in possession of the M1 Abrams Freaking Battle Tank. Yet you're going to try to win people over with potted plants and a piano bar? I don't know how to break this to you, but kids just don't listen to Paul Anka the way they used to.

Apparently, this all came about because the Army wanted to know how to make a military museum at the fort a little more relevant to today's world, and put out a feeler for ways to spice things up a bit. Enter Universal.

Included in Universal's proposal was "a 125-acre complex that would include the 'Chateau Belvoir' hotel. Trails would lead visitors to encampments and battlefields representing major wars, simulated rides would let visitors feel what it's like to drive a tank or jump from a plane, and a 'multisensory interactive 4-D theater' would take visitors 'from Valley Forge to Normandy as the greatest battles of U.S. history explode to life.'"

See? Battles and amusement parks are a seamless blend. Think of how much easier for Gen. Washington if, instead of paddling across the ice-choked Delaware, he could have just taken a tram.

This is a win-win if ever there was. Liven up dusty old museums with fantasy and, it must be said, bring some hard, real-worldliness to the amusement parks. At Water World you could see what it really feels like to be eaten by a shark. And if you could combine landing on the beaches at Normandy with a water slide, why wouldn't you?

A military amusement park, where death comes alive - it's hard to see a downside.

War already has a lot of made-up, amusement-park sounding terminology, like "bazooka" or "humvee" or "mission accomplished." Funny, when they warned us that our intervention in Iraq was going to be a roller coaster, I assumed ...

The initial plans already called for cutesy, military names for civilian enterprise. For example, you would have been able to buy a drink in the "1st Division Lounge." Bringing new meaning to the term "shooter," I suppose.

And I'm sure the kiddies would be able to buy their ice cream at Custard's Last Stand.

"What flavor would you like, son?"

"Camouflage."

It should come as no surprise that I was way ahead of the curve. When Antietam National Battlefield was seeking input on its comprehensive plan 15 years ago, I suggested, yes, a theme park adaptation.

It was chock full of good ideas, such as a water ride called "The Burnslide." But I was almost run out of town by history buffs because that was when I had just started doing columns, and not all people understood that I was writing humor. Come to think of it, a lot of people still don't.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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