A District-based antinuclear group last week called for a boycott of war toys, saying some toys on sale this Christmas season are preparing children for war.
"Our children are being brainwashed," said Gregory Johnson, cofounder of Blacks Against Nukes (BAN), an 18-month-old organization dedicated to making "black, Third World and poor people... aware of the serious implications of nuclear power and weapons."
BAN also is asking parents to destroy their children's war toys.
Johnson zeroed in on the 12-piece "G. I. Joe strike force" figurine line, featuring one black commando, "Stalker," who is an interpreter and medic. According to the toy's biography on the package, Stalker was "the warlord of a large urban street gang prior to enlistment," is a product of fictional Army combat training, language and intelligence schools and comes complete with an M-32 "pulverizer" submachine gun.
Saying G. I. Joe suffered a decline in popularity after the Vietnam War, Johnson said the marketing of this and other war-oriented toys was being revived to instill a pro-war attitude in youngsters.
"We should counteract the current administration's war posturing and truly celebrate the Prince of Peace's birth," said Johnson's wife, Barbara, a BAN cofounder.
"It wasn't the Vietnamese that killed G. I. Joe. It was the Arabs," said Stephen Schwartz, senior vice president for marketing for Hasbro Industries Inc., maker of the toy. He said one of the toy's most profitable years was during the Vietnam conflict in 1973.
Schwartz attributed the demise of the 12-inch G. I. Joe to the 1974 OPEC price increase, which made the production cost of the oil-based plastic figurine prohibitive, and to a competitor's introduction of a much smaller figurine based on the "Six Million Dollar Man" television series.
"G. I. Joe is not a war toy but a military concept toy," Schwartz said. "Joe is a purely defensive arm of the army. His purpose is to protect democracy. The strike force is an antiterrorist group formed to protect the world from a fictitious group called Cobra. It is pure fantasy."
BAN's assertion that the number of military toys has increased is supported by a recent report on toy quality and safety by the consumer affairs committee of Americans for Democratic Action. The study said last year's influx of realistic toy guns has been followed by a huge inventory of war tanks, jeeps, battle sets, fighter planes and weapons of all kinds.
The report pointed to G. I. Joe as "probably the hottest line of toys" this Christmas, with an arsenal of weapons including attack cannons, rapid fire motorcycles, laser blasters and mobile missile systems."
ADA committee chairwoman Ann Brown said the increase in popularity of war toys has been influenced by publicity surrounding the buildup of the national defense budget.
"We are in a period of violence," Brown said. "Even children are expected to act out their fantasies in warlike play."
The ADA report, which listed eight more major manufacturers offering military fare, including the Mego Corp.'s "Eagle Strike Force," said: "There is often a fine line between fantasy and reality for a child. Since the toys that children play with reflect values of the society that children live in, the question we should ask ourselves is: Do these toys contribute to the violence in our society?"
Schwartz denied assertions that G. I. Joe promotes violence. He said boys like to play aggressively, and traditionally that market is an aggressive one.
"Just because you put a guy in a military uniform doesn't make him a warmonger," he said. "I think we [as a society] are teaching kids to associate soldiers with war."
"Toys are just miniature versions of life," said Cindy Schreibman, marketing director for Mego Corp., noting that media coverage of terrorist activites worldwide has served to produce a resurgence of patriotism, especially in this country.
"The Eagle Force is more of a patriotic toy than a military toy," she said. "I don't think any of us have a crystal ball to predict when this country or any country will be at war."
Schreibman said the toys should be viewed more as a fantasy vehicle than as a preparation for war. "This is not the goal of any toy company," she said.
"I don't think children should act out their fantasies in a violent manner," said Schreibman. She said the purpose of the Eagle Force toy is for children to act out basic concepts of good and evil through fantasy play.
"A child wants to feel he is (part of a team) rescuing someone important," she said. "Superman does the same thing, and he's been doing it for a long time."
Schreibman and Schwartz denied allegations that their companies' toys were developed to support any administration's defense program. They said the concept of the toys was developed at least two years before President Reagan was elected.