The Plastic Wars: A Retrospective on Army Men


Like a shadow rising from the mist, army men shall never die.

I like toys. I know, we’re talking revelation of the year here. I’m also a guy, so typically whatever toys I’m playing with are required to have some sort of firepower or at least look like they are capable of fighting either each other, or some other toy I have yet to purchase but will feel the need to as soon as I see it. I’ve mentioned that G.I. Joes are the perfect action figures and that Ninja Turtles are the coolest, but I want to go even more old school than those. I’m talking zero points of articulation, absolutely no accessories or outfits or anything. How could a toy still be awesome after all that? Aha, I’ve got you now don’t I? How about if I’m talking a whole squadron of toys? Yeah, let’s talk plastic army men.

The point of the little green (or grey or red or whatever color suits you) men is not regarding pose-ability but rather sheer quantity and simplicity of the design. You can go out right now and pick up a few dozen army men for somewhere in the vicinity of one dollar, pull them out, and start playing immediately. No set up is required and no location is too obscure to wage impossible wars. Kitchen? Perfect. Bathtub? Aquatic misadventures. Cat box? Strange, but you do what you’ve got to do. But to get the full effect of the war you really need a whole sea of the little guys, so drop a ten-spot and load up.

If he could let go of that grenade, you know he could throw it into tomorrow.

I always liked the way army men each had a personality to them. Sure, you have the standard rifle-toting version, but those came in guys with the rifle sling over their shoulder, aiming straight ahead, crouched while aiming, crouched and aiming downward, aiming up and back, and who knows what else. You’ve got guys with grenades, guys with radios, guys with mine detectors, and guys that look like they do all their work solo with a handgun and a face so grizzled you can sharpen steel on it (I like to think I’d be that guy in the army men world).

There is a lot to do with your plastic soldiers beyond just placing them and enacting whatever battles you’d most like (such as Grizzled McGrizz fighting EVERYONE). I’ve found that they work very well as markers for whatever game you may be playing (add an army man to Candy Land and watch your sister squirm), or even place them on a world map and have an interactive history lesson about World War II (in which Grizzled McGrizz fights EVERYONE). Okay, yes, you can also melt them, explode them, and generally mutilate them, but should you? Should you really? All right, just ask your parents first before using the microwave.

None shall stop the forces of plastic!

I was lucky to find a set of army men that came with small plastic tanks, helicopters, jeeps, and fighter jets. There were also USA flags and German flags and all sorts of other nations, meaning that my war could be even more elaborate than just the typical run-of-the-mill ground assault. I’m curious if they have boats anywhere.

Something I always wondered as well is if someone ever made an army man playset of some kind similar to something you’d see in G.I. Joes but less complicated, like a battleground floor mat with bunkers and such that you could set up and hide soldiers behind. And then add some structures and traps like nets and catapults (or trebuchets for our hardcore medieval brethren). I want to know if this exists, and if not, why? Also, my patent is pending should it turn out to be the latter.

When one dies, two more take its place.

What I’m really advocating for at the moment is a good old-fashioned get-outside-and-play-in-the-dirt. Army men were built for punishment. That’s why you get so many of them and people have to go through the trouble of exploding them to cause any significant damage. You can literally lose an entire packet of army men in the sand and not feel as if you’ve lost something irreplaceable. You will however feel like you’ve lost your best friend, but only until you go by another bag at the dollar store.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

1 Comment

  1. i’ve always loved plastic army men. why just yesteday i went around my grandparent’s house and picked up those who were Missing In Action (or MIA). i have approximately 400 green troopers!

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