Are we – parents and society – unconsciously raising our sons to be useful pawns for war?
In his fascinating, well documented book, “War and Gender”, Joshua S. Goldstein*, Professor of International Relations at American University, DC, puts forward the theory that parents and society, unconsciously and unintentionally, train boys to be ready, when they are men, to fight in war. We train boys to be able to kill. Goldstein’s research finds that all men are groomed to kill even though most men will never be needed for war and will never actually kill.
Killing doesn’t come naturally to a man, Goldstein says. A man has to be taught – and the training is difficult. Preparation has to start as young as possible. Here Goldstein is not talking about army or weapons training, but about the conditioning necessary to overcome a man’s natural reluctance to kill another person. To be effective, this psychological preparation has to start early – in fact, soon after birth.
So, we come to my question – are parents unknowingly priming their sons for war?
To start the debate on this question, I’ve listed some of the qualities I think would make a soldier useful in a war situation and then those that make him risky in the eyes of the military authority.
It seems to me that the military would want a man to be:
Stoic – to endure pain without complaint
Communicative mainly about actions
Unemotional – except for anger
Physically tough, strong and active
Heroic, adventurous and courageous
Attracted to the risky, the macho and the dangerous
A leader, but one who follows orders
Able to accept hierarchical, authoritarian systems that demand discipline
Keen to accept institutional male bonding that re-enforces an ideology of a superiority that excludes others
Determined to win at all costs
Capable of violence
Willing to cause pain
Always supportive of his troop – despite any unethical behaviour.
Risky in a war situation and in the eyes of a military authority would be a man who:
Is caring – and unwilling to hurt or kill another
Questions illogical and automatic hierarchies
Is not automatically patriotic if he thinks the war is unjust or illogical
Does not support unethical behaviour
Does not see ‘others’ as inferior human beings
Is able to express emotions, even those of fear, insecurity or vulnerability
Is not afraid to express pain
Is not afraid to admit to feelings of inadequacy or show fear of failure.
Communicates and listens on a personal level
Depending on your point of view, the ‘soldierly’ attributes in the first list, or ‘non-soldierly’ ones in the second list, could be seen as negative or positive. What I’m interested in, is whether the first list of qualities – those useful for fighting in wars – are the same qualities we want or expect in our sons? Want and expect may be different, but often have the same result. We may not want our son to take risks, but we could still expect him to do so. The result – that he takes risks – can be the same.
In contrast, do we try to discourage in our boys the qualities in the second list, the ones that seemingly are negative in the war environment? For instance, do we want to deny that young boys are often sensitive, questioning, caring, afraid and vulnerable?
In later posts, I would like to talk about these ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ characteristics in depth.
Most boys have marvellous, natural qualities such as high energy, curiosity, active minds and bodies, the desire to explore and experience. And there are obvious differences between boys and girls (both genetic and temperament). These are NOT what this blog is about. I am interested in our actions, our beliefs, and our ideologies – those of parents and societies – and how these may be coded and formulated – even without our realising it – to encourage the characteristics necessary for one thing – to make a useful tool for war.
If we read the first list, some of us will say, ‘No, I don’t agree with that particular characteristic. It’s not something I would encourage in my son.’ But let’s admit it – the influences on any boy are many. Influence comes from his peers, the media, the clubs he belongs to, the sport he plays, the culture surrounding him. And in one way or another, we allow these influences – through acceptance, lack of interest, or group pressure. We don’t take too much time – or any time at all – to question whether the characteristics suitable to be able to fight in wars are also the most positive ones for a man living a daily life of work, social interaction, partnerships, relationships, family and children.
Many of the quotes and statistics I use, may refer to the USA (because of that country’s current and recent war history), but my overall argument concerns all boys, no matter where they are. The argument does not distinguish between boys who may one day fight in a traditional war, a civilian war, or as groups of individuals fighting against a traditional military operation. I believe, besides obvious cultural differences, that most societies instill the same characteristics into their boys – those characteristics necessary for fighting and killing.
In later posts, I would like to talk in depth about all the characteristics listed above, whether they are ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, but before that…
I want to briefly look at how we may be unconsciously and unintentionally raising our sons for the trauma of warfare, and to be capable of killing. For the continuation of this discussion, please go to caygin.wordpress.com/chapters-3/be-a-man-my-son/