Why are we, perhaps unwittingly, raising our sons to be fodder for war?
We could argue that for our evolutionary survival throughout the centuries, men have had to be able to kill. Men fought to protect their communities. They went to war to take control of other’s land, wealth or resources. Parents and society prepared boys and men for the possibility of war, moulding them to be at the ready to do extreme acts of violence and cruelty. They encouraged in boys and men the qualities needed to meet any possible threat – to fight and kill.
Those that still think traditional war is unavoidable will probably believe that all boys should be trained to have the characteristics of soldiers. Many people still do say – “Of course, being ready to go to war is necessary. We must be prepared to defend ourselves”. But is it as straight forward as this?
War has changed. Now the great majority of men do not need the psychological capability to kill.
In the past, the number of men who were on the battlefield usually determined the outcome of who would win and who would lose. For instance, some 16 million men, and several thousand women, entered military service during World War II. Nowadays, as opposed to the past, very few men will ever fight in a war. Professor David Kennedy*, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor, at the inaugural symposium (2007) of the Stanford International Initiative, said, “The United States can wage war while putting at risk very few of its sons and daughters, and only those who go willingly into harm’s way,” and “Unlike virtually all previous societies in history, the United States today can inflict prodigious damage on others (often civilian) while not appreciably disrupting its own civilian economy.”
War is now largely outsourced. In 1st world countries, private security forces, individual men and private companies are hired by government to do the work that would have been previously done by the military. These together with professional soldiers take the place of the general conscription of all men. The majority of men stay home, families virtually unaffected either personally or economically, continuing with the same daily living patterns, leaving wars to those who choose, or have no option but to become involved.
In a recent article in The Guardian Weekly (04.02.11), Gary Younge* says that “Admiration for soldiers may be widespread and deep in America, but interest in what they are doing is shallow and fleeting.” He quotes Professor Gelpi of Duke University, who says, “The burden of this war is being carried by such a small slither of society … [that] it is possible for the public to ignore it. People are very disconnected from it.”
Now, according to Kennedy, proportionate to population, today’s active duty military establishment is about 4 percent the size of the force that won World War II. Furthermore, today’s military budget takes up less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product – a fraction of the 40 percent claim that World War II had on society’s material resources.
Highly sophisticated technology and remote control weapons have removed, to a large extent, the need for most close-contact killings. Such a situation, Kennedy says, makes it too easy for those in power to resort to military solutions based on the assumption that they will be swifter and cheaper than pursuing the “tedious and vexatious process of diplomacy.” Kennedy argues that a democratic society should make demands on its citizens when asked to engage with issues of life and death, but the civilian and the military sectors are becoming dangerously separate spheres.
Another factor is that the way that men have been trained and continue to be trained both before adulthood and in the armed forces has become largely ineffective. In current warfare, most big, sophisticated armies and the men trained for them are largely helpless against those they see as their enemies, who often choose guerrilla warfare, suicide bombings, or fight in small, anonymous, underground units. It becomes a situation where it is not the male enemy that 1st world armies damage, but the civilian population. Wars are being fought in ways that 1st world countries struggle to deal with. Conflicts that regular armed forces take on are now often unwinnable, goalless and never-ending.
Although this is not the focus of my blog, I can’t resist asking whether other methods of addressing national problems would not be more effective. We have developed, but do not use to full effect, advanced economic, commercial and diplomatic ways of dealing with relations between countries – ways that often make the brutal, backward, unsophisticated method of war unnecessary or at most, the last resort.
The questions that interest me the most are whether we make war our first choice simply because we’ve trained men to always think in terms of war, first and foremost? And then, how many of us really question the raising of boys to be psychologically prepared to function in warfare? And in future posts I argue that this is often at the expense of their ability to function fully in daily life.
Through our evolutionary history, raising boys for war may have been a survival necessity. But it seems to me that now we do this training of boys into potential war-machines in a crude, unthinking way. Now society seems to be acting as a unconscious, unified whole, spurred on by what may originally have been a social need for warriors and what has now become ‘evolutionarily programmed’ into society as the practice of moulding boys for ‘manhood’.
Society reinforces its preferences of acceptable manhood in many ways. In my next post, I want to look at ways in which I think we and society make it almost inevitable that boys and then men are trained in the characteristics of soldiers – trained for war.