Are we, perhaps unwittingly, training our sons to be fodder for war? Continuing the debate from my first three posts:
If, in our evolutionary past, society believed that traditional war was inevitable, then it needed all its men to have the characteristics of soldiers – and to achieve this, it needed boys to be raised to be psychologically prepared for war.
But, how did society put pressure on individual parents to answer the social need for boys and men to be trained in the characteristics of soldiers? How did it persuade mothers and fathers to play their part – how did it convince them to regard the war needs of the community as more important than the lives of their sons? How were parents induced to forfeit acceptance and unconditional love of their sons and instead steer them to be the kind of man who is useful for a leader to use in a violent war?
A useful tool to suck both parents and boys into accepting this sacrifice would be to symbolically link the concept of masculinity to the idea of violence and war. And society has done just this. Manhood – masculinity – has been shackled to the primitive need for warriors. War was made one of the most important routes for men to prove their masculinity – to themselves and to others.
How did society do this?
From childhood, boys are ‘taught’ that ‘real’ men and war are linked – a link far stronger and more romantic than any link to an everyday life of work and family. How does society do this? In every way possible. For instance, boys’ games and toys highlight how great it is to be a hero. Heroes take risks, welcome dangerous situations, fight enemies, and are highly-regarded. How can boys resist this allure? Heroes don’t cry, don’t get killed unless it is while they are heroically saving someone else, and certainly don’t stop to question the ethics of what they do. Society romanticizes violence and war and creates male fantasies about heroism.
Boys start ‘killing’ with their first toy gun. I’ve heard many parents say that if they do not buy toy guns for their sons, that they find a substitute, even a stick. But who puts the idea of a gun, the idea of killing into the head of a five year old? A boy does not know what a gun is unless he sees one. And guns are everywhere. Movies, books, TV programmes and video games revel in violence. They celebrate war and patriotism. They make it seem macho and heroic to kill. (There’s no doubt that images affect us and our actions directly. Otherwise why do companies pay millions on advertising? Images of violence make violence more natural and commonplace and increase the occurrence of violence.)
Society also sucks parents and boys into linking masculinity and war by publicly honouring the men who are prepared to go to war – who try to live up to this romantic heroism. Validation and reward are distributed for killing more than for any other human activity. There are fancy-dress rituals of reward-giving, medal-giving, rewards of prestige and leadership positions. Soldiers are recognised and honoured by their communities. A man’s record in warfare supports his career prospects. War is supported by religion, by rituals that honour soldiers, by calls for patriotism. Soldiers are buried with pomp and ceremony when we bring their bodies back in bags.
Many women are equally brainwashed into linking masculinity to war. Often it is women themselves, mothers, wives and girlfriends who provide the mirror for men’s attempt to prove their masculinity through war. Though fewer women accept violence and the need for war, most still think less of men who question the ‘hooks’ of bravery, discipline and patriotism. This makes it doubly difficult for any man.
We encourage men to risk their lives to defend an often indefensible and illogical war. We give men rewards for unthinkingly putting their lives at risk. We encourage non-thinking patriotism. We brainwash men to think that it is patriotic, moral and courageous to kill other people or die for one’s country, even if the war does not achieve anything worthwhile. Men are asked to put logical reasoning and choice aside and not attempt to rationalize war in terms of value or meaning.
Men who question war often suffer rejection and ridicule. Fear of being called a coward – “while other men are dying for their country” – drives a man into the hands of the military. Even when a man has strong rational, political or moral reasons to reject a war, his masculinity will be questioned by himself, his country and his fellow men. By making men afraid of ridicule, society forces them into obedience and makes moral choices extremely difficult. Shame holds the system together. Anti-war activism becomes a difficult choice – because of the way society links it to cowardice and lack of patriotism.
There are many down-sides to the linking of war and masculinity. In my next post, I want to look at some of the most damaging – to society, to men themselves and its effect on the actions and choices of politicians. So, my questions for my next couple of posts are:
What is the cost for the individual? And what is the cost for society as a whole?