The fantasy of perfect masculinity – symbolized by the ideal soldier – ensures men will fight in wars, seduces them to be and live the fantasy.
In a recent post, I wrote about the unemotional soldier*. Now I want to look at aggression – another necessary characteristic of this idealised soldier.
The military understands that aggression, violence and the will to kill are essential characteristics of a soldier. Of course, this is not openly broadcast by any armed forces. They would prefer to promote an image of soldiers as being effective, cool and logical. And, in fact, openly displayed anger is not an essential component of aggression. Aggression can be cold and ruthless.
But what drives society to war. War is often justified by cultural, racial or religious prejudices.
We regard those who are different to us as threatening to our lives and our beliefs. This is often an illogical fear. Anything that we see as a threat brings insecurity, then fear, and then often illogical hatred (not always understood or admitted). Those ‘others’ – the people who are ‘different’ – become the enemy, and our first, automatic solution is an aggressive, primitive desire to annihilate them. Violence, whether personal or in war, is the drive to protect one’s own vulnerability, often by trying to prove that the ‘other’ is weaker or less than you.
This is perfectly in tune with the needs of the war machine. The ideal soldier demonstrates through aggression and violence that he and his country are right, – to win and for the ‘enemy’ to lose. We brainwash men to think that it is moral and courageous to kill other people in war. Our responses of fear, hatred and aggression are conveniently used by leaders, both political and military, to build an unthinking patriotism and an unquestioning support for the choice of war.
Historically and socially, we have invented useful myths to force men to participate in war – concepts such as the heroic man, the patriotic man, the man protecting his wife and children, the testosterone-driven man, aggressively defending what is his, the man who proves that he is a man. Society and those in power manipulate men to unquestioningly put their lives at risk in war by linking aggression with men, by linking proof of masculinity to war.
The ideal of patriotism hides the reality of killing. It makes the lives of ‘other’ people insignificant. If ‘they’ are different to us, then surely they must be inferior, even sub-human. Therefore they can be despised. War forbids any approach of understanding or empathy for the ‘other’. Instead it concludes that the annihilation of the enemy would be for the greater good. The sanctity of life is sacrificed. The only important thing is to win. This brainwashing, this de-emphasising of both one’s own and the other’s life is essential for war.
Killing – the primary job of the soldier, demands the negation of compassion, empathy and care. Men, whose emotions of compassion and caring have not been deadened, are less eager to go into a war situation. So, a soldier who is caring and compassionate is useless to the armed forces. And because of this, the armed forces and the war-eager society want us to see them as less than real men – soft and unpatriotic. This makes it very difficult for any man to choose an anti-war response or behaviour.
Insecurity, fear and prejudice as the basis for war are closely followed by greed, and the drive for power. However, the drive for power is restricted to the top echelons of the political, military and armament manufacturing sectors – both touched on in an earlier post*. (This is not to deny the individual soldier’s desire to increase his sense of personal power by participating in what is lauded as patriotic bravery.) And greed is typically restricted to those who benefit financially from conflict, which is not the case with common members of the armed forces.
In my next post, I want to ask the question; is aggression a biological or genetic element of masculinity? See: https://caygin.wordpress.com/chapters-3/why-is-the-military-male/