Result 2: Men after War

The most positive thing one can say about our training of boys to be pawns for war is that it is meant to prepare men psychological for war and protect them during war. But is it succeeding?

Recently, I read a newspaper article from The New York Times*, that quoted an US Army report stating that more American soldiers were dying by their own hands than in combat. The report said that suicide was just the tip of an “iceberg of psychological distress.” In other words, as with an iceberg, 90% of soldier’s psychological distress is hidden or expressed in another form. Under the surface, and not counted as suicidal attempts, are self-destructive violence, drug-use and reckless acts. General Chiarelli* was quoted as saying, “We are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.” The report said that if the Army added in accidental deaths, which it said are often the result of high-risk behaviour involving drinking and drugs, “less young men and women die in combat than die by their own actions.” It concluded: “We are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”

An estimated 20 percent of service members return from wars psychologically damaged, with depression or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as nightmares, hyper-vigilance and emotional numbing, according to a Rand Corp. study last year. Plus, often unacknowledged are the many, many soldiers who return to civilian life socially dysfunctional, traumatised, psychologically damaged and a danger to themselves, their families and their environment. The resulting troubled relationships become a major problem for partners, children and for the soldiers themselves.

Murder rates and sexual abuse increase after war, where the unwelcome side effect of war is the negation of life generally. How can a man return to the rule that killing is immoral when killing had been legitimate and valued; how can he care when caring was not encouraged? Patriotism makes other human life cheap and insignificant and only a soldier and his buddies’ lives important. In war, men have to deaden their sensitivity to other’s pain and humanness. They have to sacrifice their own principles and emotions. They have to discount the emotional and psychological impact on themselves of killing other human beings. These attitudes are not de-activated when war ends. The brutalised man is simply dumped by its country on a society where he does not cope.

A man’s lifelong psychological preparation for war comes at great cost to his personal and social identity. And it seems to me that despite this lifelong psychological preparation – this training of boys to be pawns for war – men are still psychologically unprotected during war.

That killing does not come naturally to a man is proved by the suicide and Post-Traumatic Stress figures. In modern warfare, psychiatric casualties double those killed by the enemy*. Killing, itself, is traumatic. But the heroic, masculine war fantasy has little patience for ‘emotionally incapacitated’ man. Those who suffer psychological trauma, and most do, are seen as failing true ‘manhood’. When there is a general conscription, the alternative of not enlisting is regarded by both society and the military as a sign of shame, cowardice, betrayal and weakness. To avoid these humiliating accusations, men choose to endure the trauma and fear. But often they leave war aggressive, disconnected, stressed, distrustful, and feeling abandoned.

It is interesting that men who see war as a dangerous situation, but not as an innate test and proof of their masculinity, apparently suffer less emotional damage in conflict. These are the men who don’t take on the brainwashing that links war to proof of masculinity. Of course, some men feel energized through surviving danger and regard war years as the best in their lives, finding meaning; a sense of belonging; a validation of their strength and courage – a validation of their masculinity – as society intends – by the successful linking of war to masculinity. A validation that they can recall with fondness when daily life fails to boost their self-esteem.

In my next post, I want to question who actually benefits when men are sent to war – is it the country or is it the politicians and armament manufacturers? See:

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