One of the ways that society seduces men into becoming soldiers (for the benefit of the military) is by linking ‘real’ masculinity, patriotism and heroism together.
From early childhood, boys are indoctrinated into thinking that the highest proof of masculinity is heroism – a ‘real’ man should be a hero. Nowadays, few heroes are peaceful men. The modern version of heroism has been corrupted by violence. Nowadays, the depiction of heroism must include a violent enemy, a hired assassin and ‘heroic’ killing. The hero must kill. He is invincible while all around him die. Alternatively he dies in action and is validated and acknowledged to have died for his fellow men. The hero is the war veteran, the cop, the gang-leader. It seems that we need more, and greater, violence to be satisfied that heroes exist.
Fantasies of heroism romanticise violence and war. Boys grow up, with the unrealistic expectation that they too will be heroes. Comic books, history books, video games and movies tell boys that they should and can be heroes. In the romantic world of television or the movies, heroes still outnumber heroines five to one. In play, boys take on the role of hero – a role only sometimes available for girls. Men are strong, authoritative and in charge, women are victims, need protection or are in supportive service roles.
Why has society produced all these seductive images to entice boys into heroism? Because society needs soldiers. Seductively, violence and war provide the arenas for men to show that they are ‘real’ men. Men choose, at terrible cost, to act out this need – through wars that are frequently negative, destructive, and often pointless.
In reality, whether in war or in everyday society, very few men become heroes. Nevertheless, the link between true masculinity and heroism is indoctrinated into every man. In everyday life, a father will put on the mask of the hero for his children – for his own sense of masculinity – a fearless façade, an emotional and physical toughness and an all-knowing attitude. He will exaggerate his importance at work, his youthful risk-taking and his exploits with women. This is despite the fact that children don’t need a hero for a father – that it can be destructive. Instead of having a real father, with natural doubts and conflicts, the son tries to live up to his ‘hero’ dad, and feels humiliated and silenced by his own ‘failures’. Both father and son lose out on real communication and contact.
Political and military leaders also want to be heroes, of course. They have the same childlike desire to be the heroic man. But for them, as I discussed earlier, it is easy. They don’t need to risk their lives to attain the adoration of a gullible public.
True heroism is still found, but now it is also among the many men and women who reject war and violence and passionately put ethics and justice first. The state denigrates, disrespects, threatens, and even imprisons the peace activists and conscientious objectors who show true courage – real heroism. They risk being accused of cowardice, and unpatriotic “against us, not with us”, behaviour – a threat within a war-driven society.
Not many men can withstand these accusations. Not many men have such true courage. Not many men have the balls not to fight. Instead, men usually choose to obey societal pressure so as to avoid humiliation and gain ‘masculine’ points. They accept the con. The images and rituals of the ‘hero’ seem to leave men unable to make moral choices, cowed into obedience, afraid of ridicule and insecurely aggressive.
So how can this change?
Parents can encourage boys to fulfil their desire to be heroes but different heroes – ones that do not have to resort to violence. Boys can be encouraged to defend the rights of those who are different, those who are weaker and those who are bullied. Let them practice, as children, the values that would make society moral, safe and free. Hopefully then, there are times when each one of us, male and female, can demonstrate the characteristics of a hero.
Next we look at Stoicism – the Endurance of Pain. See https://caygin.wordpress.com/chapters-3/stoicism-the-endurance-of-pain/