The Unemotional Soldier

The soldier who is most useful to the military is one who is unemotional.

Joshua Goldstein*, an academic and researcher, author of War and Gender (2001) puts it like this: “…cultures around the world with few exceptions construct “tough” men who can shut down emotionally in order to endure extreme pain (physical and psychological). The ability and willingness to kill is dependent on being emotionally deadened or controlled.”

A soldier with strong feelings of compassion, sensitivity or caring will find it difficult to kill. A soldier who admits to his natural fear, vulnerability or insecurity would have difficulty going to war. So, each soldier has to hide, or better still, shut-down all these feelings. The only feelings allowed to him are anger, pride, arrogance and aggression – useful emotions that can build hatred for the enemy that he has to kill.

Goldstein says that the ever-present potential for war causes cultures to transform males, deliberately and systematically, by damaging their emotional capabilities. “Thus manhood, an artificial status…, is typically constructed around a culture’s need for brave and disciplined soldiers.”

Society’s fantasy image of a soldier is one of a cool, unemotional man, without fear or insecurity, stoically enduring physical pain and psychological trauma. In fact men like to think of soldiers (and themselves) as mentally controlled, logical, rational and calmly unemotional, the mind always in control. Among other characteristics, men define perfect masculinity as unemotional.

However, many men are psychologically traumatized in warfare.* Often men leave war, no longer able to cope in society. The psychological casualties of war prove that soldiers – men – are not unemotional and that the control or deadening of their emotions often cracks under the trauma of ‘the killing fields’.

Here’s Goldstein again, “… men do not have fewer emotions than women. They do not feel less pain. The training from boyhood of a man’s potential for violence in preparation for war comes at great cost to his personal identity in times of peace as much as in times of war.”

Stephen Frosh*, author of Sexual Difference: Masculinity and Psychoanalysis, says that in emotional moments, men are left with little to fall back on. The repression of emotion is an unnatural, and therefore, a fragile armour to protect their concept and attempt at the perfect masculinity.

Men suffer for this fantasy of perfect masculinity. And we continue to present this fantasy to boys as if it is true. We continue to brainwash them into believing that if they don’t live up to the fantasy, they are not masculine enough.

What are we doing to make sure that our sons become the right material for the military, for fighting and killing? If being unemotional is a requirement for the ideal soldier, is it one of the characteristics that we are drumming into our sons? Are boys forced to learn to suppress the full range of their human characteristics? What does that boy sacrifice? When he reaches manhood, what is that man forced to give up? When boys and men have to destroy or hide some of their natural human qualities, how does that affect them, their families and society at large? It seems that few of us ever consider the heavy cost to society and to our sons’ personal identities.

In my next post, I want to look at how we force boys to deaden their emotions, to prepare them for war.

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