Friday, August 01, 2008


Masculinity of War

INSTITUTIONALIZING SEXUAL AGGRESSION IN THE MILITARY - Part 4


17th July 2005,

Stan Goff

The United States armed services take the self-same masculinity-defined-as-sexual-aggression that the liberal state reflects (but can not openly acknowledge without blowing its cover as objective'') and actually institutionalizes it. It polishes that masculinity up and smoothes over its ugliest parts “ in much the same way film and other ideological media do “ but the military is actually defined by its potential for and willingness to employ violent aggression. In a typically bureaucratic turn-of-phrase, we taught cadets at West Point that they were training to become œmanagers of violence.

Violence can be aggression, and it can also be unavoidable self-defense against aggression. Ascribing some kind of equivalence to all ˜violence' merely confuses every issue in which violence is a factor. Violence is not intrinsically anything, except whichever definition you choose for it “ there are eight different definitions available from a simple Google search. If we say shooting someone is an example of violence, we cannot infer much beyond that it was a ˜violent' act, a shooting, until we ascertain the specific circumstances of the shooting. Military violence in the US is always dressed up as a morality tale, with an assumed male protector defending the feminized (helpless, childlike, damsel in distress) defenseless from the likewise feminized (sensuous, cowardly and irrational) enemy. It is important that we not accept any of the premises of this morality tale.

The military's justification for combat exclusion has been that women (1) have a limited aptitude for violence that calls into question whether they will function effectively in combat (there is a ton of evidence that flatly contradicts this), (2) that women will react fearfully to violence and therefore not have the self-discipline for combat. The same evidence rebuts this, with the additional point that men “ even after training “ still experience intense fear in combat, and many in current conflicts have hidden, fled, or otherwise reacted in perfectly understandable ways when faced with combat violence. This is often overlooked or covered up. (3) The military claims that the average woman does not possess the physical strength to perform combat functions “ another baseless claim that has been disproved. There is some heavy lifting involved in every job, but nothing that any reasonably fit, grown woman can not do. (4) That the inclusion of women with men in combat will cause the men to jeopardize themselves as they revert to their inherently chivalrous ways to protect the wee females. The same people who tell us this, also say that soldiers don't fight for abstractions, but for their buddies, and various creeds in the military proclaim that no comrade will ever be abandoned on the battlefield. If the buddy is a woman, then apparently the woman, by virtue of being a woman, is somehow culpable for the soldier's dereliction in doing what he has been told he is supposed to do for male comrades. (5) That women who are captured on the battlefield¦ will be raped.

The latter is considered a self-evident argument. Yet, as I have shown above, the military itself goes to a great deal of trouble to suppress and conceal rape charges, at the expense of rape victims who are themselves military members.

So the military is caught in its own paradox. They conduct combat training with a heavy emphasis on male-identified aggression, as any honest veteran can tell you “ constantly exhorting one to œbe a man, œsound off like you got a pair, and describing the most physically courageous males as having œbig, brass balls. At the same time, in the face of social pressure developed by women since the feminist struggles of the 60s and 70s, and faced with the constant necessity to legitimize itself to a controversy-allergic Congress, they have to tie themselves in knots to represent military masculinity as simultaneously sexual (the province of males) but not sexist (as most military people understand the term, in purely liberal terms).

The reality for the military comes to the surface under combat pressure.

In some of the most graphic and disturbing (for me, especially, as a combat veteran) stories and images coming out of Iraq are the uncensored accounts of GIs interacting with Iraqi detainees. There is a boiling-point anger visible among the GIs, one they often have to conjure up to do their jobs, and when they address their detainees, there is one epithet that is far and away more common than all the others. Bitch!

Anyone who doesn't think this is indicative of how sex and aggression are merged as masculinity, and reflected in military practice, needs to go watch the last Denzel Washington male-revenge fantasy, Man on Fire, where one of the defining moments of his righteous male revenge-energy was when he symbolically raped his captive by placing explosives up his captive's ass. This feminization of the victim “ in this case a wicked foreigner who could reflect the War on Terror to the US public “ invited the audience to participate by exulting at the (climactic!) explosion.

And, of course, we remember the œsexual humiliations of Abu Ghraib, which were in fact sexually assaultive, pornographic feminizations.

Masculinity constructed as sexualized-violence and violent-sexuality is not some alpha-male genetic defect; it is not natural. It is an historically evolved reflection of a division of labor and a division of social power. The military “ an organization within the state “ simply took this construction into itself, and made itself in masculinity's image.

The state and the military are institutions that are articulated and fused with other institutions and social entities, and with the military inside the state as one of its fundamental constituent parts. And specific histories of development give unique characteristics to each and every state.

The US state is a liberal regime, and it is implicitly capitalist, male, and white nationalist. Its capitalist character, I contend, is the least flexible aspect of its character, based on the forces of civil society that wield the most power to œestablish the limits and conditions of state power. We can look at churches, and universities, and NGOs, etc., etc., but the most powerful non-state actors influencing the US state are capitalist enterprises “ defined here as organizations constituted to invest money for the primary purpose of gaining a return-plus on their investments “ for the accumulation of capital. For an in-depth discussion of œthe poles of capital, productive and speculative, and how that balance of power is shaping the world, I recommend Gowan's The Globalization Gamble “ The Dollar Wall Street Regime. For this discussion, it will suffice to point out “ if there is any doubt of my assertion “ that a review of the campaign finance records of any state or federal election will bear me out.

Capitalism is a highly complex international social system “ its international politico-economic dimension is one I call ˜imperialist' for shorthand “ that is, it requires the domination by economic and military means of other countries as the basis of its continued ability to accumulate capital. (On the left, imperialism has long been called œthe highest stage of capitalism, which is fine, but fails to account for the many changes in form and practice that it has taken “ which leads one to ask what is the highest, or last, stage of imperialism?)

Economically, capitalism is now necessarily encumbered with regulations and bureaucracy by the state to stabilize and protect the advantages of the dominant classes. Capitalism has always been regulated by, and in fact was built up directly in its initial phases by, the state. The state is the only body with the monopoly on legal force required to enforce property relations, to print currency, to make the laws, protect the dominant class from insurrections, strikes, etc., that make the system function in its economic dimension.

The pure ˜capitalism' espoused by capitalist-utopians such as Ayn Rand and Reason Magazine has never existed and can never exist. It is the reductio ad absurdum utopian fantasy of a Jeffersonian liberal concept that is ahistorical, having never been actualized anywhere or at any time in history, and abstract, the principles of which would allow, for example, any citizen to own a nuclear weapon so long as s/he didn't actually use it.

Actual capitalism was built up on war, plunder, state-sanctioned piracy, the slave trade, and the expropriation of millions of square miles of land from various peoples “ often accompanied by campaigns of genocide. It has been developed and maintained using similar methods, and its juridical consolidation has only been possible by the liberal-state mechanism of false neutrality and feigned ignorance of power inequalities that exist prior to law, just as we discussed above. This system includes the continued validation of claims to ˜property' that was taken through conquest and extermination.

In the concrete and current world capitalist system, one state holds pivotal power “ the US. This power is guaranteed monetarily through dollar hegemony, and militarily through the US armed forces.

In a seeming paradox, the US itself, as an economic society, is producing fewer and fewer commodities “ what used to be the basis of relative capitalist power in the world system “ but consumes a wildly disproportionate share of the world's commodities. This is important to note, because there is also no abstract universal state except in our taxonomies. In the world, there are only real, historically contingent states, and the US is uniquely-unique among them right now. Historical allusions are inadequate, not to mention downright inaccurate, to describe the United States of 2005 because, in many highly significant respects, no such state has ever existed before.

And the US state, in particular the military as a constituent part of it, is in a condition of deep disequilibrium.

One of the peculiarities of capitalism, often ignored by both right and left, is its dependence on non-capitalist sectors of society. Pro-capitalists have been inclined to describe the system strictly by market mechanisms. Anti-capitalists have been inclined to describe the exploitative appropriation of surplus-value in the production process, and leave it at that. But if the system depends on non-capitalist sectors to (1) realize a return on investment, or (2) exploitatively valorize capital, then what are these non-capitalist sectors, and how important is it that we understand them?

What work and what resources are drawn into the total social effort to ensure its continued and stable functioning that are neither bought nor paid for? Eco-feminist Maria Mies has answered this (correctly, by my reckoning) with three things: colonies, nature, and women.

I want to add one more “ the state.

While the US state is capitalist, male, and white nationalist in its reflection of the power and material interests of those who dominate civil society, as an organization the state categorically can not function in a capitalist way. Not only would it not be able to show a profit “ the sine qua non of ˜capitalist' activity, it would abdicate its most important function of providing stability for the whole capitalist class if it were incapable of a degree of autonomy from individual capitalist enterprises and the market itself. The attention span of a productive capitalist is one business cycle, and for speculative capitalists it is sometimes measured in minutes. The state is responsible for ensuring the long term conditions for the continuing power of the class as a whole, and therefore must be something of both a political manager on a world scale and an umpire.

So what has all this digression got to do with rape in the US military?

The military, an absolutely essential constituent part of the state, is even less capable of working in a capitalist way than the state at large. The attempt of the Rumsfeld Department of Defense to introduce more ˜capitalism' into the military through contracting-out much of the military's work and attempting to impose capitalist values “ that is, a market ideology “ on the military has significantly contributed to weakening the institution, precisely because the military mission has nothing intrinsically to do with return on investment or valorization of capital. In fact, the contrary is true. Effective militaries exhibit such institutional norms as mutual-dependence, collectivity (enforced if necessary), cooperation as opposed to competition, subordination of the individual to the requirements of the group, cohesion, etc. The military produces nothing. It is in no way designed to create profit “ even if extrinsically in a capitalist society it is the guarantor of capital.

The military can and must operate outside the articulated patterns of economic life without directly threatening either the (gendered) social relations of the civilian sector upon which the economic system rests or the complex, almost-impenetrable, liberal legal regime of the state. Odd as it may sound, given the macho culture of the current military, the military might be the state institution that is most vulnerable to a social movement against rape.

The questions raised by rape about the entire social architecture of gender are so deep and so resonant that they could be disruptive of the ideological legitimacy not only of a highly gendered accumulation regime in the economic sphere of society, but they could challenge the feigned neutrality which forms the foundation of liberal law.

The liberal state and its laws have achieved such a high level of complexity, and are so utterly insulated within the associations that form civil society, and the legitimation of the gender order is now so vulnerably dependent on this liberal faux-neutrality “ a neutrality that has been turned on the women who have attempted to use it, that there are layers upon bureaucratic, legislative, and judicial layers that have to be penetrated to get only incremental results.

But, as the military demonstrated when it was ordered to integrate the armed forces, if the Department of Defense is ordered to solve a problem, for the uniformed services this becomes nothing more or less than a question of command emphasis and will. And because military law is not negative-law, not precedential law¦ because it is outside the Constitution in many ways, and because the decisions in the military do not have a direct impact on the socials structures of accumulation that are immediately threatening to dominant sectors of civil society, the armed forces have a greater institutional potential to redress rape.

We are catching a glimpse of this ability to respond by the military's latest response with new directives and policies to the latest rape scandal in Iraq and Kuwait.

I do not advocate relinquishing the struggle against rape and the practice of the liberal state with regard to rape. On the contrary, I do not believe there is any more urgent issue in US society than stopping the widespread and systematic violence against women as women. But I want to make a specific proposal about how to respond to rape in the military.


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