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Masculinity and social integration - antimilitarist strategies

While it is common antimilitarist thinking that the male image of the warrior is to be condemned, there is little analysis of new masculinities within the military, and even less thinking in strategic terms. What does a criticism of masculinities mean in antimilitarist work? The same can be said for recruitment strategies focusing on the military as an institution of social integration: what is the antimilitarist answer to gay and lesbian rights, equal opportunity programmes for women and people of colour or the military as the only job opportunity for working class people?

Participants gave reports from several countries about the role of masculinity in the armies and in which way this influences social integration. A great number of examples were given, mainly from Europe and the USA. With regard to the reports and examples eight points for strategies were taken down.

If one looks at all the examples it can be said that soldiers and their families are in no way integrated into society. Very often they live in separate quarters, especially when stationed abroad.

Masculinity is a determining factor of military hierarchy and together with the personal masculinity of each soldier they have an extremely destructive influence on family life and obstruct social integration.

Two impressive examples

USA: Soldiers of a submarine are for three to six months on duty and away from home. During this time the wife has to make all decisions on family affairs on her own. When the husband is back he often will try to reserve the function of the decision maker for himself. This raises conflict which often ends up that the husband takes refuge to beer and alcohol and especially under the influence of alcohol he may beat his wife and may even abandon his family.

US-soldier stationed in Great Britain: The soldier and his family lived far from the school for children of US-soldiers. To avoid the extreme long bus ride to the school the child was sent to an english school in the neighbourhood. Consequently the soldier was questioned by his officers and threatened. The army would take action which would be disadvantageous to his career if he did not send back his child to the US-school which he ultimately did.

These practices indicate planned and systematical procedures. Soldiers are supposed to lead a life as far as possible only under the influence of the military. Experiences in other spheres of life and their influences are to be excluded. This will guarantee the military to have obedient soldiers who are afraid of taking independent action.

Conditions are not the same in all countries. Germany e.g. experienced after World War II in many ways a break in its military traditions which made a favourable change for the soldiers. In this connection the experiences with the swedish military were again mentioned. Swedish soldiers were extremely shocked when they experienced during peace keeping missions the conditions in armies of other countries and their behaviour. Out of this experience and in comparison with other armies the swedish military is much more open going as far as having a dialogue with the peace movement.

Today the traditional hierarchical structure with its pattern of behaviour experiences more and more changes especially in view of the increasing use of high technology weapon systems. Soldiers may have more knowledge about weapon systems than their superiors. This necessitates more co-operation in groups with new patterns of relationship. However there still is need for the role of leadership which then is coupled with masculinity. When leadership is being described as an important value in the military this is always done in connection with men never with women.

The role of women in the army was discussed. For women it is also important to adopt masculine patterns of behaviour. But still they experience more discrimination than men and experience even rape. A number of other questions were briefly discussed among them homosexuality.

Eight points for strategy:

  1. There should be alternative opportunities in society for job training, personal development and opportunities to live out adventures. With such alternative opportunities young men and women would less likely go to the military.
  2. Activists should learn and disseminate facts about recruitment, conditions during service etc.
  3. The image of masculinity which leads young men to see the military as a welcome alternative to ordinary civilian life should be changed.
  4. Practical assistance, e.g. funds for education not tied to military service. In several armies there are opportunities for vocational training or university education. Soldiers however have to commit themselves to many years of service.
  5. Contact should be made to groups in countries moving to professional army models to warn of in-built hazards, e.g. British army model for Sierra Leone.
  6. Peace work with youth in general.
  7. Prepare for abolition of conscription.
  8. Values in society surrounding the military should be changed (stressing alternatives, ridiculing military with humour etc.).
Summary by Wolfgang Zucht, Germany.