The more eloquent soldiers being interviewed for The War are able to convey how they changed from being an ordinary man into someone who could kill easily. Several of them have spoken of the point at which they realized they were "expendable". Of course, the ones we're hearing from are the ones who survived, not just physically but also mentally. America's entry into the war was marked by failures and close calls because our troops were not "ready", which in some instances is code for "the ones who couldn't become killers had not yet been weeded out".
As Joan Baez once said, "If it's natural to kill, how come men have to go into training to learn how?"
There are a lot of figures being floated around about the cost of our current war, as another supplemental comes up for vote. Progressives include the cost of caring for our wounded, not just over there but back home with rehabilitation, mental health services, and disability pensions. But even those figures are inadequate because, again, they deal with those who are concretely, measurably injured.
The fact is, though, the aftermath of World War II saw a number of social changes that were all a direct result of sending 12% of the population into inhuman conditions, then bringing them home to resume normal life without any sort of organized, effective emotional processing. "When the boys came home", they demanded (and were given) the best-paying jobs (if they were white), college loans, housing loans, and a violent shove backwards for women and non-whites. The post-war repression led directly to the near-revolution of the 1960s. My generation are the children of those returned soldiers, and while they deserve respect for their sacrifice -- the whole nation deserves respect for its effort -- that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend they weren't seriously fucked up by how they spent their adolescence and young adult years.
Especially the men. The cult of masculinity that feminism addressed and is now waxing again arose as a result of male conditioning during and after World War II. Masculinity is an incomplete version of humanity, a carefully carved-out portion -- in precisely the same way that "white identity" is divorced from the actual reality of being alive on this multihued planet, and carrying the same degree of illusion and disease.
I personally believe that masculinity has offered everything it possibly could to humanity, and it's time to retire this bastard notion, thank you very much. (Along with femininity, but you don't find the same worship of it these days.) We can do better, and if we don't, the planet is going to die from "masculine" approaches to our problems.
Which has nothing at all to do with being male, or female. If you don't understand the difference, this essay is not for you.
"Happy Days" existed only for white boys with enough to eat. For the rest of the population, the majority, the post-war period sent people into depression, into ghettoes, into subservience, into shame -- and into the arts trying to find a means of expressing themselves. At least a third, and perhaps as much as 50%, of the children raised in those post-war families were the victims of sexual abuse. We'd be stupid to deny a connection behind the dehumanizing training of battle and the failure to see children as anything more than objects. Child abuse and sexualization has been with us for millenia, but we don't have the statistics to prove it didn't take a big spike after 1945.
The numbers returning from Iraq (when and if that occurs) will be far less, only about 1% of the population, but in some respects far more damaged. These folks will have spent years on end in urban settings, viewing civilians (not just other soldiers) as their chief threat, including children. They will be aware they were lied into this war, and it's only human nature to feel ashamed of having been duped, even if you were clearly part of the majority. Further, most of them are working class, people who turned to military service as a means of economic survival or advancement. There's a working class ethic against therapy, and having been royally screwed by the authority who sent them to Iraq, it's easy to guess many of them won't trust "professionals" who seek to help them. If help is even offered.
Masculinity stripped of civilized veneer, taught how to kill in urban settings, isolated and devalued economically once they're back home. What will "support for the troops" look like then? It will get dumped back onto their communities of origin, is my guess.
I want to see us, as progressives, getting ready to address this problem. It will mean recognizing the sources and making sure to neither blame nor idealize the victim. Naming and draining the cesspool of male conditioning is what will make everybody safe, including women and children.
Outside of academic enclaves, where creating deconstructed theories are what earn income and advancement rather than having to adjust to a brutally conforming corporate structure, and small self-selecting queer communities with rigid strictures on what is said and believed, the conditions for women as fully-recognized human beings are deteriorating. Indirectly, the heavy-handed emphasis on masculinity and "boi"-ness even within allegedly feminist communities proves this trend. For example, drag kings select only certain kinds of masculinity to perform -- that of the sexually dimorphic working class stereotype. Much of the overwhelming classism of these shows arises from the wedding of male-conditioned incoherence, numbness and narcissism to power-based sexuality, thus conditioning yet another generation of young women to project their own humanity onto the inexplicably romanticized icon of selfish meathead.
But those of us who exist in real communities with working class men know they are being eviscerated by these standards of masculinity, driven to substance abuse, distanced from their own families, chewed up and dying young. It's most definitely not "hot". And -- they're not the ones in charge of the decisions being made about who goes to war, who gets the big salaries, who has control of their own bodies. It's the "other" masculinity, the "non-sexy" version, who are really fucking us all.
You know, it's not just Barbie who doesn't resemble any living woman. GI Joe doesn't look like a single soldier in any of that World War II footage, either.
This time, instead of "buying bonds", let's stop buying the lies. Judy Grahn said "What you will do matters. All you need to do is to do it." Here they come: Are you ready?