Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Masculinity, The Military, And The Far Left

One of the most fascinating aspects of the attacks against me was how the far Left uses heavily gendered language to describe their enemies while also using traditional tropes of late twentieth century masculinity to talk about the soldiers.

First, a language definition. Some comments in the various posts at various blogs that have talked about this dustup have questioned my discussion of the foreign policy of "the left." And that's legitimate. For what exactly am I talking about here. And actually that's not all that easy to answer. For what is the Left if not myriad fragmented bunches who can't agree on anything, something easy to see from this discussion. So I guess I am defining the far Left as those that are both farther to the left than I am, which is already pretty damn far left in terms of American or even European politics, and who subscribe to ideas about America and the world that are a direct descendant of the far left of the 1960s such as the Weather Underground. Take issue with this definition if you want. It's the best I can do right now.

Back to the point of this post. Think of the terms used against me. Calling someone a coward has definite historical connotations in the English language. First, when are women describes as cowards? Almost never. Calling someone a coward, particularly when, as in this case, issues of war are involved, assumes that it is a male role to join the war and serve in the war. Now obviously, Gilliard and his supporters are turning this traditional definition of coward on its head somewhat, in part to protect themselves from the same charges. They only assume that one can be a coward if one does not oppose the war or oppose immediate withdrawal, thus tacitly supporting the war. Only if you support the war do you have the manly obligation to go and fight. And if you support the war, it is your duty to support all aspects of the war. You need to go and fight, otherwise your manhood has been compromised, if you indeed ever had any manhood for if you did, you would have already fought.

Gilliard makes this even point bluntly when he says of me, "if you were a man you would join them." Or check this out, and this by a woman, or someone posing as a woman no less, "For myself, I would need to see authenticated photos and notarized affidavits to show me that this keyboard coward even as a cock with or without balls," as well as a "pussy." This takes it a step further and asserts the connections between manhood and genitalia thus making a deeper connection between military service and manhood. Note that here, not only is one's manhood defined by military service but the lack of military service denies you even the most basic biological definition of manhood. Indeed to go even farther this woman actually uses the genitalia of the woman as an ultimate putdown. If I had a "cock with balls" I would be a man and thus worthy of myself, my convictions, and my country. But since my actions are more associated with the female genitalia, I am not worthy of any of these things.

All of this again predicated on the construction that those who oppose being in Iraq in any shape or form are immune to this paradigm due to their principles.

Personally I would have thought the far Left, having preached to the world about the need for gender equality and the perils of the American patriarchal establishment for several decades would avoid such language. Perhaps the inherited inequalities of gendered America are so strong that they even affect the members of the far Left. Or maybe they talk a big game about ending patriarchy in order to avoid having to look inside themselves to see how their own actions reflect this historical patriarchy.

Of course this is probably exacerbated by the overwhelmingly male space of the blogosphere, a space where testosterone runs more amuck than in Lyle Alzado's veins circa 1984.

Related to the use of gendered language and war is how the far Left seems to be construing the US military. Now of course we have a small sample size here. But then again, I'm no scientist, political or otherwise. Rob Farley, in his devastating critiques of Gilliard last night here, here, and here, discusses the role of the military in American society and how the Left needs to see this institution:

Turning military professionalism into glorious personal sacrifice is not a mistake the left needs to make. The left needs to treat the military as a professional instrument capable of achieving some national ends, and not as a glorious romantic endeavor based on patriotism and ideological commitment. This is what Gilliard's argument does, and it couldn't be better designed to hand foreign policy to the right. If we think of our soldiers as committed patriots rather than as professionals (and they are both, it just depends on which element we're emphasizing) then it becomes that much harder for civilians to constructively critique military policy and military operations.

This is an excellent point. The military is a profession. People choose to enter this particular profession. They know when they enter this profession that killing and being killed are options. That many Americans are now not making this choice with the increased knowledge of this decision is probably a good thing. But they are doing their job. This means several things. It means that we need to hold them to standards of professionalism. It means that we have a disturbing profession that is key to our nation's foreign policy. It also means, as Rob says, that there is no need to romanticize military service.

Now one might think that because the far Left is generally opposed to the use of our military, they would actively eschew placing the servicepeople on the same pedestal that the Right does. However, and much to my surprise, you would be wrong. Rather, the far Left also seems to place dying in military action as the ultimate manly exercise, something that a coward like myself, someone not deserving of the name "Man" would never engage in. In fact, I cannot become a full man because I do not put myself in the line of fire for a cause that, well for the millionth time I don't support but also don't advocate an immediate withdrawal.

I wonder how this lionization of manhood and military service came to be on the far Left. Has the nation so internalized the Greatest Generation rhetoric that even those most traditionally opposed to the military and US foreign policy have come to seen the sacrifices made in World War II as the standard to judge ourselves by? By focusing on the deaths of American soldiers, and maybe even fetishizing them and certainly by using them those deaths as a political tool to beat over the heads of those they disagree with, has the far Left come to the same conclusions about the manhood of soldiers and of military service, even if they disagree with it, as the Right has? It's a very interesting question worthy of more study and thought.