Thursday, November 12, 2015

Masculinity - Why do men enlist in military

I recently read an excerpt form a book by Alan G. Johnson, The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy, which he dispels the ideal that warfare is justified and essential “to understanding the ‘natural’ gender order” (Johnson).  On November 11th many of us, myself included, paid tribute to members of our military.  I am supportive of people who choose to serve in the military.  However, a question I use to ask my fellow soldiers in 1975 was, why did you join up? 

According to philosopher and author, Sam Keen, the reason many men participate in warfare is to uphold the principles of the patriarchal system and in doing so men would go into battle to ensure the safety of those they held close and to fight against tyranny.  This idea is further supported in the recruiting advertisements throughout the years which specifically target ideals as deemed by society as being masculine; protecting the family and keeping the chaos and evil from reaching our shores.  Men are depicted as heroes - defenders of our cultural morals and values.  While these lofty ideals may be why some join, it couldn’t be further from the truth for a large number of military personnel.
As the article points out, if the epitome of being masculine is to be self-sacrificing and ready to go to war to protect their country and loved ones, then, we should see more of a cross section of our male society in the military.  Instead, in the enlisted ranks, what we usually see are young men who hail from middle and lower class families versus those privileged white males who are educated and financially secure.  Patriarchy is definitely at play however it is the hierarchy systems that usually defines who will most often join. 

To circle back to what I often heard when asking, why did you enlist?  The answers were often, education, learn a trade/skill, to provide for family and structure.  I never heard the answer, go to war overseas and defend my country – maybe it was just the era although I doubt it.

Johnson, Alan

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