Dead Men Don’t Count in War

When the war dead are counted, ‘women and children’ are singled out for our pity. Why do we accept the deaths of men in war?

We live in troubled times. The US is fighting an asymmetric war against the world to maintain its perceived right of exploitation and enrichment in the face of its inevitable decline. With the Patriot Act and the infiltration by the FBI of the ‘terrorists’ of the Occupy movement, it has even taken the war to its own people.

Wars, of course, are messy, not in the least because ‘innocent’ women and children get caught up in them. Men, on mass, are guilty, so their deaths don’t count. This, at any rate, is the relentless narrative of the mainstream media.

Yes, I care about the needless death of women and children.  But I also care about the needless death of the men who fight them.

“The bomb killed thirty people, some of them women and children.”

How many times have we heard this on our television screens? It’s as if we expect men to die in war zones, but it is unreasonable to expect women and children to die also.

War is undeniably deeply gendered. Generally societies expect men to do the fighting, and they are expected to do it away from women and children. If women and children die, men are not only culpable for being the aggressors, but also culpable of letting down the women and children. As men are doubly culpable, why should we care how many get killed?

Well, I care about everybody who gets killed in war zones. Yes, I care about the needless death of women and children. But I also care about the needless death of the men who fight them.

I care about the young recruit from the US Deep South who sees a military life as the only economic option, and is put on the front line to face dangers the generals and their political masters observe from the comfort of being out of range.

I care about the millions of indigenous men who are forced into defending themselves and their families as the largest war machine ever assembled rolls into town to occupy their country, exploit their natural resources, dismantle their society, and torture their fellow citizens.

I care about the men whose economic circumstances mean they cannot provide for their family and see the people they love, their women and children, die through lack of food, shelter and medicine, and see armed resistance as the only way to gain a better life for them and their families.

I care about the men who are shamed, through intense social pressure of other men, and yes, women, to fight a war they don’t understand or believe in.

I care about the men who are brutalised by initiation and training regimens which aim to divorce them from their humanity and innate compassion for others.

I care about the men I have worked with who have to make sense of the horrific images they saw in battle, and the guilt they feel at pulling the trigger, and being responsible for the death of other human beings.

Yes, it is men who fight wars. Or more accurately, men fight other people’s wars; and in so doing are just as much victims as anyone else. But the narrative doesn’t allow for that. So, as men, we are forced to hold our pain in silence, accept the blame, and bear the collective guilt, so our women and children don’t have to.

 

This was previously published on Men’s Wellbeing.

Read more on War on The Good Life.

Image credit: nabarund/Flickr

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Comments


  1. I care about the millions of indigenous men who are forced into defending themselves and their families as the largest war machine ever assembled rolls into town to occupy their country, exploit their natural resources, dismantle their society, and torture their fellow citizens.

    I care about the men whose economic circumstances mean they cannot provide for their family and see the people they love, their women and children, die through lack of food, shelter and medicine, and see armed resistance as the only way to gain a better life for them and their families.
    These two stike a particular cord with me. With the way deaths are reported it’s almost like male civilians do not matter in the least bit. For males it’s pretty much a case of they are children until they reach a certain at which point they become an enemy combatant. No presumption of innocence.

  2. Random_Stranger says:

    “fighting an asymmetric war against the world to maintain its perceived right of exploitation and enrichment in the face of its inevitable decline” wow, took me a moment to get past this choice statement -what’s this article about again?

    Oh yeah, I applaud the DOD’s decision to permit women to serve in combat positions -but I can’t stand how this is being spun as a victory for women over the proverbial boy’s club. This is at least as much, if not more so, a victory for men who feel their gender shouldn’t uniquely and disproportionately oblige them to bear the costs of their country. DOD just needs to follow-up with gender blind selective service.

    A 1000 dead men a glorious sacrifice on the alter of freedom, a 1000 dead women a rape and massacre, no more.

  3. Come on, we already know the answer: Men don’t count because men’s lives are disposable.

    • Anyone in an empire is disposable so long as they aren’t useful. Warriors, women over childbearing years, those who don’t make money.

      • I think the difference is that unlike those other categories you mention for some reason it’s taboo to talk about the disposability of men as men.

        We can talk about warriors that come back injured and need help living and have already “lived out their usefulness”. (But honestly how much of that conversation is about them as men and how much of it is about them as veterans.)

        We can talk about women over child bearing age.

        We can talk about the poor.

        But talk about men as men in some other capacity than “men are doing bad things to other people”? We are still working on breaking that new ground.

        • Wrong again, I guess I am. I doubt I’ll ever put up a comment that doesn’t get shot down. I think in empire nearly everyone is disposable. Talk or not. That we are talking about poor, women etc is NEW in the history of the world. And the GMP exists. To talk about men. So….It’s happening.

    • I don’t think it’s men in general whose lives are disposable but rather a bit of a split.

      When it comes to putting men into military service and sending them off to wars its not that they are disposable and have no usefulness. I think it’s that their capacity for military service IS usefulness. It’s the “men are usually bigger. stronger” thing. (Yes that same thing that comes up everytime someone wants to wax on about how men commit more violence.)

      When it comes to civilian men I’ll be the first to agree that that there is some disposability going on. If a male is not a child and is not considered to be of fighting shape he is considered disposable (and when you get down to it I think the only reason boys are considered disposable is solely because they are children). As is mentioned in the post. When civilian deaths are reported it’s usually a number and then the portion that were women and children is mentioned.

      Once a guy gets to old he is either a threat (while he is in that age ranged where he’s considered to be combat effective) or he does not matter at all (because apparently even elderly men aren’t even worth looking out for).

  4. John Schtoll says:

    I also read some time ago that the obama administration definitino of enemy combatants as those directly involved in fighting and any male between certain ages within the combat zone.

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