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.
“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.
Image credit: nabarund/Flickr