As the United States seem poised to engage in yet another war, we would do well to remember that contrary to what Hillary Clinton may want you to believe, men have always been the primary victims of war. The entire enterprise of war can summed up like this: men from one country are sent to kill or be killed by the men of another country. It is difficult to come up with anything that is more anti-male than war.
War is an especially severe restriction of the rights of men if it is fought with conscripts, i.e. men forced under threat of imprisonment or execution to join the army. But even those men who join voluntarily, often do so not because it is in their calmly evaluated best interest, but because they were misled by ubiquitous patriotic propaganda or because they were shamed into enlisting by a prevailing societal notion that it is every man’s duty to “defend his country.” Arguably the best example of the latter is the Order of the White Feather, an organization in Britain during the First World War which shamed men into enlisting by having women hand them white feathers, a symbol of cowardice.
And while we should undoubtedly have the most compassion for those men forced to fight by oppressive orders of their government, those merely pressured into becoming soldiers are also victims of war. Growing up in a culture of patriotism and nationalism, going to a government school in which the virtues of the particular nation are extolled, and being surrounded by media which mostly support the nation and her current system of government, it is no wonder so many men are willing to go to war.
The idea that men should sacrifice themselves for the good of the nation, to protect women and children, to protect freedom, to safeguard national interests, or to make the world safe for democracy, are deeply rooted in the culture of most nations, especially the more war-like ones. War is the ultimate example of male disposability. Soldiers cease to be people. In the minds of rulers and generals, they are no longer human beings with desires, hopes and dreams, but merely resources to be employed to achieve strategical and tactical aims. Instead of soldiers’ lives being ends in themselves, they are means to achieve the ends of the rulers and generals. They have value only insofar as they are useful to what the rulers see as national interests.
This de-humanization can be seen most readily in how military and civilian casualties are perceived. While the death of civilians is seen as tragic and unjust, the death of soldiers is normalized. The very purpose of soldiers is to kill or be killed. And while the killed soldiers of the victorious nation are honored and proclaimed to be heroes, this does not diminish their disposability in any way. On the contrary, their death is praised as heroic, rather than being lamented as tragic. By this, more men are encouraged to risk death in service of their nation.
There is no good reason to consider the death of a conscripted soldier as any less tragic than that of a civilian. Both are innocent and have no share in the blame for the war. They are the victims of circumstances beyond their control. A professional soldier who understands the risks involved and still signs up is a different scenario. He may be influenced by propaganda and societal opinion, but in the end he has still made the choice of enlisting and thus risking his life. A case can be made that therefore, his death is less tragic than that of the innocent civilian. Still, he remains a human being and as such deserves our empathy, especially if he is defending his country instead of participating in the invasion of another.
Wherever wars are fought, the government tries very hard to steer public opinion through propaganda. A nation intent on invading a neighbouring country never comes out and plainly states its intentions of conquest and plunder. There is always some pretext. Austria-Hungary justified the First World War with the assassination of her crown prince Franz Ferdinand and the claim that Serbia wasn’t being cooperative enough in the investigation of the murder. The United States and the United Kingdom justified their invasion of Iraq with the claim that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Even Hitler didn’t just invade Poland without any pretence, but instead sent German soldiers disguised in Polish uniforms to raid a German radio post. Thus, he could claim to merely strike back at Poland.
All of these excuses sound rather flimsy in retrospect, but those men at the time who were caught up in state propaganda didn’t have the benefit of hind-sight and lacked unbiased information. We should not judge too harshly those men who believed the lies told by their by their governments and who voluntarily signed up to participate in these wars of conquest.
The motto of A Voice for Men is “Compassion for boys and men.” The very minimum requirement of compassion is not to kill men who—to the best of one’s knowledge—haven’t done anything to deserve it. Regarding a man as unworthy of life merely for being born in a country that happens to be at war with one’s own country is the very opposite of compassion. It is cruel, callous indifference, but this is precisely what is required of a soldier. This is another feature of military disposability.
While a friendly soldier is a resource to be used, an enemy soldier is a threat that must be neutralized. Enemy soldiers, too, are de-humanized. They are not seen as people with thoughts, feelings, and desires, but merely faceless villains against whom any violence is permissible. They are not to be negotiated or compromised with. They are merely to be killed, to be put down like rabid dogs.
Those who have compassion for their fellow men and see them as brothers rather than as dangerous beasts must reject any but the most unavoidable war. Only in an extremity of self-defence can it be justified to de-humanize men in this fashion and to pit them against one another in a deadly struggle.
As advocates for men, we should do what we can to promote peace. War brings out the worst in men, so we should try to stay out of it as far as possible. The military is a supremely anti-male organization and those who value the lives and the happiness of men everywhere should not join it and should advise their friends and family to stay away from it. If we cannot prevent war altogether, we should at least not participate in it ourselves.
It’s difficult enough to get the general public to pay attention to men’s issues during times of peace. When war prevails, there is no hope of that at all. While men who refuse to sacrifice their own health and well-being for women, for children, or for society are looked at as unmanly losers in peace time, they are branded cowards and traitors in times of war.
In times of crisis it is always men who are expected to step up to the challenge and endure hardship and danger so that women and children can be safer. If there is any hope of ending or at least significantly reducing male disposability and of bringing about widespread compassion for men and boys, it must start with a rejection of war. Only in a state of peace and prosperity will our voices have a chance to be heard.