Thursday, March 22, 2007

Women and Men in War

Katie asked us to comment on this article by a male soldier who had served in Iraq.

A few caveats: I have never served in the military in any capacity. I have no doubt that I wouldn't last 30 seconds if placed in any real danger in Iraq. I don't think that this means I can't say anything about the war there, or comment on what people who have fought there say, but I do think it's important for me to remember that I have little experience in my life which could help me understand what it's like to fight in war--or to live in a country which has been invaded, for that matter.

That said, I feel there are only a few things I'd like to say about the article.

First off, I think that Mr. Mockenhaupt is actually pretty brave for talking about how he misses the fighting, and then how he feels guilty about how he misses the fighting. And I think he has some great implicit insight when he says:
We [he and his wife] both came back from Iraq, luckier than many. Two of my wife's students have been killed, among the scores of journalists to die in Iraq, and guys I served with are still dying, too. One came home from the war and shot himself on Thanksgiving. Another was blown up on Christmas in Baghdad.

Thinking of them, I felt disgusted with myself for missing the war and wondered if I was alone in this.

I have to wonder myself how much similar feelings of guilt might have led one of his friends to suicide.

Secondly, I think it's unclear just what negative affects trauma that is suffered in war causes, but it's clear that there are lots of them. It also seems like learning how to kill-or-be-killed on a daily basis and then coming back to a world where one doesn't have to kill-or-be-killed would be a jolt that might be hard to recover from. He notes:
After watching the Internet videos, I called some of my friends who are out of the Army now, and they miss the war, too. Wells very nearly died in Iraq. A sniper shot him in the head, surgeons cut out half of his skull -- a story told in last April's Esquire magazine -- and he spent months in therapy, working back to his old self. Now he misses the high. "I don't want to sound like a psychopath, but you're like a god over there," he says. "It might not be the best kind of adrenaline for you, but it's a rush." Before Iraq, he didn't care for horror movies, and now he's drawn to them. He watches them for the little thrill, the rush of being startled, if just for a moment.

Frankly, that seems pretty psychopathic to me--but in a sense it's understandably psychopathic, because of the trauma one probably experiences when being put in the positions that people involved in war are put in. The question for me is: How do we help people deal with these feelings?

Thirdly, I'd respectfully object to the gender essentialism which underlies the whole piece, and the first section in particular:
That men are drawn to war is no surprise. How old are boys before they turn a finger and thumb into a pistol? Long before they love girls, they love war, at least everything they imagine war to be: guns and explosions and manliness and courage.

Boys and girls both play war, up until the girls are told not to, explicitly or implicitly. And if it's a matter of being somehow tough enough, it's becoming clear that women in war have to deal with everything that men do, plus they have to deal with the possibility of being harmed in various additional ways, including being raped, by members of their own military. I would hazard a guess that there are just as many soldiers who are women who 'miss' the fight as there are men; at the very least, I think it's wrong to assume otherwise until some evidence is offered.

I'm glad that this guy wrote the article, and I think discussion of the various issues is needed. Is there a way to better 'come down' after fighting in a war so that you don't crave that sort of excitement? Why do some people feel that way more than others? Are there gender/class differences in reactions? At the same time, the idea that this feeling is somehow a feeling that men feel because they are born to like war on some essential level (and that women aren't) would have to be backed up a bit for me to swallow it.

(This post leaves to the side all of the issues involved in whether the US ought to be in Iraq in the first place, whether war is a necessary evil and the like--these are good discussions to be had, but a bit too broad of a scope for me to tackle at the moment.)

Thanks for bringing our attention to the article, Katie.
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