Critical Military Studies Issues in 2019

British Forces in Rwanda, Operation Gabriel, August- October 1994 © Crown copyright. IWM (UKLF-1994-100-008B-03)

British Forces in Rwanda, Operation Gabriel, August- October 1994 © Crown copyright. IWM (UKLF-1994-100-008B-03)

Volume Five, Issue 1

Jean-François Caron’s article explores the extent of ethical disobedience in military settings. Acknowledging that there is a strict duty to obey orders in militaries that are given, he argues that this obligation is conditional on the lawfulness of these orders and that soldiers have the moral duty to disobey orders that would lead them to commit unlawful actions. Arguing that ethical disobedience is therefore an important feature of the armed forces that cannot be ignored, he takes its logic further still to ask whether or not soldiers have the duty to disobey lawful orders that, if respected, will likely result in harm to civilians, such as war crimes and/or genocide. Basing his analysis on the examples of the genocide of Srebrenica in 1995 and Rwanda in 1994 he discusses why ethical disobedience should include such a possibility.

Kristian Frisk probes the phenomenon of how the names of military bases, equipment, operations, sites, units, and weaponry have played a key role in the demonstration of power, the legitimization of war, and the formation of cohesion in the ranks. She argues that such naming practices form part of a broader process of the construction of meaning, or what Hans Blumenberg has termed the ‘work on myth’, since names function as principal devices for creating, reproducing, and transforming cultural narratives. Her analysis centres on the Danish experience as part of Task Force Helmand in Afghanistan, and elucidates how the army’s names have brought stories of national origin, heroic greatness, and warrior ancestry into the banal space of life abroad, where a mythscape has grown and changed in response to the situation on the ground and changes in the wider figuration of the Afghan War. On this basis, she stresses the importance of nationally orientated and highly emotional myths in transnational military interventions, and calls for other researchers to look more closely at this overlooked area of war.

Stephen Warren takes readers into the world of post-9/11 US Special Operations Forces, which have become an increasingly prominent feature amongst the country’s vast military options. His article examines US Special Forces through a critical discursive lens, exploring the conditions of possibility that US security discourse constructs for its Special Forces and argues that the Special Forces’ representation as an ‘elite’ fighting force in popular US discourse acts to stabilize the Special Forces within the wider discursive structures of US security. He considers how a narrative of mystique about Special Forces and their willingness to ‘fight fire with fire’ against imagined radical threats has effects how the US ‘should’ fight wars. Despite the difficulty in articulating the Special Forces as part of the ‘American way of war’, Warren shows that US security discourse has proved remarkably flexible in reconciling the Special Forces within its existing structures.

Benjamin Schrader’s article examines the affects of veteran activism and activists, primarily that of those who are doing work tied to ideals of social justice, and shows that this activism is a process of demilitarization. Drawing on original interviews conducted with veteran activists all around the United States, Schrader identifies three major ways in which demilitarization occurs through veteran activism. Pointing to how veteran activism allows for the creation of communities of awareness to the processes of militarization, for practices of demilitarizing the reinscription of patriotism through social justice work and for activism to become a form of healing for veterans themselves, he offers new ways of thinking about militarisation and demilitarization.

Our Encounters pieces for this issue include Lisa Barritt-Eyles’ encounters with the representation of Indigenous war experience at the Australian War Memorial (AWM). Finding that the Frontier Wars are all too often silenced and hidden, often in plain sight, in Australian war remembrance, she considers what this refusal to officially acknowledge the Frontier Wars does for the possibilities of commemorating all Indigenous war experience. She argues that an exhibition, (in)visible: the First Peoples and War, held in 2015, demonstrates the possibilities for disrupting collective forgetting and she discusses the ways in which con- temporary Indigenous artists’ works perform a motivated remembrance of the Frontier Wars and subsequent wars, and their ongoing effects in Indigenous lives. In another of our pieces in this section Maya Eichler, a feminist scholar of militaries and military conflict, and Jessica L. Wiebe, a female veteran artist, describe their experiences of co-writing and co-performing “The Weight We Share.” Drawing inspiration from another Critical Military Studies piece by Sarah Bulmer and David Jackson (“You do not live in my skin”), they share reflections on their collaborative work to illustrate how art has helped them to sit with the discomfort of engaging in conversations that challenge deeply-held beliefs and emotions about the military and war. Finally, Susanna Hast reflects on Nothing too Bad, her 11-minute documentary about her, her father, a briefcase and militarism. She describes her documentary as aimless and elusive, yet directed by a curiosity about the power of emotion, and the power of bodies and other materialities. She explores how a story makes an identity, and how an identity makes a story. She seeks to share a personal story of how militarism transmits and ramifies between bodies; how it sticks, unnoticeably.