Critical Military Studies Issues in 2019
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.
Nick Caddick, Alex Cooper & Brett Smith open the issue with their reflections on being civilians who research the lives of military veterans. Through dialogue and critical debate with colleagues and research participants, and drawing on Gadamer’s concept of ‘horizons of understanding’, they explore the tensions at the centre of such research and how dialogical methods can help researchers engage in more productive and responsible research with veterans.
Jean-François Caron’s article examines what value courts should give to moral acts performed by war criminals. Considering the extent to which such acts should alleviate the punishment individuals accused of violating the rules of war, he argues that the possibility of considering lesser punishments for war criminals who decide to perform a moral act might produce significant positive moral outcomes.
Martin McCleery and Aaron Edwards examine the murder of two British Army corporals, Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in March 1988. They argue, drawing on Randall Collins’ seminal work on violence, that the case reveals much about the micro dynamics of the political violence which occurred during the Northern Ireland conflict, and that it demonstrates that most human beings are not particularly good at violence, and for the most part, irrespective of motive, can only participate in such actions when they have what is defined as attacker advantage. In so doing, they mount an important challenge to common-sense ideas about why and how violence occurs.
Christian Enemark’s article turns our attention to the ethical significance of drone violence by focusing on the experience of drone operators as ‘moral agents’. Turning away from just war theory towards a consideration of drone violence as something that can be assessed by the notion that killing a human being can cause ‘moral injury’ to the killer, he shows that killing that is deemed permissible by others (by reference to Just War principles) can be judged differently by killers themselves. He argues that although it is sometimes claimed that physically distant drone operators are as morally disengaged, evidence to the contrary is emerging, and that if the risk of moral injury is real, it undermines the risk-avoidance rationale for sending drones rather than troops to dangerous places, and could thus serve as an additional ethical basis for restraining drone violence.
Lori Holyfield, Maggie Cobb, Scott Herford & Kasey Ogle examine the salience of resistance to allowing women to work in officially designated combat-related jobs, despite women’s service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using narrative analysis as technique, they consider the hegemonic conditions of military culture that render women’s participation problematic, identifying melodrama, an emotional, simplified, persuasive, and morally laden narrative surrounding the battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, as central to the narrative that they term as masculinity under attack. Arguing that narratives are strategic, they show how local online narratives link to broader cultural narratives that have important material implications for women and all things feminine in the military.
Finally, in her Encounters piece, Jenny Hedström conjures up militarisation for us in five incisive vignettes from her fieldwork research into the war between the Burman military and the Kachin Independence Organization.
This issue features regular research articles and Encounters as well as a Special Section - Militarism Goes to School.
The Special Section on Militarism Goes to School opens with an introduction from guest editors Seth Kershner & Scott Harding on why we need to pay attention to schools as sites of socialising societies into supporting warfare.
Brooke Johnson’s article take us into the heart of this claim through her three years of participant observation at the Military Educational Institute (MEI), a militarized charter school in Southern California. Showing how students there challenged and resisted heterogendered, and militarized culture, she exposes important avenues of youth resistance to militarized education and expands feminist theory by illustrating how erotic power can be employed for collective resistance of militarism and militarization.
Matthew Friesen & Matthew Eddy turn our attention to military recruitment and the experiences of military recruiters to examine how and why 180,000 young people are recruited to join the US military each year. Analysing military recruiter training manuals and drawing on 45 interviews with recent military veterans, they reveal how the US military has enthusiastically embraced corporate marketing and sales techniques. They also show that in contrast to Defense Department reports, most veterans perceive that recruiters either lied or significantly stretched the truth in an effort to secure their enlistment raising important questions about the targeting of young people by the US military.
In the last article of this special section, Therese Quinn & Erica R. Meiners examine the Trump administration’s quick moves to both rescind some of the limited protections made available to some gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and to double down on a military agenda hat includes increased federal funds to the military. Building on eight years of participatory observation in counter-recruitment movements and community mobilizations against the militarization of public schools, and participation in concurrent queer justice movements, they argue that struggles against the military industrial complex (MIC) in schools against and with LGBTQ justice movements offer significant insights into failure, persistence, public education, and approaching organizing queerly.
Susan T. Jackson’s article examines why producers of large conventional weapons systems, despite offering up goods that the public cannot buy, use official corporate YouTube channels to reach the public. Arguing that these companies are significant actors in politics and that their presence in everyday life is a potential site of militarization, she reveal how these companies ‘sell’ national security as military security, framing the military as a ‘good, natural, and necessary’ part of society. Using an intersectional lens and a multi-modal audio-visual approach to understand how images, sounds, and texts work together to tell a version of Sweden’s national security story as constructed in Saab’s official corporate YouTube videos, she argues that these videos illuminate a view that Sweden does (and should) have militarized national security that seems counter to images of a peacekeeping nation.
Thorsten Bonacker’s piece develops a theoretical argument for how the militarization of security can be understood from a systems theory perspective, which allows a conceptual link between the two main perspectives on militarization within securitization studies to be made. Whereas in securitization studies the so called Copenhagen School and the more sociological approach of the Paris School are generally seen as two analytical lenses on securitization and militarization, he suggests reconceptualizing them as two perspectives on empirically distinct processes of militarization. Although his focus is on developing a theoretical perspective on the complexities of political and non-political militarizations of security, he also aims to encourage further exploration of how those forms of militarization are empirically interlinked.
Finally, in her Encounters piece, Angela Serrano ask how sexual difference and gender identity play out in interpersonal relationships within a military context. Exploring this question in an autobiographical narrative non-fiction essay, she reflects on the way military service training was romanticized as a calling, where the organization, the work and study, and the relationships between soldiers in training, were endowed with emotional significance.