This scene from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica pilot – the first in which Commander Adama and President Roslin meet – is emblematic of three politically significant conversations underpinning the series. First, what is the appropriate role of the military with respect to the society it presumably exists to serve? Second, who decides? Third, what are the means by which that role is to be executed? All these conversations map broadly onto what Peter Feaver has called the “civil-military problematique;” and they cut across an emerging conceptual distinction in security studies between national and human security.
A graduate student and I are currently working on a paper that explores how those conversations play out over the course of BSG and examines how the show’s messaging is positioned in current debates about both civil-military relations and human security. In the paper, we elaborate on each of the three tensions exemplified by the initial conversation between Roslin and Adama in the pilot episode, and tie it to civ-mil/human security debates.
First, we examine the epistemological referent of “security” in the series. At the start of the series, Commander Adama assumes a territorialized national security frame – he sees his role as defending the Colonies themselves by pursuing and engaging ‘the enemy’ – while Roslin argues the role of the military is to protect civilians and proposes a militarized humanitarianism on behalf of a diasporic human collective. Although the distinction between military and human security is a constant tension in the show, we argue that the series progresses in the direction of a human security frame. But we also show how the series challenges the concept of human security.
Second, we examine the tension between civilian and military authority as depicted in the series. An abiding thread of analysis in civil-military relations is what level of civilian control over the military and military influence over civilian society is appropriate in a given society. The series begins with the two on somewhat equal footing in their respective spheres – similar to what Huntington referred to as “objective civilian control” – but the show progresses toward greater civilian supremacy overall, as well as fusing the distinction between the two, trends more associated with Janowitz. The civilianization of the military throughout the series is reflected in the destabilization of gender hierarchies as the show progresses, and culminates in complete debellicization in the final episode.
Finally, we examine representations of the limits placed on the role of the military in security, and the means by which it can carry out security measures. The show is unflinchingly brutal at times, forcing the viewer to confront the notion that good people can do terrible things. Nonetheless, BSG presents and defends an argument that military force can only be legitimate and therefore effective if wielded with due respect for the rule of law and human rights. This narrative has significant resonance with current policy debates over the role of the military in human security, in the US and abroad; and the show embodies an important tension between civilians and military personnel in the war on terror on the extent to which the state and/or military have the nation’s best interests at heart.
So that’s the paper in a nutshell. Here’s the bleg. We’ve been asked by the editor of the volume for which this is a contribution to ground the meta-analysis more closely in real-world political events, rather than simply academic literature. Help! There are obviously analogues with rule of law in the war on terror, and with the supposed civil-military crisis of which various commentators have been writing in recent years. But we’d also like to cast a broad net: as we develop this further, I am soliciting further thoughts from readers. How might the political debates from BSG be further mapped onto / connected to real-world civil-military relations? Reply below to earn an acknowledgement in our final version.
President Obama expressed a general sense of relief tonight that the Egyptian military chose to side with the people over the state this week – an outcome not at all pre-ordained by the pre-existing historical relationship between the Egyptian military and the govenrment. In 2004, for example, Stephen Cook concluded the Egypt case study in a Council on Foreign Relations report on civil-military relations in the Middle East as follows:
The organic connection between the Egyptian armed forces and the existing political order is likely to place a drag on Egyptian reform and complicate US efforts to bolster change. With their influence institutionalized at the highest levels of the state, the
officers are likely to countenance reforms that merely shore up the existing regime, but do not effect in any way their highly influential role over the course of Egypt’s political development.
What happened? Mark Thompson at Time Magazine argues:
Ever since the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, promising Egyptian military officers have come to U.S. military schools, including the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn., the Army’s Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Inculcated there with U.S. ideals on lawful civilian control of military, such an education has helped act as a “safety” on the firepower of the Egyptian streets now massing in Cairo and in other cities.
“This new generation of Egyptian officers has been exposed to the American military and has had a very favorable impression of not just the way we fight our wars but also about the relationship between the military and society,” says Robert Scales, a retired Army major general who served as commandant of the Army War College where he launched the international fellows program. “One of the reasons for the army’s reluctance to follow Mubarak’s intent and squeeze the population in Cairo has to do with the Egyptian military’s exposure to the U.S. military.”
Now, I hope that someone following civil-mil in Egypt more closely than I have will weigh in on the veracity of this analysis. But if this is indeed even a significant element of the basic story, then it confirms an argument by Carol Atkinson on the liberalizing effect of military-to-military relations globally:
The research presented in this article examines one aspect of state socialization, the extent to which transnational military-to-military interactions have served as an effective mechanism of the democratic political socialization of states. The socialization process described in this study is three level: (1) individuals acquire new ideas; (2) coercion, incentives, and persuasion aid in institutionalizing these ideas in the underlying political structure of the state; and (3) once institutionalized, these new ideas/identity of the state influence the material and ideational structure of international society. Using an original data set encompassing over 160 states during the years 1972–2000, the analyses find U.S. military-to-military contacts to be positively and systematically associated with liberalizing trends.
Food for thought.
[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]
On the road home from South Carolina I posted notice of Laura Sjoberg’s critique of militarized masculinity in her analysis of DADT-repeal discourse. Now that I’m settled in, I’ve realized it’s the comments thread on that post where the real action is and I feel compelled to throw in my two cents.
Laura’s key argument:
That the military now includes gay people and (kind of) women openly does not mean that it is some how gender-equal or gender neutral. Instead, masculinity remains the standard of good soldiering in the United States military. Celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the way it has been celebrated, I think, may obscure that point. It also obscures a long tradition in Western political systems of defining full citizenship by military participation/bravery.
Some important questions asked by commenters:
So I wonder what a non-masculinist military would actually look like. Starfleet? Probably not. Do we have any models?… while I can easily think my way from a feminist analysis of the masculinized military to a call to replace the military and end the war system, I can’t quite think my way from that critique to an alternative military.
I’m interested in your critical imagining of what a de-masculinized way of killing people would entail, and why that would be preferable to the kind of de-gendering of biological sex implied by allowing non-heterosexual men into the role of “masculine solider.”
I am quite interested in an answer to Dan’s question. I think the really fundamental point in this comment thread is whether killing can be ‘de-masculinized’. Given the problems I, PTJ, Dan and others are having imagining what on earth this would look like, it would be really helpful to have some suggestions, even if this means that you have to zoom out a little. What would a de-gendered war system look like?
Can you post a specific description of what a non-masculine and/or gender-free military would actually look like, how it would be different from what we have now, and how/why it would be more effective – in less than 100 words? Don’t refer to feminist IR or deconstruct history through feminist/progressive/whichever perspective – just answer the question.
I don’t entirely (yet) know the answer to your question, except to start with that it is the wrong question. Critique/deconstruction/ rethinking/reconstruction can’t start with a small portion of the war system, but the whole thing… it is not just militaries, but militarism (and by extension militaristic culture) that would need to radically change operations in order to see any real “change” in the gendering of strategic cultures….There is no simple answer.”
Hmm. Let me humbly offer one: it’s really about civil-military relations, not military culture or raison d’etre per se. A post-masculinized military, as I imagine it, would differ from the system she’s critiquing not in its ability to use violence (in other words, I don’t share Laura’s view, finally, that it would look like a ‘cross between the peace corps and a chain gang.’) And it would not merely be constituted by who is in the military or what kind of masculinity the military privileges in its soldiers (though these things matter). More significantly, one would know a post-masculinized military system by the character of the military’s relationship to the civilian world it serves. And I would argue with Sjoberg that there is further (beneficial) work to do, but also that we are heading in the right direction faster that she might acknowledge.
What exactly does that world look like?
Well, it is a world in which women and men both have the equal right to serve.
And it is a world in which hetero-normativity is not a requirement for the sort of archetype we valorize in soldiers. Women’s integration and the repeal of DADT therefore do take us in that direction.
And it is also a world in which “normal masculinity” is delinked from the attributes we associate with hyper-masculine military culture. This is happening in many places already: men’s groups, rap lyrics, third grade classrooms like my son’s, where students are taught to include everyone, to use I-statements when they have hurt feelings, bond without smack-talk, to value other cultures and the earth, and to see “bad” not in the guy but in the behavior. These things are also happening in the military.
And it is also a world in which militarism is de-linked from its historical raison d’etre “killing bad guys to protect innocent women and children on the home front.” But there are many ways to do that delinking short of letting “‘guys’ who do bad” run rampant, and these things are also happening already. Since at least the early 1990s, the US military has been intimately involved in a variety of humanitarian and stability operations worldwide, where the vulnerable being protected are “theirs” not “ours”; where the enemy are not “bad guys” so much as disease, starvation or natural disaster; where the goal is not to kill but to “peace-keep”; where the tactics involve very “feminine” traits such as listening, intercultural dialogue, and the provision of comfort; and where the “good” and “bad” “guys” (when there is killing to be done) may just as easily be children or women. All of this, for better or for worse, is already destabilizing the conventional gendered war narrative that IR feminists use as a foil.
But “de-masculinizing the military” it’s also about at least three other things that are happening, if at all, much more slowly: a) balancing the esteem we pay to military service with the esteem we pay to traditionally feminized roles such as child-rearing b) making the same effort to gender-integrate traditionally feminized roles as we do to gender-integrate traditionally masculinized roles c) changing the relationship between the military and civilian sectors in security operations to be more collaborative and less hierarchical.
Let me expound a little on each, for they constitute answers to the question about how to translate feminist insights into policy.
1) In a De-Masculinized Military System, Child and Elder-Care Would Be Understood as Important a National Service as “Fighting Bad Guys.” A concrete way to de-link militarism from ‘national service’ in this way would be to provide a package similar to veterans’ benefits for parents who have taken time out from the paid labor force to rear children. Ann Crittenden laid out this entire agenda in her excellent book The Price of Motherhood. She also pointed out that the military already had the best child-care system in the United States ten years ago – for those who serve the military. What if non-military families were entitled to the same benefits? What if we privileged, remunerated and valorized the care and feeding of functional future citizens in the same way that we valorize soldiering? What if the US military functioned in such a way as to actually enable its personnel to effectively balance warrioring and family life?
2) In a De-Masculinized Military System, Policy-Makers Would Gender-Integrate Feminine/Civilian Roles as Aggressively as They Gender-Integrate Masculine/Military Ones. A way to delink militarism from hetero-normative masculinity is by delinking its binary opposite (‘child-rearing’) from hetero-normative femininity. You do this by making the benefits and obligations of rearing children or caring for elders gender neutral as well. Those parenting benefits? They need to apply to fathers as well as mothers and, if the Sweden experienceis any indication, men need to be required to actually take them if they father children. We can work to change the perception that men who seek positions as nurses or childcare workers or kindergarten teachers must be less than manly. We need to raise our sons to think of “real man-hood” in terms of fathering as well as soldiering or fighting fires, and we need to make sure they have the skills to succeed at these tasks, which is the only way their sisters will be fully free to participate on equal footing in national or military service. And now that gays have the right to serve openly in the military, perhaps we can move on to acknowledging they are fit to raise children as well.
3) A De-Masculinized Military System Would Emphasize Collaborative Relations Between the Military and the Civilian Sectors, Rather than Protecter/Protectee Relations. This too is already happening, but not necessarily in ways to destabilize militarized masculinity. What we see happening, as Colonel Matthew Moten has aptly described, are armed “civilian” contractors displacing uniformed troops in stability operations, exhibiting a renegade form of warrior masculinity delinked from the just war ethic of those socialized into military culture; and military personnel encroaching upon civilian political authority. What we need to see: increasing engagement by weapons-bearers with “civil society” groups, particularly women’s groups, who often have not only the contextual knowledge to detect threats and mobilize social capital but are frequently overlooked in stability ops because they are not perceived to have the expertise necessary to work with the military. (In fact, people in care-giving roles, historically mothers, have precisely what the military is realizing it needs most: socio-cultural intelligence. Cynthia Cockburn has great examples of this in her chapter on reconstruction in Bosnia in this book. Also see this.)
In short, at least in theory, it is in the equalizing of responsibility for “security” between weapons-bearing and non-weapons-bearing sectors, between protector and protected, that policymakers can begin to de-gender that militarized narrative and make militaries work better for human beings rather than primarily for the state.
[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]
The Associated Press has sparked a controversy by publishing these graphic photos of Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard’s death in Afghanistan, against the wishes of his parents and the Pentagon.
Forgetting the fact that we never seem too concerned about representations of dismembered or dying people from other countries, let’s review the two key issues in the debate:
1) Should the DoD be bullying the press into sitting on war photos that render war as ugly as it is? In reviewing the coverage on blogs, most comments I’ve seen by military personnel argue no.* But they also think it’s bunk to assume that a) the public doesn’t ‘get it’ and b) that the war is ‘senseless’ and c) that the public will turn against the war if they see ‘what it’s really like.’ On all three points, I agree (that it’s bunk).
2) Should the press respect the preferences of those it represents and their families even if it means suppressing the full truth? This is by far the more important issue in my mind, for Bernard’s family (not just the Pentagon) twice asked the AP not to publish photos of his death. I tend to come down on victims’ rights in these cases, and ironically, so do progressives most of the time. A lot of the same liberals who are supporting the AP in this case, because they believe in the political agenda behind its decision, would have criticized war journalists in Bosnia for publishing photographs of rape victims against their request, no matter how useful this would have been in bringing attention to the horrors of war. If I were in the reporter’s shoes in either case, I’d have respected such a request.
On the other hand, if the US government wished to lend support to the family’s cause, it could not have chosen a worse spokesperson than the Secretary of Defense. Now this family’s genuine wish for privacy has been associated in the public’s mind with the DoD’s agenda to maintain war’s legitimacy – and has undermined both.
*Those who identify themselves as having served are saying things like the following in comments on the Denver Post article that broke these photos:
“I am a 3rd generation combat arms soldier. I have several good friends buried at Arlington. I feel for this young amn’s family and honor his sacrifice and his memory. But I have no qualms about publishing photographs of my death or my friends death as death is part of war and we must be able to comprehend that every death is a horrible thing and a great sacrifice to a family and friends back home. Recall the shot of the rotting corpse of a soldier in a shell hole that is one of the “classic” images of WWI…the photo showing the washed up bodies of dead Marines on a beach in the Pacific, etc etc…yes, the images are graphic, but unfortunately they are also necessary. A photo can mobilize a nation to fight when necessary, or it can serve to start the dialogue needed to end an unjust one. Free society requires a free press. You don’t have to like it, just honor it. That is what we are/were fighting for after all people…freedom.”
“I’m glad the photos were published. As a Marine, I’m far from disgusted by them. I am appalled that such “hoopla” is being raised over it. This is war, it’s not pretty or fun. It’s not all parades and fireworks.”
“I am a Corpsman (the medics that take care of the Marines) currently deployed to Iraq. People dont fully untderstand what is going on over here and in Afghanistan. We see it everyday. If you guys want to send us to war and not come along for the fun, well you better not complain when you have to look at how ugly it really is.”