Tag Archives: war/military

Reading the Camouflage: “You are Now Enemy Combatants”

Much has been said — and much more should follow — about the militarization of the police in American cities.  The images coming out of Ferguson, MO these past weeks testify to the distribution of military-grade hardware, gear, guns, and vehicles to your everyday police officer.

Here I’d like to focus on just one small part of this distribution of military-grade equipment: the uniform.  It’s not, by a long shot, the most straightforwardly dangerous, but it is a powerful symbol.  It’s a “dead giveaway,” writes a political scientist at Gin & Tacos, that there is something amiss with the “mindset of law enforcement.”  He’s referring to the swapping of blue or tan in favor of camouflage, like in this photo by Whitney Curtis for The New York Times:

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From Gin & Tacos:

Of what conceivable practical use could green or desert camouflage be in a suburban environment? Gonna help you blend in with the Taco Bell or the liquor store? Even if they did wear something that helped conceal them, that would be counterproductive to the entire purpose of policing in a situation like that; law enforcement wants to be visible to act as a deterrent to violent or property crimes in a public disturbance.

He concludes that “[t]here is only one reason those cops would wear camo” and, if I can put words in his mouth, it’s to be frightening and intimidating.  And, perhaps, to enjoy being so.

This is clear when we think about the role that camo plays in everyday fashion. For women, it’s a fun appropriation of masculinity.  For men, it’s a way to signal “I’m tough” by reference to hunting or soldiering. What irony, after all, that black men in Ferguson were also photographed wearing camo during the unrest that followed Brown’s death.

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On their bodies, of course, the camouflage is much more benign.  In contrast, alongside kevlar, automatic rifles, and riot shields on cops, it’s terrifying. It sends a clear message to the people of Ferguson: you are now enemy combatants.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday Stat: World’s Top Military Spender

According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the United States remains the world’s top military spender. In fact, U.S. military spending equals the combined military spending of the next ten countries.  And most of those are U.S. allies.

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Although declining in real terms, the U.S. military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.  As the following chart shows, military spending absorbs 57% of our federal discretionary budget.

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 Notice that many so-called non-military discretionary budget categories also include military related spending. For example: Veteran’s Benefits, International Affairs, Energy and the Environment, and Science.   We certainly seem focused on a certain kind of security.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

Banal Nationalism

Flashback Friday.  

In his book by the same name, Michael Billig coined the term “banal nationalism” to draw attention to the ways in which nationalism was not only a quality of gun-toting, flag-waving “extremists,” but was quietly and rather invisibly reproduced by all of us in our daily lives.

That we live in a world of nations was not inevitable; that the United States, or Sweden or India, exist was not inevitable.  I was born in Southern California.  If I had been born at another time in history I would have been Mexican or Spanish or something else altogether.  The nation is a social construction.

The nation, then, must be reproduced. We must be reminded, constantly, that we are part of this thing called a “nation.”  Even more, that we belong to it and it belongs to us.  Banal nationalism is how the idea of the nation and our membership in it is reproduced daily.  It occurs not only with celebrations, parades, or patriotic war, but in “mundane,” “routine,” and “unnoticed” ways.

The American flag, for example, casually hanging around in yards and in front of buildings everywhere:

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References to the nation on our money:

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The way that the news is usually split into us and everyone else:

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The naming of clubs and franchises, such as the National Football League, as specific to our country:

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The performance of the pledge of allegiance in schools and sports arenas:

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So, what?  What could possibly be the problem?

Sociologists have critiqued nationalism for being the source of an irrational commitment and loyalty to one’s nation, a commitment that makes one willing to both die and kill.  Billig argues that, while it appears harmless on the surface, “banal nationalism can be mobilized and turned into frenzied nationalism.”  The profound sense of national pride required for war, for example, depends on this sense of nationhood internalized over a lifetime.  So banal nationalism isn’t “nationalism-lite,” it’s the very foundation upon which more dangerous nationalisms are built.

You can download a more polished two-page version of this argument, forthcoming in Contexts magazine, here.  Images found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Hermaphroditic Civil War Horse Statue Links Heroism to Maleness

Flashback Friday.

This is a picture of a statue in Lexington, KY, in honor of Civil War general John H. Morgan. It depicts him on his favorite horse, Black Bess. The inscription is “Gen. John H. Morgan and His Bess.”

Here’s what’s interesting about this: Bess, as you might guess, was a mare — a female horse.  The statue, however, has testicles. You can see them in the picture below. The sculptor gave Bess testicles because he considered a mare an unworthy mount for a general — despite the fact that Morgan himself seemed to think she was just fine.

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I found out about this in Lies Across America: What Our Historical Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen.  Images borrowed from here and here. This post originally appeared in 2007.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

U.S. Army Releases Racially Biased Hairstyle Regulations

1Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the National Guard in Georgia has always plaited her hair into two twists around her head. She has been in the military for six years and has worn her hair natural (meaning no chemical treatments [perms] or hair extensions [weaves]) for four of those years. But according to the new hair-grooming requirements the U.S. Army recently released, her hair is now out of regulation.

And so are the Afro-centric hairstyles of many black women in the Army, who make up 31 percent of Army women.

Jacobs, who said she is “kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair,” has started a White House petition asking the Army to rethink its new hair guidelines. The petition has collected more than 7,000 signatures from soldiers and civilians, but needs to reach 100,000 signatures by April 19th in order for the White House to address it.

The petition states:

Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair… These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent.

The new Army Regulation 670-1  was published Tuesday and illustrates with photos the types of hairstyles that are unauthorized for women. Those include dreadlocks, twists or any type of matted or coiled hair. A particularly cumbersome requirement disallows the bulk of a woman’s hair to “exceed more than 2″ from her scalp.” That rules out Afros and most types of non-chemically altered black hair.

Basically, almost every natural hair option that black women in the Army could wear is now off limits. One of the few traditionally natural hairstyles that was listed as appropriate is cornrows, but a slew of specifications and rules surrounded even that. The diameter of each cornrow can’t be more than one-fourth of an inch, and no more than one-eighth of an inch of scalp may be shown between cornrows.

The only way to realistically meet the new standards would be to shave one’s head, perm one’s hair or wear weaves or wigs.

Jacobs said twists like the one she wears are very popular among black women soldiers because the style requires little maintenance when in the field. Her hair’s thickness and curliness makes pulling her hair back into a bun (a style popular among white women soldiers) impossible.

A spokesperson for the Army said the grooming changes are “necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.” When that need for “uniformity” erases the ethnic differences of a group of women and forces them to constrain themselves to European standards of hair, it presents a serious problem.

“I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair… I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all,” said Jacobs.

Screenshots taken from Army Regulation 670-1.

Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine, where this post originally appeared. You can follow her on Twitter.

Sure, There’s a Thing Called “Reverse Racism”

SureYou absolutely must find three minutes to watch Aamer Rahman defend the idea of reverse racism. Yes, he says, of course reverse racism is possible: “All I would need is a time machine…”  The rest is glorious.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Marketing Tactics of Firearm Manufacturers

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Studying up on the literature on gun marketing for a recent interview with the New York Times, I found a 2004 article on the topic with some really interesting findings.

The study — by public health scholar Elizabeth Saylor and two colleagues — asked what tactics marketers use to sell guns in a single month of advertising.  In contrast to what you might imagine, only a small minority of gun ads emphasized self-protection (3%) or a Western cowboy lifestyle (5%). Zero percent mentioned protecting one’s family. Only 15% of gun ads linked ownership to patriotism.  The most common substantive theme was hunting, but even that was a theme in only 20% of ads.

So what are gun advertisers highlighting in their ads?  Technical attributes.  The majority of gun ads (91%) emphasize the things that make one gun different from the next.  For example, they discuss the quality of the gun (61%), its accuracy (38%) and reliability (35%), and its innovative features (27%) and uniqueness (21%).

Why are gun manufacturers using this marketing strategy?

Here’s where the statistics get really interesting.  At the time of the study, 44 million Americans owned firearms.  Three-quarters of these owned more than one gun. In fact, 20% of gun owners are in possession of 55% of all guns (excluding law enforcement and military).

In other words, guns are not evenly distributed across the U.S. population, they are concentrated in the hands of a minority.  Most people that don’t own a gun are never going to buy one, so the best strategy for gun manufacturers is to convince people that they need lots of guns.  Differentiating the technical attributes of one from another is their way of telling the buyer that any given gun will do something different for them than the guns they already have, enticing the gun owner to own a range of guns instead of just one.

Cross-posted at iVoter.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Militarizing Santa: Then and Now

Since 1958, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has entertained kids with an annual Christmas-themed Santa-tracking program.  Kids keep an eye on where in the world Santa is delivering his gifts and everyone thinks it’s jolly.

Well, not this year.  Earlier this month we learned that Santa will be joined by two military fighter jets.  Some objected to the new twist on the tradition, arguing that it militarized Santa, essentially brainwashing kids into romanticizing the ugly necessity of defense and the aggression of war.

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Is it pro-U.S. military propaganda?

If it is, it’s nothing new.  Ben Ostrowsky sent us this World War II-era propaganda poster. It was part of a series produced by the labor union and corporation-led War Production Board in 1942.  The aim was to engage as many civilians and companies in weapon production as they could.  “Santa Claus has gone to War!” it exclaims.  Maybe he needs those fighter jets along for the ride after all.

1P.S. In case anyone is still debating: this proves not only that Santa Claus is white, but that he’s an American too.  Team America!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.