war/military

Brian McCabe put up a post at Five Thirty Eight about changes in public attitudes toward letting gays and lesbians serve in the U.S. military, using data from ABC/Washington Post polls that asked whether gays and lesbians should be able to serve and whether they should be allowed to serve while openly disclosing their sexual orientation.

The red line below indicates those who said gays and lesbians who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve. The blue line indicates responses for those who agreed that gays and lesbians should be able to serve if they didn’t disclose their sexual orientation — a position that basically aligns with the military’s current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

When DADT was passed in 1993, less than half of those surveyed thought gays and lesbians should be able to openly serve, though over 60% supported allowing them to serve as long as they didn’t disclose their sexual orientation. But notice the dramatic changes in the last 17 years:

Support among the general public for allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, without any restrictions, has increased greatly. In 2008, 75% of respondents supported such a policy. Also notice the gap between the two options has narrowed. In the 1990s, a significant portion of the population was comfortable with gays and lesbians in the military only under a DADT-type situation, where anyone who wasn’t straight had to keep quiet about it. Today the overwhelming majority of respondents support a non-restrictive policy, and the additional support gained by adding the possibility of requiring gays and lesbians to hide their sexual orientation isn’t nearly as large as it used to be.

Whether Congress will repeal DADT is still unclear. But the trend among the general public is pretty clear, from this and other polls: Americans no longer need the reassurance of a policy that promises to restrict gays’ and lesbians’ sexuality in order to support their military service.

Jose Marichal at Thick Culture put up another great example of what he calls “engaged public space,” or the quiet but political use of public spaces to inform and incite.  Writes Marichal:

This tally of military suicides is outside the studio of Brooklyn artist Sebastian Errasuriz. Its power comes from its simplicity.

See also our post on political (versus historical) roadside markers.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Rich sent in a fascinating example of an attempt to redefine masculinity.  At Rightly Concerned, Brian Fischer argues that the fact that all of the recipients of the Medal of Honor awarded during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have received the award for saving lives, not taking them.  He calls this trend “the feminization of the Medal of Honor.”

Let’s not get into a conversation about whether the Medal should be awarded for saving lives, taking lives, or both.  Instead, let’s consider what, exactly, Fischer is saying about men and masculinity.  Fischer is suggesting that saving lives is something that women (should) do.  He has arranged saving lives and taking them in a binary layered onto gender.  Women save; men kill.  When men save, they are doing something feminine.

This is in dramatic contrast to the vision of the heroic man who protects others that has long been part of the American imagination (think firemen, policemen, body guards, big brothers, dads, boyfriends, and husbands) and a very interesting example of an attempt to redefine what “real men” do.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Last year Gwen posted about Medal of Honor, a World War II based video game that featured an all white cast.  In her post, she gives numbers as to the diversity of the U.S. military at that time.  Here, I offer some photographs of Black American soldiers during the war (borrowed from The History Place):

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Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Life magazine offers a really neat set of photos of women soldiers, from many countries, during World War II.  Below are some of my favorites.

Women firefighters aim a hose at the fire after the attack on Pearl Harbor:

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A member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Britain):

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Italian resistance fighters:

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A member of the Finnish paramilitary:

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England’s first female military pilot: Pauline Gower:

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Chinese women soldiers:

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Via Shakesville.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Gizmodo posted an image created by Kamel Makhloufi based on the most recent data on the war in Iraq posted at WikiLeaks. The image divides deaths into categories illustrated by colors. Blue = U.S./Coalition forces, light green = “host” deaths (that is, members of the Iraqi government), gold = civilians, and gray = insurgents. On the left they’re arranged by totals; on the right, as the deaths have been distributed over time:

Of course, as the Gizmodo post points out, this doesn’t tell us who did the killing, so we don’t know what % of the civilians were killed by Coalition forces vs. insurgents. But it is a stark reminder of how much of the burden of war generally falls on non-combatant civilians.

Thanks to Jeff H. for the link!

In an analysis of the language newspapers used to describe waterboarding, four Harvard students — Neal Desai, Andre Pineda, Majken Runquist, and Mark Fusunyan — discovered that the use of the word torture significantly declined after the Bush administration began contesting its definition as such (read the full paper here).  The figures below, for the New York and the Los Angeles Times, shows that in the last decade the newspapers switched from calling it “torture,” to using descriptors (they call it “softer treatment” and include adjectives like “harsh,” “controversial,” or “aggressive”), or simply calling it waterboarding (“no treatment”).

According to BoingBoing, the executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, argues that to use the term “torture” would be to take sides.  The authors of the study argue that the reverse is true, especially given that the change coincided with the Bush administration’s dismissal of waterboarding’s definition as torture.  They conclude:

The status quo ante was that waterboarding is torture, in American law, international law, and in the newspapers’ own words.  Had the papers not changed their coverage, it would still have been called torture.  By straying from that established norm, the newspapers imply disagreement with it, despite their claims to the contrary.  In the context of their decades‐long practice, the newspaper’s sudden equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Majd A.-S. sent in a link to a review at The Brainy Gamer of the Wii videogame Heavy Fire: Special Operations, which was released last week. Michael Abbott, the reviewer, starts by saying that he doesn’t find First-Person Shooter (FPS) games inherently problematic, but that after playing the game he found this one disturbing. He suggests it should be renamed “Arab Shooting Gallery.” Here’s an extended trailer:

Notice that the game specifically points out that it has a “destructible environment”; not only can you kill enemies, you can make sure you leave the surrounding city as demolished as possible. Woo hoo! Fun!

Abbott mentioned the article “Digital Arabs: Representation in Video Games,” by Vit Sisler, so I checked it out. Sisler conducted a content analysis of 90 European and American video games and 15 Arab-language ones, all set in the Middle East (or fictional settings clearly derived from the Middle East):

The methodology used for content analysis involves playing the whole game while taking notes and screenshots of relevant visual signifiers, recording the narrative and analysing the structure of gameplay… Correspondingly, other paratextual materials related to the game were analysed (booklets, manuals and websites).

There are a number of video games set in the Middle East broadly defined (Sisler lists Delta Force, Prince of Persia, Conflict: Desert Storm, Full Spectrum Warrior, and others). In most, the shooter is a member of the U.S. military or the coalition forces associated with it. Sisler says,

While the US or coalition soldiers usually are humanized and individualized by their nicknames or specific visual characteristics, the enemy is collectivized and linguistically functionalized as ‘various terrorist groups’, ‘militants’ and ‘insurgents’ (Machin and Suleiman, 2006). At the same time, the moral mission, professionalism and courage of the forces controlled by the player are emphasized by the in-game narrative and scripts. However, the enemies are presented in a way that suggests they are not ‘real’ soldiers, thereby removing the legitimacy of their actions (Machin and Suleiman, 2006). This could be manifested even on the level of the artificial intelligence controlling the enemy soldiers via scripts including undisciplined poses, shouting and yelling (Full Spectrum Warrior), or raising weapons above their heads, laughing mockingly after they kill (Delta Force).

Some Arab groups have responded to this by creating video games of their own that present a more sympathetic view of Arabs and/or Muslims. For instance, Hezbollah released a game called Special Force (Al-Quwwat al-Khasa):

The game presents members of Hezbollah as heroes or martyrs while the Israeli Defense Force is the enemy. As Sisler points out, this doesn’t change the basic narrative of the games mentioned above, it just switches the roles of “us” vs. “the enemy.”

On the other hand, the game Under Ash (Tahta al-Ramad), based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (from the Palestinians’ point of view), humanized Palestinians by giving them significant backstories that explained how they came to be involved in the Palestinian resistance. It presented Israeli soldiers as the enemy but specifically prohibited players from harming either Palestinian or Israeli civilians (in a sequel to Under Ash, titled Under Siege, Tahta al-Hisar, killing a civilian automatically leads to a “game over” message). It doesn’t allow any type of peaceful interaction with Israelis, but it is one of the few games based on the Middle East that presents cities as full of inhabitants whose lives are valuable, regardless of which side of a conflict they’re on.

Sisler argues that the depictions of players and their enemies have implications beyond all of these video games themselves. Particularly when games are set in locations with current real-world conflicts, the narratives presented in cultural products such as video games help shape understandings of the conflict, including its morality, hero-izing some groups while dehumanizing others, and normalizing particular forms of warfare. In the U.S., these types of images, as well as those included in movies like The Siege and TV shows such as 24, also reinforce the perception of Arabs and Muslims as racialized Others, bloodthirsty terrorists whose acts of aggression are inherently illegitimate, while any by the Coalition forces are, by definition, moral and justifiable in the face of such an enemy.

For other examples of how Arabs and Muslims (the two categories are usually conflated), whether in the Middle East or in the U.S., are culturally depicted as untrustworthy, brutal, and/or backward, see our posts on representations of Arabs in TV and movies, the unseen Middle East, and anti-Arab signs in Pennsylvania,