Cloister the Men!

I was pondering the other day about biological differences between men and women.  While I am certain there are average differences in many categories, as I explained previously, a difference in mean does not imply that we can make any a priori assumptions about the individual nature of any woman or man we might meet.

But it is often been a common argument from men who aren’t interested in gender equality to say that a patriarchy is simply because of the difference in the nature of men and women.  The world is as it should be at the women must accept their place and not interfere with the nature of things.  In thinking about history and the state of the world today, I thought, if this were in fact true, the conclusion one must arrive at if we are to at least acknowledge the humanity of women is that men are a serious threat to safety and well-being.

From a purely statistical view point, the damage done by men in this world is astounding.  Let’s look at political leadership. In 2017 only 8 women held the highest political office in their country.  This is a drop from the highest number which was 17.  That’s less than 10%, at our best, of all the countries in the world.  Only 22.8% of elected offices are held by women.  This is up from 11.3% in 1995.  The picture gets bleaker the further back you go.  Through war and bloodshed, throughout human history there is one commonality among these stories.  Men.  Male leaders, male generals, male soldiers.  Now I am not saying you won’t find some women scattered in there, but the percentage is overwhelmingly low.

The picture doesn’t get much better when you look at religions.  Most deities are men, most males play prominent roles in religious stories, and women are usually the troublemakers, tempting men to their end and punishing us all in kind.  Clergy are largely men from Brahmans to Pastors. And yes things have got a bit better, but research shows that currently in the U.S. only 10% of congregations are led by a female.  And again it gets worse if you go back into the past.  So if you’re looking at a history of religious persecution and oppression, the cloistering of education and literacy which typically only happened at religious institutions where women weren’t allowed, the common denominator is once again men.

Let’s now go down in scale, away from the level of nations and large institutions.  About 90% of murders are committed by men.  Like all those stories about mass shooters?  You know what they have in common?  It isn’t jihad or domestic terrorism…it’s…you guessed it.  Men.  About 75 percent of all legal felonies are committed by men and 96% of domestic violence convictions are of men.  Before you say that there are men being physically abused too by spouses and aren’t being believed, let’s just call it a wash with other women who are being physically abused in similar situations and can’t report because they are too afraid, are not being believed, or lived in a culture that supports men’s right to beat their wives.  When it comes to rape, 1 and 6 women report being a victim of rape.  Compare that to about 1 in 33 of men report being a victim of rape.  And at least half of those rape victims are being raped by other men.

And it doesn’t get any better for child molestation.   Ninety-six percent of the child molestation incidences reported to police were perpetrated by males.

Now if any MRA members are reading all this, I’m sure you are getting ready to weaponize yourself with facts on the under-reporting of the bad women out there.  Again, I don’t doubt that there are, but any claim that the proportions are anywhere close to equal, you are simply going to lose that battle.  Once again, the proportion of under-reporting for violence committed against females is still very high.  From a percentage standpoint, you aren’t going to gain much ground.

Based on history and present day, it would seem the best thing to do, for the protection of all people is to cloister men.  Keep them at home, doing house chores to occupy their time.  Their obsession with power mixed with apparently too much free time seems to have terribly violent ends.  Perhaps spending more time with children will help them understand why all the excessive killing is harmful.  I have no doubt there are some good men out there and this seems really unfair to them but I think when you really look at the violence that has been perpetrated by men to women and even other men, leaving the house is something you should probably ask permission for from a female. And you should probably only be out with a female so they can keep an eye on you to make sure you don’t pull out any weapons, or try to rape somebody.  I’d say you’d need a female boss or foreman at work, but the jobs men should get are very limited owing that having too many men in public seems to be extremely dangerous.  When out, men should stay in well lit areas, and perhaps some sort of secure undergarment so you don’t whip it out casually in hopes that a random woman on the street will want to see it.  Curfews and modesty are the key I think.  If it’s true that we recognize women as humans this seems like sensible policy.  I suspect that the long history of dehumanizing women is the reason why this hasn’t happened.

Is it true that given equal education a woman could have just as easily come up with the First Law of Thermodynamics or the Universal Law of Gravitation?  This seems likely, but I’m not sure that our world of violence isn’t largely the cause of men.  You may say this isn’t true, and you may be right, but I for one am happy to give women the reins (and reigns) for awhile and give them a chance to see if they can do it as badly as men.  Only then can we have an honest conversation about the true nature of men and women and who is fit for power, rather than just who has power.

“Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

Advertisements

Discussion: Re-framing Rape

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness month, I wanted to shareA friend of mine sent me a link to a very interesting talk by Susan Brison.  She is a Philosophy Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values at Dartmouth College.  I encourage to watch the talk for the full breadth of her argument (and also to hear her excellent singing voice) but if you are short on time I will summarize her main points.

Her principle argument is that rape, while important in a legal sense, is perhaps an unhelpful way of addressing the problem in general.  Dr. Brison suggests that rape be re-framed as gender-based violence.  She argues that outside of the prison system, rape is a crime that is almost entirely committed by men.  She makes an excellent analogy to racism at one point.  Which is a word that we talk about bigotry against people of certain races at a societal level.  She argues that we have no similar word for sexual violence perpetrated by men, even though it is just as prevalent (if not more prevalent) than racism.

In relation to this she also talks about how we define rape, which is “sex without consent” and that this is a harmful definition. While again she admits the value of consent especially from a legal point of view, she also argues that this might not be the best way of addressing rape as a gender-based societal problem.  She makes a number of compelling arguments, but there were 3 that really caught me:

1.  We don’t view consent as relevant when it comes to murder.
2. Having sex in the definition of rape individualizes the act and implies a connection.  And the act of rape isn’t just an individual harm, but instills fears among women or males that might be victims of rape.
3. In surveys of middle school and high school women, they sometimes report that they will consent to sex because they are afraid of being raped.

For me, the last point really muddied the waters of consent for me.

I can’t do her entire argument justice here, but I will transcribe a bit of what she said which I think is really important:

“If we lived in a world without pervasive sexism, where women and men were genuinely held to be of equal worth a victim would be able to perceive a gender-based crime against her as an anomaly…something truly random.  But in the actual world, in which because of pervasive sexism, victims of gender-based violence are often viewed as lacking credibility and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, a sex crime, for a victim can be a brutal confirmation of an already unjust status quo.” 
-Susan Brison

Thoughts?

Creeps and Cat Calls

catcallsI posted the above graphic on my Facebook page the other day and it elicited a good bit of discussion.  I had started writing a response to someone’s comment and it was getting a bit long so I thought I would turn it into a blog post since it goes to the very roots of how I became a feminist.  Actually I would rather say “how I began my journey to become a feminist” because I don’t know if I truly am yet.  It takes a lot of time to overcome social conditioning in a world tilted against half of the population.

It wasn’t until the age of 23 that I had really fallen in love and had what I considered my first serious relationship.  Her name was Anna (well still is) and she was just a wonderful human being.  She announced to me early on that she was a feminist and studied gender sociology.  The word feminist at that time, and even still today, had a negative connotation and I was not unaware of it, but I’ve always been one to go beyond the label to know the quality of the person, but one can’t help but have the only ideas that you know about feminists in your brain, even though I knew that there was no reason for men and women to be treated differently, and so I had no problem having her teach me more.  The fact that she was crazy about me made me feel pretty good about myself because it meant that I wasn’t like other guys and that there had to be some spark of equality in me that made her feel safe.  She taught me a lot of things, but it’s interesting how academic it can all feel.  Not that I don’t take academic research seriously, or even feel a certain level of outrage, but sometimes things don’t hit home until you really see it and it becomes personal.

We were both grad students at the University of Oklahoma and while I had roommates she had her own place and our relationship got to the point where I was spending most nights there.  One night we were fast asleep in bed, when the phone rang, which was next to her bed.  It woke me slightly and I heard her pick up the phone and say “Hello?” A few seconds passed and she once again said “Hello?”. And then after a few more seconds she yelled “Oh my God!” and hung up the phone.  When I asked her what was wrong she said it was a guy on the other end of the phone and he asked her to keep talking so he could masturbate to her voice.  It was an incident so befuddling to me that I almost couldn’t process it in the moment.  I know I held her, but I don’t think at the time I could truly understand how it made her feel.  However, I did know at the moment that something was wrong.  Something was fundamentally wrong in the world.  This was not the first time she had experienced something like this.  And it was by far not a rare experience for women in general.

kate-nash-quote-feminismFeminism has come far, fighting a lot of the big and obvious things that have been suppressing women in our society, but the undercurrent of misogyny remains.  I realized the day after that night time phone call that there were simply certain things in this world that I would never have to face.  While laws had been passed to protect women, to give them better opportunities for jobs, better pay, a wider variety of careers, there were certain things that I would never feel.  I would never be cat called, and I would never have some creepy person calling me in the middle of the night using me for purposes of masturbation, and I would never have a guy honk at me because I of the clothes I was wearing.  It would be easy to be glib here and say as guys we would love all these things, but it’s a position of privilege to feel this way because I could enjoy the fantasy and then once it’s over I would go back to being a man.  Someone who isn’t judged based on the most superficial qualities about myself.  No one would really question my morals for wanting to be sexy or liking sex.  No one would criticize me if I wanted to be more modest.  I would never have to deal with a date who seemed nice, but felt that if he was going to pay for dinner I had to put out.  That he had a right to my body at a certain point, and that being physically weaker I might not be able to fight him off.  I would never have to face the humiliation afterward when my body, when my very personhood was violated and reported the rape that so many women have faced by having the finger pointed at me.  What was I wearing?  Did I have any alcohol?  Did I lead him on?  Did I invite him into my home?  None of these things are permission for rape.  And so like so many women I might also make the decision to not say anything.  Just suck it up and move on so as not to invite criticism and judgment, and possible even more violence at the hands of the person who raped me.

traditionThese incidents are not rare.  They are not spread out sparsely across the multitude of women.  They are common, there is no hiding from them, they happen every day.  It is the totality of all these things a woman has to face.  This oppression and disregard is sometimes more obvious and sometimes less so, but they are ever present.  Is it any wonder that many women begin to think the worst of men?  Find it hard to trust them?  Find it hard to trust themselves when it comes to even telling one of the good ones from the bad ones.  At times I have been one of those men who complained about women not appreciating a nice guy.  I was wrong to do so, because even if I am nice, given what so many women have gone through, my compassion should always have been at the fore.  And if all this isn’t sad enough, it’s important to remember that this is one of the countries where women can consider themselves having it good compared to many places.

Look, I’m not blind that there are issues that negatively impact men as well, but the issues men face aren’t even close.  I also find that as we actually truly start to value those things that we consider feminine those culturally narrow definitions of masculinity also begin to fade.  While I may not know yet whether I am the feminist I want to be, I know that the fight for equality is everybody’s responsibility and that it lifts us all to a better position morally, ethically, and spiritually.  The only way for everyone to have power is through equality.  Power combined with inequality means that someone is losing.  And women have been losing for far too long.

The Long Silencing of Women

Sometimes I think about this world, and all the problems we have and begin to wonder what kind of world it would be if women were considered truly equal to men.  Imagine all those gifted females throughout history who would have made amazing leaders, who would have made amazing scientists, scholars, inventors, who would have made amazing artists, performers, musicians and who were instead suppressed, killed, treated as property, relegated to one role only.  A society thrives on its intellectual capital.  How much have we lost?  We will never know.

And how much are we still losing?  Here are some important things to note about the state of women around the world:

Women are still very much treated like property.  It has only been in recent history that the dowry system has gone away in many parts of Europe and North America, but it is still quite prevalent in many countries.  The idea that a daughter’s family should have to pay, just to have their daughter become the property of a man, and that failure to give an adequate dowry ends in violence against the woman is deplorable.

If this was not dark enough, when it comes to women being treated as property one only has to look to human traffickingWomen make up 98% of all humans sold for bonded sex or labor.

When women are seen as objects or property rape is even more common place.  These rape statistics are truly horrible to read.  And if you want to get all picky on how hard it is to collect rape statistics and you don’t trust these numbers you can factor in a liberal margin of error and still be see some devastating numbers.  And the difficulty in ascertaining how common rape is, should give you more cause for alarm than less.  Darkness is much more successful remaining hidden than exposed.  Some highlights from the linked article (which is well referenced) is that somewhere between 60-99% of all rapes are committed by men, and 91% of rape victims are female.  Also 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and to those who think there is a large amount of false rapes reported, this number ranges only between 0.7% and 8%.  So even by your most liberal margin of error the raping of women is far too common.  Especially given that it is estimated that only 40% of rapes are reported to authorities.  These statistics are largely just from North America where rape statistics are easier to gather. A U.N. study found that “worldwide, a whopping 25% of men (1 in 4) had raped someone in their lives. 1 in 10 (10%) had raped someone who wasn’t their partner.”

Not unrelated to the points above is the greater crime of outright killing of our daughters, both in the womb and without.  In countries where women have limited opportunities for employment, where women will cost their family great financial burden from having to pay dowries, females are aborted or killed as babies disproportionately.  While this number favors countries of India and China, it estimated that about 200 million females are aborted or killed as infants every year.  That is 1/35th of the world population.  In other words 3 out of every 100 pregnancies end in death for that fetus or child solely on the basis of gender.  As I’ve argue before there is a strong correlation between abortion and infanticide and what the cost of that child is to the family.  A woman is a cost and a burden to many families.  There is logic or rationale for why this must be so.

On how much money can a daughter bring to a family if she is uneducated? In a not too terrible statistic 53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls, however, 2/3 of the illiterate people in the world are women.  Indicating a different quality of education for women, or different amount of time girls are allowed to stay in school.  Educated women make better choices about their health and pregnancy.  For example in Mali, women with a secondary education or higher has an average of 3 children, whereas those with no education have 7.  Women without education tend to not use birth control or even know about it, thus uneducated people, who can provide less successfully for their children have more of them.  In Pakistan the difference between gender in education is an astounding nearly 700,000 less girls being educated instead of boys (although to be fair an even more astounding statistic is that over 5.5 million children are without education in Pakistan).

What do the statistics say about women and politics?  Here is a list of major countries that have only within the last 125 years or so have even given women the power to vote.  For much of “civilized” history women have had little or no say in choosing who governs them.  And how do we stand right now on the role of women in actually governing?  This link shows the incredible disparity in representation in government around the world between men and women.  Perhaps the most telling statistics from this article is that what is considered a successful benchmark for women in government is 30%.  Women make up 50% of the population and yet a goal of 30% is considered admirable. Few countries have reached that benchmark.  Currently only 22% of all national parliamentarians were women.

In science trends are more promising.  Women still only make up 42% of all science careers in the U.S.  A great international study that looks at the role of women when it comes to published scientific papers, finds that males outnumber females as lead authors in every country.  The authors admit that this may be due to the predominance of senior scientists that are men and this may hopefully change in the future, but currently women are still under-represented in science.  The study also notes “despite more than a decade of policies aimed at levelling the playing field. UNESCO data show that in 17% of countries an equal number of men and women are scientists. Yet we found a grimmer picture: fewer than 6% of countries represented in the Web of Science come close to achieving gender parity in terms of papers published.”

I won’t even pretend to have even listed all issues women face.  There are of course many others, a lot of them ripples of the deep impact from the even greater patriarchy of the past.  Even those ripples will take time to calm, and return us to equilibrium.

I am not insensitive also to issues that men face, some are very harmful and perpetuate the very serious realities that women face also.  Men have their burdens, but it is clear than women have the heavier load.  A burden they never chose to carry, a burden that men have given them.  This is not the oppression of a minority; this is the oppression of half of the human population.  Oppression so deep and ingrained that many women are even complicit to their own oppression, thinking that the extra burden they carry is normal and deserved.  I don’t care to point out how religion plays a role in all of this, although gender bias is deeply ingrained in many religious doctrines, and denying many women a place in the religious hierarchy.  The point is, there is zero moral justification for the way so many women are treated in this world.

To all the women who weren’t able or aren’t able to be all they could, I just want you to know that as someone who continues to strive towards being a better feminist, I hear your voices.  It may do no good to wonder what could have been, but we all should be in the business of wondering what could be.

 

*I dedicate this post by my friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes.  A more intelligent and compassionate woman you will not meet.

Saying Goodbye to Bill Cosby

In my time I have seen many celebrities and politicians fall from grace, whether it be due to drugs, criminal acts, violence, abuse (sexual and non-sexual).  And while there were some who I found to be talented and that I respected because of their talent, there were none that I would say had any personal meaning to me.  Many of them did to other people, and I would call those people foolish for defending to the end someone who is clearly guilty, someone who is clearly criminal.  And for those who even accepted it, I never really thought about how hard it was for them.

I know I am not alone in my love for Bill Cosby.  Many people my age and older grew up with him.  My first exposure to Bill Cosby

From http://atlantablackstar.com

was through his comedy recordings (for me on cassette and record).   A friend exposed me to them early in high school and me and my friends would sit around laughing at his tales.  He had such a talent for telling a story.  A perfect mixture of embellishment and truth.  Watching a couple of his videos, the part that you don’t get is of course his ability with facial expressions which make one laugh even harder.  For me Bill Cosby was inspirational in his comedic ability and though I am no comedian, I would say he definitely influenced my humor and the way I make others laugh.  And then of course there was the Cosby Show.  One of the few shows that we would all get together as a family and watch.  It was an extremely enjoyable show, and of course the social and cultural statements made by the show had, I think, profound impacts on the country as the show literally united white and black people around this black family each week.   From then of course I saw him continue to promote the importance of education and a good work ethic.  He continued to be an inspiration to many I am sure in the black community and a role model to many African-Americans.

So it was with a great deal of surprise, when it came out recently, that over a dozen women had come forward with charges against Bill Cosby of sexual assault.  It appears that Bill Cosby did in fact drug and sexually assault these women.  Such acts are despicable and make me sick to my stomach when I think of them and how they were described by the women.  He was deceitful, calculating, invasive, and immoral.  This was a hard pill to swallow (unlike the pills he apparently gave his victims).  For the first time I was facing what many others have faced before; a childhood hero, guilty of horrible crimes.  I wanted to fight it, and I tried to read lots about it before I could accept it in my mind. The more I read, the more shocked I became, and at some point I had to stop, because it was too hard to bear.  More surprising than anything is that most of this surfaced 8 years ago, and I was only hearing about it now.  It seems like even the media, which loves to watch angels fall, didn’t even want to see Bill Cosby sink to the depths.

In some ways it has helped reinforced why people have trouble changing their beliefs, whether it be about religion, politics, or whatever, because when facts overturn your beliefs in an instant it is a very tumultuous feeling.  It is one you want to quickly get rid of, and often the easiest way to do that is to simply refuse to believe that new evidence.  It leaves you feeling divided.  Bill Cosby was cherished in my heart and now I feel like it has been ripped out of me and I wonder if I could be wrong about Bill Cosby, what other things that I cherish could I be wrong about?  It is not a comfortable feeling.

It also reminds me that when it comes to heroes, when we idolize celebrities we are always running a risk, because what we see may be a very small portion of who they are.  Maybe the true heroes in our lives should be those closest to us; the ones we spend time with on a regular basis, the ones we can talk with and listen to, and are reliable.  It also reminds me that there is perhaps no perfection, and when we idolize someone to the point of perfection, this is also dangerous.

Maybe Bill Cosby was always like this, or perhaps his fame and fortune corrupted him to such actions; I guess we’ll never know.  In some ways I’d have more respect for him if he at least admitted to his crimes and accepted the punishment.  I don’t see that happening.  He has been too big for too long, and he is much more likely to just hide and hope for all this deserved negativity to go away, in hopes that at least a majority of his fans might remember him in a positive light.

As my way of making peace, I want to say thank you Bill Cosby for all that you gave me personally throughout my younger years.  I will not feel ashamed for all the laughter you brought me.  For building you up as more than what you are, I take responsibility, but I do hope that somewhere in your heart you feel ashamed for what you have done.  Principally of course to those women you violated, but also to a country you asked to take you into your home and to a culture you helped shape and asked that they look at you as an example of what a good black man could be.

Hero Worship

I know this post will be very unpopular with some people I know, but I write it not as someone who means to offend, but simply as someone who wrestles with ethical principles all the time and this is a subject I’ve though a lot about.  I guess I was inspired to share my feelings about this after reading an article that talked about the dangers of automatically associating heroism with anybody who is in the military.  I’ve written about heroes before and how there are a lot of people in this world worthy of being called a hero, but most people don’t know about.  In this country it seems that if you’ve joined the military and are deployed you are a hero; plain and simple.  In fact usually when someone joins the service they are automatically seen as honorable and brave.  Adopting any attitude that is in opposition to glorifying the soldier is seen as treasonous by many.   The only narrative we are allowed to accept is one that paints the recruit as someone who nobly has joined to serve their country and defend American freedom (this turns out to not be the reason, most people join the military).  To think otherwise, it means you don’t appreciate the fact that soldiers died for your freedom.  You are ungrateful and you don’t understand the cost of being free.  I’ve always taken offense to this generalization, and it seems to me that many people who say things like this experience nationalism in the same way that the devout experience religion.

It’s not that I don’t think it takes a lot of guts to join the military, knowing that one day you may be placed in a situation in which people are trying to kill you.  In the middle of combat it is either kill or be killed and to come out of such a situation alive requires

From http://www.motherjones.com

some pretty good team skills and awareness in an extremely stressful situation.  There is certainly something to applaud and be amazed by such people.  Many of us perhaps would not be able to face such an extreme situation.  The question is, does that quality mean that this is their only defining quality of character?  And do we not have the right to complain about the context in which these soldiers are placed to take part in this very dangerous combat?  People often criticize us peace-lovers if we don’t support the war, and say we are not supporting the troops.  But I can think of no better way of supporting the troops than wanting them home and safe and not fighting in a conflict for which we have no business being part of.  If your child wants to do something that could get them killed, for which you don’t think there is any valid reason for them to be doing, if you don’t want them to do that are you being unsupportive?  Perhaps you just value their life more.  And when you don’t support a war, many consider you unpatriotic.  Most of those people have no problem criticizing Obama and his policies, so why is it unpatriotic to criticize a decision to go to war?

Often, of course, these things come down to your point of view.  If the act of joining the military and the willingness to put yourself in harm’s way automatically makes you a hero, and a brave and honorable person, then every member of the military anywhere must also have such qualities.  It may even include rebel forces, or terrorists.  Such people believe in their cause just as much as anybody in the military.  In some way this would make war even more horrible if the most brave and honorable of men and women are always being killed, it seems to me a terrible way to solve a problem.  The

From http://www.theatlantic.com

problem is that we tend not to see just any soldier is honorable, but only the ones that fight for us, our allies, or causes that we agree with.  To say that a Nazi soldier was as honorable as any allied soldier would not go over well.  And of course in order to justify killing the “enemy” we must dehumanize and make them less than they are.  When they kill civilians they are the scum of the earth, and when we do it, it’s an accident in the course of an honorable fight.  Was every Nazi a Jew-hating genocidal maniac?  That seems unlikely.  Many were perhaps simply fighting because they had been recruited, because they wanted to provide for their family, because the country was destitute at the time and thought the fight was a cause that could improve the German standard of living.  There are likely many other reasons, but how easy would it be to kill someone if he was no different than you, but just happened to live in a different country?

In Henry V, one of the well-known scenes from the play involves King Henry disguising himself as a common soldier and walking through his troops on the eve of a big battle.  His troops are tired, sick and will be outnumbered the following day.  At one point the King questions one of his men about whether or not they should trust the king, that

From http://www.empireonline.com

what if his reasons for this fight are unjust and is just leading them all to slaughter.  A soldier gets angry at this and says that he fights for King and country and that if the King’s reasons be unjust that that is a crime he will have to answer for when he dies and that it is something for the King’s conscious to deal with, and not the soldiers.  This seems to be the ultra-nationalistic mentality that many in this country subscribe to.  If there is an afterlife then perhaps this is true, but even if there is some supernatural judge up their making us answer for our crimes, does that morally justify leading men to their slaughter even if their loyalty leads them to be willing to do so (although at least in King Henry’s time the King fought along side his men instead of sitting thousands of miles away)?  Just because someone is willing to die for you, should they?  Is it not even more morally wrong to take advantage of that loyalty for an unjust cause?  It seems that context is important.  When it comes to killing shouldn’t we need more than simply, “this is just what our government wants, so we have to do it”?  Shouldn’t we make absolutely sure that our cause is just?  Shouldn’t we also really make sure that other means of solving conflict aren’t a better option?

For the most part, honor and courage being automatically associated with the military mystifies me for a couple of reasons.  First I find it very uncomfortable to surrender my choice about what causes I fight for.  Would I have enlisted to fight Nazi’s in WWII.  I think that’s likely especially given what they were doing in concentration camps.  But would I have happily then gone to Korea 5 years later?  Absolutely not.  And while I realize on some level a military probably wouldn’t work if we got to pick and choose which conflicts we wanted to fight in, when it comes to pointing a gun and killing somebody else I think I should believe in that cause, not do it because someone else believes in the cause.  I want to live a moral life.  The Nuremberg trials even set the international legal precedent that “just following orders” cannot be used as a defense for committing atrocities and absolving guilt, but only lessening the sentence.  I simply don’t want to be put in a position where I am asked to fight and kill others unless I think it is the best and only course of action.  I don’t find any honor in simply killing or dying for someone else’s cause.

WilliamPurves
My grandfather

Secondly, many people will question your lack of courage when you say you don’t want to be a soldier, or say at least that a soldier has more courage.  I’d like to say that I am not afraid of dying for a cause I believe in.  Dying is a pretty easy thing to do after all.  Many people have done it, and you only have to do it once.  What I am afraid of is killing.  My grandfather fought in WWII.  He didn’t talk about it much and I admired the courage it takes to get through such a terrible conflict in which so many, including his brother, were killed.  I never asked him how many people he killed though. He was a good man.  It was hard to imagine him killing, and if I were to guess, I think he is the type like many who would have carried the weight of those he killed.  Even in a cause he believed in.  He would have wondered, “what kind of man was it that I killed?  In different circumstances could we not have been friends, shared a shot of scotch whiskey and kept each other laughing all night?”  I know such questions would plague me.  I know the average person loves his/her family, is kind to his/her neighbors and would help those in need.  And perhaps it is come to the mind of many in the military, “Perhaps that soldier’s leaders have taught him/her dehumanize me in the same way I had been taught to dehumanize them.”  Maybe they have doubts.  I certainly would.  Like, what if my bullet misses and hits some civilian or my own comrade?  What if we were told to attack the wrong target and it was a school instead of a military hideout?  If I choose an action that could end my own life, that is my choice, but ending someone else’s life is another matter altogether.  From a psychological point of view, one could easily argue that putting yourself into a situation in which you give up your right to choose the causes you fight for, and are willing to kill people you really don’t have a problem with, can be seen as mentally unsound as opposed to a decision filled with honor and courage.

In the end, I can’t subscribe to the idea that those who join the military are the best example of bravery and honor.  There are people in the military who have done terrible things.  Rape in the military is a huge issue right now.  Where is the honor there?  Of course we want our military to be honorable, and there are many who are.  But there are also many honorable people in different facets of society.  If we are going to celebrate heroism let us not only do it for the glorification of war.  There are many people who have courage and face difficulties and adversity everyday.  Sometimes it takes more courage to live than to die.  Let us at least bestow the label of honor, courage and heroism to wherever it applies and not apply it blindly.  Such things prevent us from having honest conversations about important issues concerning conflict, war and violence.  I bear no ill will towards soldier, and appreciate the sacrifices that they go through.  Particularly because I know many of them did not join the military because they wanted to fight in a war.  And maybe I don’t understand or am a coward, but personally I’m glad that we have found better ways to deal with conflicts and that there are a smaller percentage of people dying in wars today than in our past.  It gives me hope for the future.