Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

I Am Zombie: Mobilization in Wwii Canada and Forced "Zombie" Performances 1939-1947

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

I Am Zombie: Mobilization in Wwii Canada and Forced "Zombie" Performances 1939-1947

Article excerpt

'If there are Zombies, it is because they have been made so by the Canadian Government.'

Globe and Mail 1944. Zombies are Blamed for Faults of Others. [20-8-5]


"The fight started in the canteen when the [NRMA] troops started to sing 'Its Better to be a Zombie than a General Service Man.' Tables were overturned in the fight which followed ... and the [NRMA] troops ran to their hut and grabbed their rifles and bayonets to repel the General Service men who resented the implication of the words of the song" (Globe and Mail 1944b; also see Ottawa Citizen 1944).

In the final years of the Second World War, instances of violence between conscripted "NRMA" classified, or "Zombie," solders and other "volunteer," or "General Service" (GS), soldiers grew increasingly common. What had started as a simple internal bureaucratic distinction between soldiers who had been conscripted under the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) and those who had volunteered had grown in significance, developing into a cultural category that stigmatized conscripted individuals as Zombies. Although this Zombie, or NRMA, classification came to be a defining element of individual identity, it was one that no individual freely chose to take up, or took part in shaping the performances that this classification would require of them. This paper demonstrates the impact that conscription, or "mobilization," had in forcing individuals to take up and engage in the set performative acts associated with being an "NRMA," or conscripted, Canadian soldier during the Second World War--arguing that although the performances associated with Zombie soldiers were the result of external governing influences, these performances still worked to sediment, influencing public perceptions of identity and individual conceptions of self.

In reading this paper it is important to recognize that regardless of the question of how necessary or correct the choice of the Canadian government was to conscript men into the Armed Forces during the Second World War, the act itself remains one that is deeply authoritarian and totalitarian in nature, as it was government policy, coupled with the threat of punitive legal action that pulled people from their daily lives and forced them to perform the social role of soldiers, to fight, and in some cases, kill or be killed in military combat. This coercive and intrusive nature of "mobilization"--a term adopted by the Canadian government to avoid the negative cultural association with "conscription"--is perhaps most clearly shown in the fact that these individuals could have chosen to volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces at any time, but instead, were "mobilized" by the government and forced to take up the performances of NRMA soldiers. Even the news media of the time noted the seriousness of this action, characterizing it as a loss of liberty "not in accordance with ... [the] government of a free people," and as policy "which probably wouldn't live thirty seconds in a peacetime parliament" (Minister of Labour Mitchell 1946).

As a result of Canadian mobilization policy and technology, (2) 157,841 individuals took up positions as NRMA soldiers, were required to adhere to military discipline, and in some cases, were deployed to the front lines in both the Pacific and European theaters (Stacey 1970 Appendix "R": 590). Ultimately, this paper argues that these performances led NRMA classified individuals to adopt a governed understanding of themselves that led to the forceful incorporation of the government's mobilization categories into their constructed sense of identity, forcing them to take up the social role of a Zombie whether they wanted to or not. In this way, the consequences of this government classification can be understood as having played out in regards to mobilized individuals in three parts: first, in the Government policy decision to conscript men as NRMA soldiers, giving them a distinctive legal status and developing a negative social stigma associated with this group; second, in that mobilization technologies, coupled with Army policy to differentiate this group, led to the forced adoption of Zombie performances by selected populations; and third, that the repetition of forced "Zombie performances" resulted in the reiteration, reestablishment and sedimentation of these performances, impacting the identity of classified individuals, and culminating in the adoption of a Zombie identity as a means of engaging politically with Army and Government officials. …

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