Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

27 From Gilgamesh to Terminator:
The Warrior as Masculine Ideal
– Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile. This day shall gentle his condition: And gentle-
men of England, now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold
their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
King Henry V, Shakespeare (In: Ellis 1990: 7)

There’s one thing you men can say when it’s all over and you are home once more.
You can thank God that twenty years from now when you’re sitting by the fireside with
your grandson on your knee, and he asks you what you did in the war, you won’t have
to shift him to the other knee, cough and say, ‘I shovelled crap in Louisiana’.
General Patton in 1944 (In: Ellis 1990: 7)

SANIMIR RESIC

These two powerful and seemingly timeless quotations by Shakespeare and General Patton, separated by more than three centuries, truly illustrate the eternal summons to men, to participate when real men are moulded. Thus, the warrior mentality is deeply rooted in manhood. Moreover, the indoctrinating message in these quotations, which historically are very common both geographically and culturally, and in all shapes and forms, constitute a strong reminder to young men that surely nothing in the world will make them pass the test of manhood like battle. To pass the so-called baptism of fire, has, in other words, been equal to passing the ultimate male rite de passage. Similarly, even to die bravely in combat has historically in many cultures promised the warrior-man eternal after-life, a place in Elysium, the happy hunting grounds or Valhalla.

Indeed, as the American Professor of War literature, Samuel Hynes, correctly underlines, even if messages such as the initial quotations by Shakespeare and General Patton are less explicit in late 20th century war narratives, the test of courage and manliness, especially for young men, has continued to loom romantically ‘beyond everything else that life is likely to offer them’ (Hynes 1997: 137). It is hard not to agree with the English Professor of genderstudies, Jonathan Mangan’s conclusion that the Warrior as male hero has been a central and continuous icon in human history (Mangan 1999: 1).

It is similarly hard not to agree with the American historian Donald D.J. Mrozek when he argues that the need for defence has exaggerated behavioural differences between men and women, and thus given military institutions a special importance in preserving the distinctive sphere of male virtues. The military and soldiering have traditionally been linked to the ancient roles of hunter and defender, and have also created a relatively easy space in which to identify manliness (Mrozek 1987: 220). This is, to the best of our knowledge, in the end a gender construction.

Thus, American 20th century recruiting slogans like ‘The Marine Corps Builds Men’ and ‘Join the Army and Feel Like a Man’ are just two examples of military organisations taking advantage of this tendency, or rather this powerful construction. And, as the American Professor of Vietnam War literature, Milton J. Bates, argues, these slogans in a way reveal much of the masculine construction. After all, if the military promise to ‘build men’, it also confirms that ‘one is not born, but rather, becomes a man.’ To become a soldier is consequently to become a man, and the pre-military man has not yet acquired true masculinity (Bates 1996: 140–41). Overall, this

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