The US Special Forces is a bizarrely gendered world, as I found out when I joined it to write a book about war. This all-male bastion is sexualized in a way that can only be called perverted, particularly in its methods for turning young men into killers on command.
Being the epitome of patriarchy, the military creates soldiers by forcing them into the role of the lowliest creatures in patriarchy: women. The recruits’ sense of personal power is stripped away, and they are required to obey commands from the men higher in the hierarchy and do the military’s “housework”: scrubbing and waxing floors, dusting windowsills, washing dishes, cleaning toilets to meet the standards of the commanders. They are forced to be obsessed with their appearance and to stand passively at attention while the older, more powerful men inspect them from a few inches away about how closely they’ve shaved, how neat their hair looks, how correctly they are dressed, often insulting them, calling them pussies and queers.
This intimate domination stirs homosexual feelings and at the same time represses them, creating psychological conflicts that are then channeled into aggression. A confused inner rage is generated in the young men, then given an outlet: the enemy.
A favorite ritual involves the distinction between guns and rifles. The word “gun” is reserved for the big cannons that kill dozens of people with one shot. “Rifle” is the smaller weapon that kills only one person at a time. If a recruit mistakenly calls his rifle a gun, he is ordered to stand in front of the group, point to his rifle, and shout, “This is my rifle,” then point to his crotch and shout, “This is my gun.” Then back to his rifle, “This is for fighting,” back to his crotch, “This is for fun!”
Their phallus is symbolically turned into a weapon. Instead of something loving that brings you closer to another person and can create new life, their sexuality becomes a tool for death, for destroying life. The military flips sexuality into its opposite.
This sexualization of violence is profoundly sick, but it’s just an extension of a pathology that permeates our society. It’s further proof that we have to dismantle patriarchy before we can have peace.
William T. Hathaway’s first book, “A World of Hurt,” portrays his experiences on a Special Forces combat team and won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its uncovering of the psychological roots of war: the emotional blockage and need for patriarchal approval that draw men to the military. His latest book, “Radical Peace: People Refusing War,” presents the experiences of peace activists who have moved beyond petitions and demonstrations into direct action, defying the government’s laws and impeding its capacity to kill. He is a member of the Freedom Socialist Party, a red feminist organization. A sample of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.