Male Combatants

Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown


Wessley, Simon. 2006. “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown.” Journal of Contemporary History 41 (2): 269-286. 

Author: Simon Wessley


All the combatant nations of the first world war struggled to deal with the problem of large-scale casualties that could not be ascribed to simple physical injury. After a brief flirtation with medical explanations (‘shell-shock’) these were soon realized to be psychological in nature, but not until the end of the war was there much consensus on whether these represented a psychological response to the stressors of industrial warfare, or alternatively a failure of motivation or even masculinity. Simultaneously combat motivation was seen within a moral framework that emphasized duty, patriotism, leadership and character. It was these latter virtues, or lack of them, that gradually came to explain combat breakdown, and not the psychological theories, even if modern narratives tend to overlook this. If a person had sufficient character, leadership and training, breakdown was unlikely even under the harshest conditions. By the end of the second world war, new thinking and research, mainly from the American forces, now downplayed the importance of ideological and personal factors, and instead concluded that the most powerful motivation for combat (as opposed to enlistment) came from the role of the small group — ‘men fight for their buddies’. Breakdown was still seen as the reserve side of combat motivation, most likely when the small group disintegrated, although ultimately even the most robust could succumb after prolonged combat exposure. However, provided that the individual was previously of normal personality, this would be short lived. Long-term illness was still almost entirely attributed to vulnerabilities acquired by inheritance or during childhood. Combat breakdown could also be made chronic by the influence of secondary gain, and so medical labels for combat breakdown were avoided, treatment was by reassurance and return to duty, and compensation was discouraged where possible. It was not until the aftermath of the Vietnam war that views on combat motivation and breakdown began to diverge. As a result of the efforts of American psychiatrists opposed to the Vietnam war a new medical label, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was introduced in 1980. It was now believed that not just transient, but also chronic, mental disorders could be caused by combat, even in those previously of robust disposition, and that the necessity for a diagnosis and compensation overcame concerns about illness reinforcement and secondary gain. Social explanations for breakdown based on group psychology largely disappeared, to be replaced by a framework based almost entirely on individual responses to trauma, although the role of predisposition quickly needed to be rediscovered. In contrast, the military continue to insist on the importance of small group psychology in explaining motivation to fight, and are distrustful of either ideological or individual explanatory models.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Post-Conflict

Year: 2006

Subjectivity and Imperial Masculinity: A British Soldier in Dhofar (1968-1970)


Kaiksow, Sarah A. 2008. “Subjectivity and Imperial Masculinity: A British Soldier in Dhofar (1968-1970).” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 4 (2): 60-80. 

Author: Sarah Kaiksow


This paper explores imperial masculinity from the perspective of a British soldier who fought against the Dhofar revolution from 1968 to 1970 while serving in the British-led Army of the Sultan of Oman. Previous writings on masculinity in the context of empire have largely focused on cultural narratives, representational ideals, and intellectual debates. This paper shifts the emphasis to the subjectivity of imperial masculinity in order to identify how a notion of “superior” manhood is sustained and negotiated amidst the demands of everyday life. Interrogating a military memoir, this paper finds that the soldier justified British imperialism in Dhofar through his implicit assumptions of “knowing more” and “knowing better” than the Dhofaris/Arabs, even concerning their own nature, desires, and interests. Using these assumptions, the soldier was able to imagine himself as an “imperial adventure hero,” allowing gendered relations of power to recoup in the face of challenges to imperial masculinity.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Race Regions: Africa, MENA Countries: Oman

Year: 2008

Gender and New Wars


Chinkin, Christine, and Mary Kaldor. 2013. “Gender and New Wars.” Journal of International Affairs 67 (1): 167-87.

Authors: Christine Chinkin, Mary Kaldor


War plays an important role in the construction of gender, or the social roles of men and women. This article analyzes the gendered experience of what Kaldor calls "new wars." It shows that new wars are largely fought by men in the name of a political identity that usually has a significant gender dimension. They use tactics that involve deliberate attacks on civilians, including systematic rape as a weapon of war, and are financed by predatory economic activities that tend to affect women more than men. The article describes the ways in which laws relating to gendered violence have been strengthened since the 1990s, arguing that implementation has been very weak. The article concludes that the construction of masculinity in new wars, in contrast to the heroic warrior of "old wars," is much more contradictory and insecure. On the one hand, extreme gender differences can only be secured through continuted violence; on the other hand, the very contradictory and insecure character of masculinity offers a potential for alternatives. By looking at new wars through a gender lens, it is possible to identify policy options that might be more likely to contribute to a sustained peace. These include support for civil society, which tends to involve a preponderance of women, implementation of law at local and international levels, and greater participation of women in all aspects of peacemaking, including peacekeeping and law enforcement.

Topics: Armed Conflict, "New Wars", Civil Society, Combatants, Male Combatants, Economies, Gender, Women, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gender-Based Violence, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, SV against Women, Violence

Year: 2013

Destruction and Delight: World War II Combat Photography and the Aesthetic Inscription of Masculine Identity


Vettel-Becker, Patricia. 2002. “Destruction and Delight: World War II Combat Photography and the Aesthetic Inscription of Masculine Identity.” Men and Masculinities 5 (1): 80–102.

Author: Patricia Vettel-Becker


During World War II, the American public was inundated with photographs of war. This article examines the iconography of war as revealed in photographs from the Pacific arena, identifying four primary motifs: the transformation of boys into warrior men, the fetishization of weaponry, the spectacle of death, and the quest to penetrate and dominate nature. War is a territorial game played by men to enact dominance, a social performance that inscribes gender identities on human bodies. War, like masculinity, is predicated on the subjugation of the feminine, which is encoded in the body and territory of the enemy, an inscription even more extreme when the enemy is of another race. These photographs enact the play of domination and subjugation through the imagery of impenetrability and rapability, thus contributing to the propagandistic construction of the enemy and extending the voyeuristic pleasures of domination to those not able to experience it firsthand.

Keywords: masculinity, combat photography, World War II, Edward Steichen, violence, atomic bomb

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarism, Race, Sexual Violence, Rape, Weapons /Arms Regions: Americas, North America, Asia Countries: United States of America

Year: 2002

Individual Bodies, Collective State Interests: The Case of Israeli Combat Soldiers


Sasson-Levy, Orna. 2007. “Individual Bodies, Collective State Interests: The Case of Israeli Combat Soldiers.” Men and Masculinities 10 (3): 296–321.

Author: Orna Sasson-Levy


The primary question this article raises is how democratic societies, whose liberal values seem to contradict the coercive values of the military, persuade men to enlist and participate in fighting. The author argues that part of the answer lies in alternative interpretation of transformative bodily and emotional practices. Drawing on in-depth interviews with Israeli combat soldiers, the author claims that the warrior's bodily and emotional practices are constituted through two opposing discursive regimes: self-control and thrill. The nexus of these two themes promotes an individualized interpretation frame of militarized practices, which blurs the boundaries between choice and coercion, presents mandatory military service as a fulfilling self-actualization, and enables soldiers to ignore the political and moral meanings of their actions. Thus, the individualized body and emotion management of the combat soldier serves the symbolic and pragmatic interests of the state, as it reinforces the cooperation between hegemonic masculinity and Israeli militarism.

Keywords: hegemonic masculinity, body and emotion management, military, combat soldiers, individualism, collectivism, Israeli society

Topics: Citizenship, Combatants, Male Combatants, Democracy / Democratization, Gender, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Hierarchies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Militarism Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Israel

Year: 2007

The Organizational Construction of Hegemonic Masculinity: The Case of the U.S. Navy


Barrett, Frank. 1996. "The Organizational Construction of Hegemonic Masculinity: The Case of the U.S. Navy." Gender, Work & Organization 3 (3): 129-42. 

Author: Frank J. Barrett


This article examines the construction of hegemonic masculinity within the US Navy. Based on life history interviews with 27 male officers, this study explores alternative discourses and identities of officers from three different communities in the Navy: aviation, surface warfare, and the supply corps. Definitions of masculinity are relationally constructed through associations of difference: aviators tend to draw upon themes of autonomy and risk taking; surface warfare officers draw upon themes of perseverance and endurance; and supply officers draw upon themes of technical rationality. Further, these masculinities depend upon various contrasting definitions of femininity. Finally, this article explores a series of contradictions that threaten the secure construction of masculinity within this military culture.

Topics: Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 1996

The Hidden Prevalence of Male Sexual Assault During War


Carlson, Eric Stener. 2006. "The Hidden Prevalence of Male Sexual Assault During War." The British Journal of Criminology 46 (1): 16-25.

Author: Eric Stener Carlson


The article presents the author's observation on the prevalence of male sexual assault during war. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia investigated sexual assault in the mid-1990s. The male prisoners were sexually assaulted by forced fellatio, masturbation, mutilation of the genitals and insertion of objects into the anus. Sexual torture is widely used to break down the identity of political prisoners. In most cases of sexual assault, the victim is reluctant to admit that he or she was abused. Therefore, it is important to understand the psychodynamics of this trauma. (Abstract from EBSCO)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Health, Trauma, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, SV against Men, Torture, Sexual Torture, Violence Regions: Europe, Balkans Countries: Yugoslavia (former)

Year: 2006

Rape as a Weapon of War


Card, Claudia. 1996. "Rape as a Weapon of War." Hypatia 11 (4): 5-18.

Author: Claudia Card


This essay examines how rape of women and girls by male soldiers works as a martial weapon. Continuities with other torture and terrorism and with civilian rape are suggested. The inadequacy of past philosophical treatments of the enslavement of war captives is briefly discussed. Social strategies are suggested for responding and a concluding fantasy offered, not entirely social, of a strategy to change the meanings of rape to undermine its use as a martial weapon.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Sexual Slavery, SV against Women, Terrorism, Torture, Sexual Torture

Year: 1996


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