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The masculine mystique.

A Polish poet recently speculated on the remarkable dearth of battle scenes among the masterpieces of Seventeenth Century Dutch painting. In his engaging collection of essays, Still Life with Bridle, Zbigniew Herbert wonders aloud why such painters as Vermeer and Ter Borch eschewed military themes despite the plentiful opportunities so readily exploited by their counterparts in neighboring countries. A Polish poet mulling over Dutch art - this may seem a rather odd place to start thinking about Bill Clinton's foreign policy. But it strikes me as eminently apropos because it throws into sharp relief the relative degrees of national militarization.

The Dutch are not angels. One need only read the histories of Indonesia and Surinam to be reminded of Dutch proclivities for military conquest. But it seems clear that Dutch culture has escaped some of the profound forms of militarization that plague American culture and distort U.S. foreign policy. Not all countries' foreign-policy discussions are as burdened and polluted by militaristic concerns as our own. Did anyone in Canada discuss the military careers of that country's candidates for prime minister during the recent election? No. Do most residents of the European Community look to their senior military commanders as models of citizenship or of upwardly mobile success? No.

We need to be a lot more curious about exactly why and how American political life has become so militarized. If we are going to have an authentic foreign - policy discussion - one that tussels with the actual issues, not just their symbolic overtones - we must become more curious about why and how our notions of security, leadership, public legitimacy, and national humiliation have become so imbued with military meaning and military values.

Many Americans, and citizens of other countries as well, hoped that the end of Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union would herald not just a new American foreign policy but, more radically, a new American political culture free from militarized pride and anxieties. Today's debates over U.S. involvement in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia suggest that these hopes were not based on a full appreciation of what has always sustained the American brand of militarism.

In particular, we have underestimated many American men's need for militarized legitimacy to prove their masculine authority. Painting still lifes and raising tulips have not won many men political office or popular accolades in American culture. It has been quite frightening to watch Bill Clinton, the public man without a veteran's pedigree, struggle during the first year of his Presidency to assert civilian authority over the military. He has been hamstrung not simply by men in uniform; he has been effectively undercut by their civilian allies in Congress who understand that an American President who lacks military credentials is a President vulnerable to public distrust. Senator Sam Nunn's political influence over this country's foreign policy today, consequently, does not emanate from his committee chairmanship alone. It flows from his accurate understanding of the militarized beliefs about masculine leadership that so many American men and women carry around with them.

Some media commentators said Clinton's health-care plan suffered a dip in public support because of his failure to demonstrate firm leadership in military affairs abroad. If this interpretation holds any water, it suggests that Americans have become so thoroughly militarized during the last fifty years that they cannot shake off the Cold War conviction that leadership of the military is the ultimate test of leadership in every other policy area. This is a depressing thought.

The disastrous debate over gays in the military may have slipped off the front pages, but its political dynamics are still with us. So is Tailhook. Under pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this President gave up his effort to end the military's ban on homosexuals. Meanwhile, the Tailhook scandal has produced reprimands of several admirals; yet most of the lower-ranking officers involved in the sexual abuse of women at the navy pilots' convention will not be court-martialed.

Both the furor over gays in the military and the Tailhook scandal have revealed what many observers of the U.S. military have suspected for a long time: This country's military doesn't just need to recruit manpower; as an institution it has deliberately made itself addicted to a peculiar sort of heterosexual, male power. This institutional addiction is fed by concrete decisions - honing sexist and anti-gay drill-sergeant training techniques, making foreign women available to male soldiers as prostitutes, defining "combat" as an exclusively masculine activity, converting hotel-corridor gauntlets into "natural" bonding terrains for aircraft carrier pilots. Not long ago, a group of high-ranking officers who met in Annapolis perpetuated the addiction by telling an audience of military recruiters that selling service in places "like Bosnia and Somalia" wasn't going to help them enlist nineteen-year-old men in sufficient numbers to meet the Defense Department's post-Cold War quotas.

Policies that maintain this narrow notion of what sort of soldiering is genuinely "manly" restrict what civilian authorities can ask this country's military to do. An American President can't call on the U.S. military to do what a Dutch - or Australian, Canadian, Irish, or Italian - prime minister can call on his or her military to do. Our chief executive cannot call on our soldiers to serve with pride under a foreign, U.N.-appointed military commander; our chief executive cannot define this country's principal post-Cold War mission to be the sort of international peacekeeping that doesn't have immediately recognizable patriotic pay-offs. According to a strict interpretation of the law, the President can do all of these things. In fact, on October 19, the Senate defeated a Republican amendment that would have explicitly prohibited the President from putting American troops under a foreign commander.

But law is one thing; political reality is another. The American political reality is that in today's masculinized and militarized political culture, Bill Clinton would pay a very high price indeed were he to try to implement foreign policies that appear quite unexceptional in the post-Cold War politics of the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Ireland, and Canada.

The debate over gays in the military and the Tailhook affair are not yesterday's news. They are not merely "cultural" issues or "domestic" issues. The ways in which the military's senior ranks and their Congressional backers managed to win on these matters are pertinent to thinking about Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. The politics of gays in the military and of Tailhook should alert us to the weakness of civilian executive authority in the face of a popularly fueled and bureaucratically reinforced culture of sexist, anti-gay militarism.

Until that national culture is unraveled, strand by strand, it is going to be impossible to ensure that a civilian President can control this country's military. Until that culture is unraveled, we are going to find it difficult indeed to decide what role the United States should play in bringing about peace.

What would a public debate unmuddled by masculine militarism sound like? First, it would be a public discussion that does not assign extra value to the opinions of men who have had experience as soldiers, or who can claim they are particularly trusted by men in uniform. Second, it would be a debate in which the professional concerns of the military would carry no greater weight than the professional concerns of diplomats or of human-rights and development activists. Third, such a national conversation would not find its drama in images of American male soldiers preparing for and conducting military operations in the country under consideration. Instead, voting monitors, agricultural assistants, and women's-rights advocates would show up as engaging symbols in the American media. Finally, the wisdom of any particular policy choice would be assessed without anxiety about whether American manliness would be jeopardized.

In a Dutch cafe or legislature, a political debate over the best post-Cold War foreign policy choices shaped by these four simple principles wouldn't sound terribly strange. In America today, such a discussion would be downright revolutionary.

Cynthia Enloe is a professor of government at Clark University and author of "The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War," published by the University of California Press.
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Title Annotation:Clinton Doctrine; foreign policy
Author:Enloe, Cynthia
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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