We often hear the adage, cliché, maxim that in order to continue to function, humans have to reconcile both the ‘good-and-the-bad’ as if to say that, regardless of what happens, both will continue to provide intractable tension and conflict..So, we must not only get used to the turbulence, for it is inevitable, and also adjust your expectations and perceptions that war might be eliminated from the planet. It wont ever disappear.
And literally ship-loads of ink have been poured into the study of, the details of, the motivations for and the probable outcomes of all wars. The humanitarians among us, cannot be anything but dismayed at the carnage in lost lives, twisted limbs, fractured and crumpled apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and the dismantled infrastructure for heat, water and electricity that is both visible and inexcusable in Ukraine.
Regardless of whatever percentage of Russian people support the war in Ukraine, the rest of the world, including both China and India one would hope, have or will take the position that ‘unprovoked and illegitimate invasions’ of national boundaries is a proposition that has to be etherized from the geopolitical lexicon. Note, however, that elimination of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, while attempted through various treaties and agreements, remains unfulfilled, incomplete and still a blight on the human psyche. Indeed, there is still evidence, or at least the perception that some of the most dangerous operatives/leaders/nations either have or strive to acquire lethal instruments and agents, as a matter of ‘self-protection’.
Indeed, the American ‘war budget’ is, at least publicly, based on the clear and unequivocal premise that it is essential for the ‘protection’ of the American people and nation state. Defensive posture, as opposed to offensive posture, however, in a world in which straight talk has gone the way of thousands of dead and obliterated species over the last few decades, has taken on the characterization of mere political rhetoric, having neither truth nor legitimacy. Like laws conceived, drafted, debated and passed, in order to ‘prevent’ heinous acts of the abuse of power, only to seed, to nurture, to grow and to inflate whatever state apparatus that has then been given ‘power’, there is a predictable, and seemingly inevitable over-reach among those charged with such ‘protection’.
The over-reach is so significant that one has to be either or both sceptical and/or cynical about the cultural roots of the need for such protection.
Rooted in the history of the human race, is the seed of fear. The ancient Greeks had a god named “Phobus” who represented panic, flight and rout, as well as a god names Deimos who represented terror and dread. Both were sons of Ares, the god of war and Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It can never be overlooked, too, that in Slavic mythology, Perun, was the “thunder god of the ancient pagan Slavs, a fructifier, purifier, and overseer of right and order. ‘He is representative of the destructive masculine force of nature.’(symbolikon.com). His actions are perceived by the senses: seen in the thunderbolt, heard in the rattle of stones, the bellow of the bull, or the bleat of the he-goat (thunder), and felt in the touch of an axe blade.” (Britannica.com) In China, too, Guandi, also called Guan Gong, or Wudi,
(is) the Chinese god of war whose immense popularity with the common people rests on the firm belief that his control over evil spirits is so great that even actors who play his part in dramas share his power over demons. Guandi is not only a natural favourite of soldiers but has been chosen patron of numerous trades and professions. This is because Guan Yu, the mortal who became Guandi after death, is said by tradition to have been a peddler of bean curd early in life. (Britannica.com)
Some contemporary thinking and theorizing about the force and dark side of masculine force and power would shine a light on the deep roots of the abusive force in the lives of contemporary women. It is not surprising, too, that “Eirene, the ancient Greek goddess of peace, is less well known than the god of war, Ares, who in his Roman guise of Mars was an ubiquitous deity invoked by men who went to war.” (greekreporter.com)
Considerable contemporary chatter would have it that, if the world today were ruled by women, there would be no war, or at least far fewer wars and they would be far less lethal and brutal. In a piece entitled,” Women challenging war; a feminist lens on patriarchy and conflict,” (atlanticfellows.org) we read:
In our globalized world, violence permeates all spheres of life. From sexual and gender-based violence, to racialized violence, to larger structural and systemic violence, to economic inequality and disparity, all violence is interconnected. A feminist analysis of war allows us to see how all these systems of violence are interconnected. In contexts of violent conflict, gender is produced and maintained as an extension of the violence manifested within society, politics, the economy, culture and family structures. Dominant hierarchical systems of oppression maintain power relations such that gender roles not only persist, but intensify the divide between women and men. In such contexts of exaggerated masculinity and exaggerated femininity, and the normalization of militarism and daily insecurity in all spheres of life, it is immensely difficult to fight against harmful gender norms, stereotypes and patriarchal values….(A) critical feminist lens shows the extent to which war, violence and weapons are significant factors in the construction and maintenance of masculine identity and crucial for the continued functioning of patriarchy-a system in which women are at best devalued and at worst, eliminated. If women are to enter military institutions and contribute to the perpetuation of war, their role will be merely to support masculine ways of being for the benefit of a patriarchy that will continue to oppress both women and men.
It is both risky and potentially reductive for a male scribe to take on destructive masculine models, like Putin, for example, or the American Pentagon, or the Chinese government, and even to ask politely and respectfully, for a critical re-think of the underlying fears, anxieties, and even the demons that lurk in the imaginations of too many men in positions of leadership. It is neither rocket-science, nor especially prophetic, to note that the pursuit of power, status, honour, legacy and authority has been a constant drive among men forever. What is not so obvious is that such pursuit, motivation, obsession and compulsion, however, is also a significant and irrefutable signal of an underlying insecurity. Indeed, much has been written and researched about the link between insecurity and the abuse of power among men.
The masculine stereotype of ‘alpha male’ is so deeply embedded in the culture of western and most likely also eastern political attitudes, that forceful images of power, especially for leaders like Biden whose Achilles heel, in the eyes of the Republican opposition, is described in words like “too soft” and “too weak”…Some would even argue that Biden’s reticence, foot-dragging, cautious and protracted release of tanks, missiles and those to-be-hoped-for fighter jets, to Ukraine, indicates his spineless approach to the Russian invasion.
On the Kremlin side, the alpha-male, Putin, while beating drums of threats should German tanks enter the war, champions the alpha-male leadership model in a one-man-ruled-state.
Depicting this Russian invasion of Ukraine in terms of the military (masculine) and the humanitarian (feminine) stereotypes, does little to tear down the psychic (and thereby the political, military, economic and nationalist) architecture/infrastructure/archetypes of past and current conflicts. Men are not only fully engaged as warriors on the battlefield; they are also fully engaged in the humanitarian effort. Women, too, while not specifically recruited by the Ukrainian forces, play a pivotal role in the effort to keep life-sustaining resources flowing to survivors.
One of the more notable aspects of the pursuit of power is the embedded perception that power has to have empirical evidence of acquisition. Epaulets stars, titles, a hierarchical structure of command, numbers of tanks, missiles, recruits, and, of course, territory. Deeply embedded in this last, territory, of course, is the disputed concept that many who live in Ukraine are in fact Russian in origin, in language and in cultural preference. That thread is one to which Putin clings, in his blind, hubristic and alpha-male pursuit of acclaim, honour and status in the history books. His unveiling a statue of Stalin just this week is another piece of information that indicates his dream, in emulation of the heinous Russian tyrant.
While there are those who argue with justification that such issues as LGBTQ rights, and both racial and gender equality are among the perceived cultural demons from Putin’s perspective (as well as from the perspective of American far-right Republican voices), hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children have died, and many thousands more will likely follow before this war ends.
Pleading for peace, for the institution of war crimes legal charges in the courts, and for the maintenance of adequate food and oil and water for Ukrainians and for all Europeans, while legitimate, will likely leave but a small dent on the Putin breastplate of hubris. Indeed, such pleas might well serve to enhance his motivation to complete his scorched-earth approach to Ukraine. The Cuban missile crisis was de-escalated through tough, armed and credible diplomacy. Such diplomacy depended on both the willingness of Khrushchev to climb down from his hubristic perch of installing those missiles in Cuba and the sensitive and calculated and sophisticated decision of the Kennedy administration to leave the Russian leader room to withdraw without losing face completely.
Those conditions, in their gestalt and in their intimate detail, are absent here and now. Putin is no Khrushchev, and neither Biden nor Lloyd Austin replicate Kennedy and McNamara. The conditions, too, at the political, economic, technological and international levels, today are far different from those in 1961. American credibility, international trust and reliability have all been undermined by the forces of conspiracy theories, a former president who bought into and supported those conspiracy theories, and a large segment of the American population who have drunk the same Kool-aid.
We are collectively in the throes of such a tectonic and rapid shift in language and culture, at home and around the world, where words have been both weaponized and stripped of their meaning and value, in imitation of Orwell’s newspeak, that, it is not a stretch to imagine that no leader is about to trust the words of another leader, especially leaders, like Zelensky, whose nation’s fight for survival is still not fully embraced as the fight for the free, democratic and rights-based governance. Depicting Xi Jinping and Putin, and Orban and…and…as demonic tyrants, while generating considerable public support, will only enable their strongest and most dramatic moves, potentially in league. And no god of war encased in whatever supersonic, high-tech weapon, even unconsciously embraced by any or all alpha-males is likely to be subdued, restrained and brought to peace and/or justice in the foreseeable future.
Just as we have faces on our demons, so too Putin et al have faces on their demons. And for each side to be the demon of the other neglects the inner demons and the inner daemons among all sides. Is it too much to speculate that Putin might come to a conscious perception that his war is destroying the very land and people he seeks to include in Russia? Can Putin be expected to detach from the Russian obsession with military conflict, perhaps as a role model for the rest of the world, thereby ensuring Russia of a place of honour at the world’s tables of power? Can the American military behemoth start to reflect on just how inflated, exaggerated and over-propagandized it has become among the American populace, and start to see the legitimate limits of its power?
Masculinity, in its raw unleashed deployment is a sabotage not only for the specific purpose it has been deployed, but also for all of the men on the planet. And, only in and through a significant transformation of perceptions of both legitimacy and collaboration, in a world of finite resources, will our children and grandchildren even survive. And it will not matter whether those grandchildren bear the names of Biden, Putin, Xi Jinping, or Zelensky.