Gender and Military History - Pt 1
Tuesday, January 3, 2006, 08:29 AM - War and GenderA guest post by Michael Dolski, a graduate student at Temple University
Mark invited me to compose a guest entry about a month ago due to several e-mails we had exchanged. The heart of the matter was that I admitted appreciating the significant possibilities that gender offers for the study of military history. My viewpoint on this matter is the issue at hand because I was not always convinced of this.
My first exposure to Mark’s ideas on gender and military history came from an early posting entitled How I Came To Do This; a more detailed examination is in Meet the New Patriarchy, Same as the Old Patriarchy. I was skeptical to say the least. A large part of my skepticism came from ignorance, as is so often the case. This specifically deals with the concept of gender as a tool of analysis. I simply equated gender with women’s studies until I had to consider this further over the past couple of months. For me, this early post by Mark represented a "squishy" attempt (to borrow Allan Millett’s terminology) to revise military history and make it more palatable for the rest of academia. I thought that inserting gender into this was nothing more than the post-modernist/post-structuralist bent of changing "his"-tory to "her"-story.
As indicated, my conversion or enlightenment is a relatively recent affair. This stems from several months of frantic reading and discussion, much of which took place out of my comfort zone in military history. The major turning point for me came from reading Bonnie Smith’s The Gender of History. Smith shows the inherently gendered nature of professional history. This signifies that the issues considered by historians as well as the historical development and organizational culture of the academy reflect gender bias.
The excellent point to draw from this relates to the post-structuralist trend in history, which identifies the influences on and biases of the historian as integral components of the final product--history. She demonstrates that gender biases represent an overwhelming influence on individual historians. This becomes an even larger issue by determining which matters to investigate and by shading the interpretation of the events under consideration.
Upon reading this book it is easier to see that gender influences our beliefs and very ways of approaching the world, including history. Smith also explains that studying gender must go beyond simply inserting women into the traditional narrative of history. Gender includes the very concepts of male/female and masculine/feminine. To look at one in isolation will necessarily produce distortion by excluding the negative basis of comparison. Gender is important because it forms a large part of the way that we view the world. This influences the people and events in the past as well as the subsequent examination of them through the process of history. However, what does this mean for the study of military history?
Reading Smith forced a confrontation with an area of personal ignorance and bias. This significantly challenged my self-assured understanding of history and demanded adaptations to assimilate new information. Yet, initially I did not apply this to my areas of interest in military history. This comes from an unfortunate aspect of graduate education: the immense amount of material students are responsible for and the hectic pace of covering it precludes stepping back and considering the larger ramifications of it all.
Nevertheless, I did come across something that shows the role of gender and even sexuality as they relate to topics of concern for military history. I am referring to Dagmar Herzog’s recent book, Sex after Fascism. Herzog presents a compelling analysis of the way that gender and sexuality influenced Germany under the Nazis and afterwards. She shows that sex roles and rules were an important component of Nazi racial policies. More interesting, perhaps, is the discussion of the postwar attempts to address the crimes of the Nazi regime. Both of the divided German states repressed or avoided the atrocities of their recent past. One way that they did this (more so in West Germany) was to enforce sexual conformity and to reestablish what was believed to be the conservative, patriarchal society that predated the Nazis. The point is that gender and sex roles played a significant part in the manner that these societies tried to come to terms with the horrors committed during World War II. Also, these issues influenced the actual conduct of the war (i.e. the German toleration of rape by their soldiers in the East but not in the West).
So, why should I bring up these two particular works in this forum? The basic premise is to illustrate how I came to accept Mark’s assertion that gender is an interesting and useful analytical tool for military history. Consideration of this will open up a range of possibilities for any aspiring or even established historians working in this field. This goes beyond, for instance, examining why modern Western societies have tended to exclude women as combatants in their militaries (which still remains an interesting question, especially in this time of potential flux in the matter). Including gender roles in studies of military history can take the form of explaining the influence of conceptions of masculinity on the propensity for war or it may assist with explaining homefront-battlefront dichotomies. These are just a few easy examples and I am sure that many of you can provide insightful additions to this.
To wrap this post up I would like to point out just one more thing. Mark has convincingly described how the academic community partially marginalized military history. This is certainly the result of two related trends: academic history has moved away from ‘traditional’ topics such as military history and military historians have failed to engage fully with these changes. This highlights the importance of issues such as gender. I am not advocating a complete restructuring of the historical narrative or rejection of all that fails to take account of gender. However, by overlooking this significant influence on lived reality as well as historical methodology we are only handicapping ourselves. This is evident in two ways. First, historians produce partially distorted or incomplete history when they ignore relevant influences on the people and events, such as gender. Second, military historians will only further exclude themselves and their topics from the rest of the academy by failing to engage with the subjects or themes that many other areas are now looking at. In the end, these matters provide military historians with an excellent opportunity to show how their subject matter is relevant to the rest of academia and necessary for a full understanding of history in general.
Part 1 - Part 2
New Distance Learning Program in War Studies
Thursday, December 15, 2005, 06:19 PM - Building the FieldThe Department of War Studies at King's College London has launched its first wholly web-delivered (no residential requirement) MA degree, War in the Modern World.
The first intake of 43 internationally-based students will be given an understanding of military campaigns from 1945 until the present. Military operations are studied in the light of economic, social, technological, and political changes in the world today.
Anne-Lucie Norton, Director, eLearning Programme, says, ‘The increasing prevalence of military intervention across the globe, and its associated costs, both human and economic, ensures that the study of warfare will remain topical.'
War in the Modern World is a part-time postgraduate degree, its content and resources available all day every day.
Full Story in the KCL News highlights archive
Information About the War in the Modern World MA and Diploma Programme
Wednesday, December 14, 2005, 10:23 AM - Building the Field
The blog's original logo and the question that accompanied it: "What is the relationship between the book at left and the people at right, photographed living in the city dump in the hills above La Ceiba, Honduras, July 2002?"
Two years ago today I wrote the first post for Interrogating the Project of Military History. That was the genesis of what became this blog. Not quite a year later I moved to a Blogger site, War Historian. There I continued to post, mostly for my own edification--only a very few people even knew of my blog--until mid-January 2005, when Cliopatria added me to its blogroll. After that my readership quickly expanded. So in February I acquired WarHistorian.org and on March 6, published the first post from this site.
Blogging has been a significant experience for me. I've come to value it highly as a means to mull over new ideas, a tool to spur productivity, and a way to meet a great many people I would otherwise never have encountered. Even so, I'm still not quite sure what I'm doing here, which is part of the charm of blogging, I think. A person embarks on a blog with one purpose in mind--in my case, to ponder the field of military history through the lens of postcolonialism--but over time that purpose often shifts in new directions. For instance, I did not initially think of the blog as a place to rough out drafts of my "normal" academic work, much less as a place to explore many of the themes--memory, myth, and imagination, for instance--that have since become a regular feature of the blog. In that sense, blogging has proven to be, more than anything else, an intellectual journey.
The word count on this site now exceeds 200,000, and I imagine that between them, the two predecessor blogs account for at least 100,000 more. That's a lot of writing--the length of two or three books--and increasingly, I wonder how easy it would be for someone new to the blog to retrace that intellectual journey and make sense of it. My guess is, not very. For that reason, I've begun to tweak the blog's sidebar. I've included a dozen favorite posts to give new readers a better feel for the blog, and I'm going to streamline the cumbersome, calendar-based archive.
But I suspect that won't be enough. In surfing the web I ran across an interesting statistic from a survey taken in March 2005: fully 62 percent of regular Internet users still did not know what a blog was, much less did they read them. Over time that will change, and in the case of blogs devoted to subjects like current affairs it doesn't matter very much: the half life of their posts is very short, and you can read the most recent posts with very little need for orientation to the earlier ones.
With a blog like this one, however, it's different. The "intellectual journey" is what gives Blog Them Out of the Stone Age such value as it has, so the ability to retrace the journey is important. I think that holds true for other history blogs as well, particularly those created to support a dissertation or book. Of course, the eventual manuscript can become, in effect, the "souvenir edition" of the blog, but until that happens a reader must look to the blog itself for edification. And blogs, despite categories, archives, and search engines, aren't really set up for that. You can't flip through a blog the way you can a book and get a fairly complete impression of its contents. At least, that's been my experience when I have tried this experiment with other blogs.
It's also plain that you have to learn to read a blog, in somewhat the same way that kids used to learn to read a newspaper. On the occasions when I have shown my blog to people unfamiliar with the medium, they've plainly seemed bewildered by the plethora of links and by the blog's conventions--the most recent post is on top, for instance, so unless you visit a blog frequently you have to read it from bottom to top and from back to front, so to speak. Blogging also has its own specialized lingo. Some of it is obvious: blogosphere, blogroll, milblog, even blogiversary. But much of it is technical; e.g., syndication, aggregating content, trackbacks, etc. To be really useful to someone new to the medium, a blog has to include an introduction, not just to the site, but to the medium of blogging itself. A link to a primer on blogging is helpful, but it's probably better to have one on the site itself.
I would welcome feedback about this blog, especially suggestions about the ways in which its content could be made more accessible. In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who visits the blog, especially those who read and comment on a regular basis. I very much appreciate it.
On to year three!
Review of the 2005 West Point Summer Seminar in Military History
Tuesday, December 13, 2005, 08:07 AM - Building the Field
The Saratoga staff ride at the 2005 USMA Summer Seminar
A guest post by Donald R. Shaffer, who teaches U.S. History at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. He attended the 2005 West Point Seminar in Military History, which was held from May 31-June 23, 2005. His book After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans was published in 2004 by the University Press of Kansas and won 2005 Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship.
Reprinted by the author from a review recently posted to H-War:
As the fall semester ends and thoughts turn to the winter holidays, the wise academic should already be making plans for next summer. For persons with an interest in Military History these plans should include consideration of attending the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. Offered by the History Department at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, the seminar is an intense, but highly rewarding three-week exploration of Western military history (with an emphasis on the United States) from the late Middle Ages to the present day.
The seminar has something to offer just about any serious scholar of Military History, from relatively novice graduate students to professors who teach the subject at their home institutions. Its activities fall into basically five categories: 1) small group seminar sessions led by West Point faculty; 2) lectures by West Point faculty and visiting scholars; 3) staff rides; 4) special events; 5) social events.
The small group sessions are the core of the seminar experience. In 2005, the twenty fellows were divided into two groups of ten persons, with each session presided over by a West Point faculty member. Although session activities varied, they generally involved a review of important literature and classroom materials (maps, videos, etc.) followed by a discussion of the scheduled subject matter. A purpose of these sessions was to give the fellows a sense of how the History Department at West Point taught each subject area in the two-semester History of the Military Art course sequence that each cadet is required to take.
Another main activity of the summer seminar was the lectures by West Point faculty and distinguished visiting scholars. The lecturers seemed free to discuss what they wanted within their topic area. Some gave generalized presentations on the relevant subject area, while others made specialized lectures relating to their own research or a topic of interest. The visiting scholars in 2005 included Mark Clodfelter, Linda and Marsha Frey, Joe Glatthaar, Joe Gulmartin, Brian Linn, Douglas Porch, Harold Selesky, William Skelton, and Gerhard Weinberg. West Point faculty who lectured the fellows in 2005 included Daniel Barnard, Lance Betros, Robert Doughty, Jennie Kiesling, Cliff Rodgers, and Sam Watson.
The highlight of the seminar for this reviewer was the field trips, or as they are known at West Point, "staff rides." There were three staff rides for the 2005 fellows. They included a day trip to the Saratoga battlefield from the Revolutionary War, an afternoon staff ride of the West Point fortifications (also from the American Revolution), and a four-day swing through Civil War battlefield sites in the mid-Atlantic region (the 2005 staff ride included stops at South Mountain, Harper's Ferry, Antietam, and Gettysburg). All the staff rides except Gettysburg were capably led by current or former West Point faculty. The Gettysburg staff ride was conducted by Carol Reardon of Penn State, who gave a masterful tour of this most famous of Civil War battlefields.
The USMA History Department also managed to work a number of special events into the 2005 seminar, as well as finding creative ways of making more routine events "special." The former included a library tour and visit to the West Point museum with a lecture on historic firearms prior to the 19th century (more modern firearms were covered in another lecture to the fellows later in the seminar). The fellows also were able to brush shoulders with the military re-enactors on two occasions. Revolutionary War re-enactors accompanied the fellows on the staff ride of the West Point fortifications, lending their expertise along the way. Another group of re-enactors also led a Civil War tactical exercise in which the fellows learned basic Civil War drill and tactical formations, plus were able repeatedly to load and fire (sans ammunition) replica Civil War muskets-a special treat for this reviewer. The fellows also had a tour of the academy grounds, visiting normally closed areas such the cadets' barracks and dining hall.
The history faculty made sure the fellows did not lack for an active social life. After the first full day of the seminar, the fellows cruised the Hudson River on the USMA Superintendent's boat, an ingenious way to coax normally reserved academics to get to know each other and the West Point history faculty. There were also other planned social events organized by Capt. Daniel Barnard, and numerous more informal gatherings among the fellows themselves. Indeed, if one took full advantage of all the social opportunities at 2005 seminar, there was little time left to complete the assigned readings or sleep.
Indeed, one of the benefits of the 2005 seminar was meeting an interesting variety of people. The seminar organizers, led by the able and efficient Major John Hall, selected a fascinatingly diverse group of fellows. Besides faculty and graduate students from traditional academic institutions, there was faculty from the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, plus a State Department CSO. There also were five foreign fellows respectively representing Australia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, and Great Britain.
It also was beneficial meeting and getting to know people at West Point. The academy history faculty, both uniformed and civilian, invariably proved friendly, approachable, and obliging. Major Hall and Major Pete Knight (who will lead the 2006 seminar) in particular proved extremely helpful in assisting the reviewer with some unanticipated professional needs that developed during the seminar.
Another great benefit of the seminar was the haul of materials the USMA History Department distributed gratis to the fellows. These amounted to hundreds of dollars worth of books, including a set of priceless West Point military history atlases and a DVD with a variety of highly worthwhile electronic resources. (In fact, it would be a good idea for future fellows bring an empty suitcase to carry home the materials they will acquire during the seminar.)
The reviewer has already incorporated all manner of West Point materials into his classes, particularly PowerPoint slides included on the DVD. The materials and knowledge acquired at the seminar have proved helpful not only in his military history courses, but also in more general U.S. history courses, including the American survey. Indeed, it would not be a stretch to say that after attending the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History, the reviewer has been able to add a new dimension of instruction in all of his courses.
Certainly the seminar in 2005 was not without its problems. For example, the presentation by one of the distinguished guest lecturers proved surprisingly sub par. Likewise, there was some grumbling that the library's schedule made it difficult for the fellows to complete their projects (each fellow was required to put together and submit to the other fellows, according to the syllabus for 2005 seminar "a project that will be useful to them in the teaching of military history").
To be honest, the problems that cropped up at 2005 seminar tended to be minor and, for the most part, hard to anticipate. The reviewer also can say from his exchanges with participants of earlier seminars that West Point faculty clearly evaluate each seminar afterwards for problems that occur and adjust their planning accordingly for the following year.
It also should be mentioned that the seminar is free-of-charge, with all expenses, including room, board, and travel covered by a gift from an anonymous benefactor. In addition, the fellows in 2005 received a $1,500 honorarium at the end of the seminar.
Hence, I highly recommend the 2006 West Point Summer Seminar in Military History to the readers of H-War. The 2005 seminar was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For more information on the 2006 seminar and application forms, please visit its web site.
Readers are invited to examine a series of photographs the reviewer took of events at 2005 seminar.
Monday, December 12, 2005, 06:32 PM - The World After September 11
I never considered Blog Them Out of the Stone Age to be a milblog (military blog). Consequently I was surprised this weekend when Milblogging.com decided to add me to the comprehensive index it's building of milblogs. (See previous post.) Yet after mulling it over a bit, I figured, why not? Its webmaster probably knew better than I did what constituted a milblog.
Me, I would have thought you'd have to be a soldier--but then again Blackfive, the grand poobah of milblogs, is maintained by a veteran no longer in service. Well, then, a veteran--but come to think of it, I am a veteran, albeit of eight years in the Army National Guard. A veteran who has seen combat? Not in my case, unless you count my pitiless war on the mosquitoes at Camp Grayling, Michigan--but then many milbloggers are not combat veterans.
Hmm. I don't blog that much about combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. On the other hand, I do touch upon them from time to time and I have a category called The World After September 11 as a place to comment on the Global War on Terror. Furthermore, nearly all of my posts directly address military affairs, broadly conceived; whereas many (if not most) milblogs dwell heavily on current politics. Most of them are fervently conservative and hawkish on the war. But then again, milbloggers are at pains to tell you that their ranks contain a diversity of opinion. (And every now and then you actually run across an example of that.)
Having decided this might be a milblog after all, I've decided to educate myself more systematically concerning the MilBlogosphere. Here are links to a couple of good introductions to the subject:
Hugh Hewitt, Rise of the Milblog, Weekly Standard, March 12, 2004 - probably one of the most important early attempts to report the milblog phenomenon.
"Greyhawk,"A Brief History of Milblogs, Mudville Gazette, November 11, 2005 - A recent retrospective by one of the major milbloggers.
Part 1 - Part 2 (link not yet active)
Sunday, December 11, 2005, 10:53 AM - The World After September 11Milblogging.com, a site that aggregates content from close to a thousand military blogs, has a best milblog competition of its own: the 2005 Milbloggies.
UPDATE, Dec. 11, 1:31 p.m. - As it happens, Milblogging.com has added Blog Them Out of the Stone Age to its index, which makes it eligible for a Milbloggie in the "Best U.S. Civilian Milblog" category. Voting in this category has been light, so with your support, the blog actually stands a decent chance. All you have to do is register (it's painless and free), then go to this page and click "Add To Favorites."
Alternatively, you can cast your vote for Armchair Generalist, which is a civilian milblog that I recognize and recommend.
Two other civilian milblogs, Arms and Influence and War and Piece (both listed on A Few Good Blogs) do not yet seem to be indexed, so I've submitted them for inclusion.
FURTHER UPDATE, Dec. 12, 6:30 a.m. - Blog Them Out of the Stone Age is now in the lead for "Best U.S. Civilian Milblog;" my thanks to everyone who has cast a ballot thus far. I've tried to earn the distinction by submitting other blogs that merit inclusion as Civilian Milblogs. Arms and Influence and War and Piece now appear on Milblogging.com's index; I've just submitted Irregular Analyses and Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers for inclusion as well.
Incidentally, if you wish to submit your own suggestions regarding milblogs, simply register at milblogging.com and fill out a submission form. It takes only a couple of minutes per blog.
FINAL UPDATE, Dec. 12, 9:37 a.m. - Sometime in the past few minutes, Blog Them Out of the Stone Age received its 30,000th hit. (The sitemeter count reads much higher, but that's because I transferred 6,702 visits from the WarHistorian blogspot site.) The milestone doesn't merit a post of its own, but I wanted to mention it somewhere. Here's as good a place as any.
Weblog Awards - Best Military Blog
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 04:36 PM - The World After September 11Voting is underway at Weblog Awards for this year's Best Military Blog. Among the fifteen nominees are Blackfive (which won last year), and Intel Dump, both listed on A Few Good Blogs. For links to the other nominees, click here.
A Culture of War
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 10:02 AM - The World After September 11From Ali Tabatabaey, a fifth-year medical student who works in Mashhad, Iran:
A few days ago, a 45-year-old relatively handsome but badly dressed and dirty patient came to the clinic with a peculiar accent, complaining of a burning headache. In just a few moments, he would change the way I looked at the world around me.The patient, who had come to Iran from Afghanistan, presented with "obvious signs of depressed mood and tinnitus." He reported having dreams (he would not call them nightmares) in which he was in the midst of a fire fight and trying to organize a defense. It turned out that the man had been a thirty-year veteran of the Mujahideen. The attending physician assessed him for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a covey of medical students looked on.
Obviously, the inquisitive minds of a group of young med students could not let him leave without asking about his experience as a captive. To no one's surprise, he had been tortured many times. He talked about being beaten unconscious while being interrogated by a Taliban officer and also of the Russians tying him to metal rods connected to an electrical generator (I had only seen such a thing in "Rambo," but this guy was sitting a few meters away and describing the feeling). This was no fun anymore, but the real surprise was yet to come.Complete post
I asked him about the war and the current state of his country. "I miss the war," he replied. OK. Let me get this straight. This guy's been wired up to low-voltage electricity by the Russians, been beaten unconscious by the Taliban, has spent 2/3 of his life running around valleys and mountains trying to resist the enemy, and HE MISSES THE WAR!
I can tell you he wasn't joking. He was insulted when we called his dreams "nightmares." He talked so passionately about the feel of a gun in one's hand and its smell that some of my fellow externs were tempted to try it out (thank God that's illegal here). He kept saying, "If someone came to me right now and asked me to go off to war, I would do so without hesitation."
There you have it. That's the problem with war. After a while, it becomes a culture. He is right. When all you've done since the age of 15 is shoot your enemies dead, changing your lifestyle can be difficult. War is one of those cureless diseases, which can only be prevented. Let's just hope his 10 kids don't grow up with the same culture.
Run to Failure - Pt 2
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 08:42 AM - Combat as Metaphor"Run to failure" is a term I learned many years ago in a war and technology course. It's used by engineers when designing something that has lots of moving parts. You design, say, an aircraft engine. You build a prototype and let it run until it fails. Then you root around the prototype until you locate the specific part that failed. You figure out why it failed, design and manufacture an improved version of the part, install it and then run the engine until the next failure. You repeat the process until you have an engine that meets or exceeds the required specifications. That's "run to failure."
Over the last two decades, I've used "run to failure" numerous times to improve the system I've evolved to protect myself from the sort of acute manic episode that evidently killed Rigoberto Alpizar. An analogous concept would be the "lesson learns" analysis commonly employed by the armed forces: you create a doctrine, then revise it in light of practical experience--war games or actual battle.
I described the core of the system in a previous post. Briefly, it's to marshal as many resources to combat the illness as I can: medications, therapy, good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and so on. Equally important is to have in place a strong network of friends and colleagues who know that I have the disorder and have been briefed about its symptoms. This network has proven itself so thoroughly that the question of whether to be private or "out of the closet" about the disorder is a settled issue with me. It is better to have as many people know about the condition as possible.
True, there are downsides. I've no doubt that my openness makes some people uncomfortable and that they rationalize their discomfort by telling themselves--and perhaps others--that it is "inappropriate" or that I have "boundary issues." It is even possible that I could never get a job in another university. Tough. One of the things I learned in the Army is that you do what is necessary to accomplish the mission. My first mission is survival. Other considerations take a back seat.
The network protects me in two basic respects. First, I have around me a number of people who have received a memo detailing the symptoms of bipolar disorder and explaining what to do in the event they develop concerns about my behavior. The first step is to approach me and inquire. If they're not satisfied with my response, the memo has the name and phone number of my therapist and psychiatrist. The next step is to contact them and relay their concerns. As a last resort, they are authorized to direct me to go to a hospital emergency room, in which I event I am to go there, period. I get no say, since in the nature of the case, my ability to make wise judgments is in question.
Second, on very rare occasions, when I know that I have "decompensated" to a fairly serious degree but when my psychiatrist and I are on the case, so to speak, and working through a treatment plan to get me "recompensated," I will employ a regimen borrowed from one of my hospital stays but which I conceptualize in military terms. At the heart of it are the three general orders I learned in basic training and which are so ingrained in me I can recite them from memory even in the midst of a complete psychotic break:
1. I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.The idea of adapting these general orders to cope with the bipolar disorder occurred to me when I was first hospitalized for mania in 1986. I felt that I could not fully trust the medical professionals around me--they gave me meds that back-fired, for instance--and at the same time I understood that something was definitely very wrong with my own capacity to judge. It seemed a no-win situation.
2. I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.
3. I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, or anything not covered by my instructions, to the commander of the relief.
Trying to think while acutely manic is like trying to read a newspaper in a high wind. I remember saying to myself, "A no-win situation. A no-win situation. I've been in a no-win situation before. When was it?" Finally it came to me: Phase I--the indoctrination phase--of basic combat training. During that phase, recruits are constantly placed in situations or asked questions to which there is no correct response: you'll get bitched out for anything you do or say. The purpose is to break down a recruit's resistance and to make them more receptive to training. It also reproduces, in very modest fashion, some of the stress one is apt to experience in combat.
One of the first things we had to do in that environment was to memorize those three general orders. In many respects they were the key to getting out of Phase I and into more advanced phases (there were four in all) in which we were treated more and more as real soldiers. As soon as my manic mind was able to grasp Phase I as the no-win situation I had previously experienced, the next step was obvious. I would use the three general orders as the template to regulate my conduct in the hospital.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 (link not yet active)
Run to Failure - Pt 1
Friday, December 9, 2005, 07:25 PM - Combat as Metaphor
Anne Buechner and her husband, Rigoberto Alpizar
Two days ago the couple in the photo were returning to Florida after a brief missionary trip to South America. The international leg of the flight was behind them. They had cleared customs, boarded a second aircraft, and faced only the final, brief trip from Miami International Airport to Orlando. Suddenly the man, 44-year old Rigoberto Alpizar, began acting in a way that attracted the attention of the flight crew and an air marshal on board the craft. The marshal became convinced that Alpizar had a bomb and, when he bolted from the plane rather than heed the marshal's command to halt and lie down, the marshal shot him dead.
The story has been international news for a couple of days now. The dominant theme has been that it was a "good shoot"--that is, the air marshal behaved properly in the circumstances--and serves as evidence that security measures entrenched since 9/11 are working as they should. But it soon transpired that Alpizar was not, in fact, carrying a bomb. His behavior owed not to lethal intent but rather to his medical condition: He suffered from bipolar disorder and, in medical terms, had "decompensated," apparently because he was off his medication.
The fate of Rigoberto Alpizar has begun attracting comment within the mental health segment of the blogosphere. Shrinkette, a psychiatrist in Eugene, Oregon, poignantly juxtaposed a news excerpt with a passage from Kay Redfield Jamison's famous memoir of her struggles with bipolar disorder:
Witnesses aboard an American Airlines jetliner say that Rigoberto Alpizar's wife pursued him, saying he was mentally ill, just before federal marshals shot and killed him. Air marshals said Alpizar had announced he was carrying a bomb.One of Shrinkette's readers left this comment:
Later, no explosives were found. The incident remains under investigation.
"She was chasing after him," said fellow passenger Alan Tirpak. "She was just saying her husband was sick, her husband was sick." When the woman returned, "she just kept saying the same thing over and over, and that's when we heard the shots."
"Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering..."
-Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., An Unquiet Mind, 1995, p. 6.
I understand 100% why the air marshall did what he did. I really do. But I can seriously imagine the turmoil and pain the man was in. I'm bipolar. I've been in a psychotic state, I've heard things, seen things, nearly cut off my own hand because something in my head was telling me it would be a good experiment. Being bipolar we have a responsibility to take our medication, but even then it can be difficult, a daily struggle. I am not saying that the air marshall was wrong: he discerned a threat to the larger group and was doing as he was trained. But I have an incredible amount of compassion for the man and his wife. NO ONE knows, nor will they ever, what that couple went through, both at that moment, and the days leading up to it.But Becky, a 22-year old Indiana woman who blogs about her struggles with bipolar disorder at Tidal Moods, was less sympathetic--in fact, not sympathetic at all:
Some people are suggesting that the air marshals behaved inappropriately. Those people are wrong. A clearly insane person can still have a bomb and just because someone is behaving bizarrely does not mean they aren't dangerous. This man said he had a bomb and authorities have no choice but to take him seriously.Becky's post has so far attracted 21 comments, though most of them are off-topic--early in the thread someone criticized her for being foolish and "narcissistic" to write publicly about her bipolar disorder. (That little gem of idiocy generated a spate of coments and counter-comments from Becky, the idiot, and several of Becky's readers which is worth reading for its own sake.) But of the responses that addressed her post directly, opinion was about evenly split between those who thought Becky was being harsh on Alpizar and those who thought she had a point.
As a person with bipolar, I'm outraged by the media's obsession with the fact that the man's family claimed that he suffered from bipolar disorder. It's irrelevant. It doesn't factor into the air marshalls' deliberations about whether or not the man is a threat and the only reason the media even mentions it is because it makes the air marshalls look like assholes when they aren't.
At the risk of sounding like a heinous bitch, I have little sympathy for this man and his family. By the time you're 44 years old, you know what it's like to live with bipolar disorder and you know whether or not you're one of those people who requires medication to maintain sanity. Clearly, this man could not behave normally without his medication and there is absolutely no reason for him not to take it. It's not like a bipolar person is going to fly off the handle if they miss one dose of their meds. For his wife to be aware of his failure to take his meds, he had to have missed more than a dose and at that point, my sympathy dies. Even if he lost his bag and his medication was gone, he could still go to a hospital or contact a pharmacy and his psychiatrist to get more. There is no excuse for not taking your meds if you know that you pose a danger to others without them. None at all.
My personal view is that Becky has a point and also that her stridency on the subject stems from fear. Anybody with bipolar disorder--me, for instance--can't help but reflect that in the right circumstances, we ourselves could suffer Rigoberto's Alpizar's fate. One way to deal with this fear is to blame Alpizar for what happened: Alpizar had bipolar disorder. Alpizar did not take his meds. Alpizar got in a situation where he was killed. I myself will take my meds and therefore I will never get in such a situation.
Actually, you can take your meds and still get in precisely that situation. Six years ago I was hospitalized for acute mania exactly one day after a blood test showed that the correct level of lithium was present in my body.
No: meds alone aren't a guarantee. The strategic problem of survival is more complex than that.
It is no coincidence that in the last decade, a significant amount of my research as a military historian has focused on situations in which people have tried to frame workable strategies for resistance in an intractable environment, when the odds are stacked heavily against them. I live that situation every day of my life. And over time I've brought my military training as well as my historical training repeatedly to bear on the problem.
Let me tell you some of the tactics I've evolved to address it.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 (link not yet active)