Manhood and the 'War on Terrorism'

Prof. Dr. Matt Hannah (USA)

What I'd like to do here is examine aspects of the "War on Terrorism" through the lens of ideals of masculinity and "manly behavior". I don't claim that this lens necessarily provides us with the best or deepest explanation of what's going on (for example, I leave entirely untouched questions about geo-strategic goals, etc.) I also don't mean to imply that only the United States has a culture of masculinity that can pose problems in international relations. But I do claim that a distinctively American discourse of masculinity plays an at times very important role both in shaping U.S. policy and in maintaining support for the 'War on Terrorism' among many Americans. I'd like to start with a quote from E. Anthony Rotundo, a scholar of American manhood ideals:

[S]ymbols of right and wrong manhood have ... become lodged in our political consciousness and in the decision-making culture of our great institutions. These symbols make certain choices automatically less acceptable, and in doing so they impoverish the process by which policy is made. We are biased in favor of options we consider the tough ones and against those we see as tender; we value toughness as an end in itself. We are disabled in choosing the wise risk from the unwise, and tend to value risk as its own form of good. In this manner we are hurt by the cultural configuration of manhood.1

Many of what Rotundo here identifies as specifically 'masculine' attitudes and decision-making preferences go completely unnoticed by most of us, men and women alike. They are such common ways of thinking that we take them for granted, think of them (if at all) as "natural", or, in the realm of international relations, as simply "realistic". My purpose here is (1) to argue that such attitudes and assumptions are neither "natural" nor, in many cases, "realistic"; and (2) to show in as much detail as possible how masculine ideals and assumptions have concretely shaped the response of the Bush administration and the news media to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th. My hope is that by being clearer about how a culture of masculinity restricts and distorts current perceptions of the situation, we can make room for a wider range of possible responses.

I.American manhood ideals: a brief introduction

The study from which I took the opening quote is part of a larger development in historical gender studies, a widening of interests beyond the traditional focus on women and their histories to include also men and cultures of masculinity. I don't want to spend much time on this, because I want to focus as much as possible on concrete aspects of the 'War on Terrorism'. But it is at least necessary here to outline some of the main points to be drawn from scholarship on American masculinity. Anyone interested in getting into this more deeply should start with Rotundo's American Manhood, and with Michael Kimmel's Manhood in America: A Cultural History. More difficult going, but also directly relevant to issues of manhood and patriotism is Dana Nelson's National Manhood.2 One basic point of agreement among all scholars is that in America almost since independence, men have understood and experienced our manhood as something that needs to be proven, and proven repeatedly. Kimmel argues that this imperative emerged during the 19th century, as the traditional pillars of a sense of manhood, land ownership and independent artisanry, became available to fewer and fewer American men. The onset of industrialization brought a widespread perception of new economic opportunities, and gave birth to the resilient and still-important ideal of the "self-made man". At the same time, the journey of many men from a familiar rural life, a life led primarily among family, friends acquaintances (and perhaps known enemies), to a busy life in the newly bursting urban centers, where most daily contacts were often with strangers, brought about a new emphasis on external presentation, on impressing others in search of employers, partners or investors. The audience here was (and remains) other men, the coveted commodities in their possession, respect, trust, confidence.

As the century progressed, however, and as the American industrial capitalist system matured, it became clearer that the dream of the self-made man could only be realized by a few. On top of the difficult economic situation, women were entering traditionally male public life in ever greater numbers, and insisting on a larger role in the organization of American society generally. The pressure to prove one's manhood did not abate, but, as economic proofs were so hard to come by, American men were forced to turn to other strategies. In the decades surrounding 1900, many of the basic features of the culture of masculinity that survive to the present day were put in place. Men turned in large numbers to sports, to body-building and prize-fighting, they organized and joined homosocial organizations (joining college fraternities, but also Moose, Elk, Odd-Fellows lodges, becoming Shriners and Masons, etc., etc.) Since the late nineteenth century especially, proving one's manhood has also meant proving that one is not feminine. The intensified stigmatization of gay men, and actual violence against perceived 'weaklings', became and have remained part and parcel of an evolving suite of behaviors by which men can signal and establish their masculinity.

As in many other societies throughout history, fighting a war has a long pedigree in the US as one very important way to certify masculinity. Teddy Roosevelt played a crucial role in proposing the outward projection of violence through war as one response to the contemporary crisis of manhood. In so doing, he tapped into another extremely important mother-lode of cultural memory, the American myth of the frontier. This myth has been tied up both with ideals of masculinity and with our national identity since shortly after the Revolution. According to America's frontier myth, our national identity was forged out of the hard realities of conquering, and wresting a living from, the vast, primeval North American wilderness. Our forefathers ventured out beyond where it was safe, exposing themselves to danger, fighting Indians for the right to possess the land, domesticating the natural world (of which the Indians were only the most dangerous representatives), making the continent safe for civilization.

In doing all this, American men (until very recently, women's only acknowledged roles in the story were to bear children, feed men, and be protected by them)... in doing all this, American men so to speak "burned off" all the excess frippery and feminine culture associated with Europe. No longer "dandies", no longer subtle thinkers, no longer inhabitants of plush, perfumed sitting room furniture, American men had founded a culture of honesty, of hard work, of self-reliance, of physical toughness, decisiveness and moral simplicity. In the nineteenth century, the special masculinity of our new 'national race' was also thought to be revealed by high birth rates, especially in rural and frontier areas. From this perspective, the supposedly feminine characteristics of Europe were still a danger in cities, those nests of luxury, idleness and decoration where cultural elites held forth in elevated language about the complex problems of society. But for real American men, there was little that couldn't be solved by toughness and straightforwardness, no reason to think national or international problems couldn't be addressed by the same sort of simple wisdom and forceful action that got the horse through the gate. It should be obvious that there is a lot of overlap between the image of manhood forged on the frontier and the ideal of the self-made man. In a sense, the latter can also be seen as a matter of adapting frontier manhood to the new realities of industrial capitalism.

A readiness to get violent has been a central feature of the frontier manhood ideal the whole way along. So, too, has a presumed right to push onward past legal, official boundaries into 'virgin' territory, to take what can be taken and the law be damned. Richard Drinnon argues that this aggressive expansionism did not by any means stop when our forefathers reached the limits of the North American continent, but also helped propel American military and economic interventions across the Pacific and around the globe. The evolution of this myth can be traced from Cooper's 'Leatherstocking' through Custer, Owen Wister's 'Virginian' and Teddy Roosevelt, to the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone. Here again, a substantial literature exists, and I'll mention only a couple of the best works: first, Richard Drinnon's Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building, and second, a truly fine trilogy of studies by the cultural historian Richard Slotkin (in my opinion some of the best work available on any aspect of American cultural history): Regeneration Through Violence; The Fatal Environment; and Gunfighter Nation.3

Pausing for a moment to summarize, one might say that the evolving American culture of masculinity has been one of perpetual crisis, in the sense that men cannot very easily cease to worry (at least subconsciously) about their manhood, and must remain ready at all times to behave so as to certify and re-certify it in front of other men. In this general context, the already-powerful frontier myth encourages men to link their individual efforts at establishing masculinity with national military actions, and thus both to "masculinize" the meaning of "America" and to "Americanize" the meaning of "masculinity". No individual man is forced or required to tap into these patterns, but they are so prevalent in so many of our cultural institutions (from child-rearing to education to television and cinema) that they mark out what is certainly the easiest path for many men to follow. On the other hand, and this is crucial, all of this quintessentially male behavior remains optional. It is not bred in our bones or hard-wired into our genes, but historical and contingent. We may certainly question its wisdom, both at an individual level and with respect to things like foreign policy. Finally, before going any further, I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear. My argument is not that traditional masculine behaviors such as resolve, toughness, physical courage, etc. are essentially bad or always inappropriate, but rather that, in the realm of individual behavior as in foreign policy, they are not appropriate to all situations, and should ideally be only one among a range of possible approaches to daily life or to international relations.

II. Afghanistan as 'Wild West'; Bush as avenging gunslinger

The kinds of assumptions about manhood sketched here, and associated elements of the frontier myth, are not difficult to find in media coverage of Sept. 11th and the Bush administration's 'War on Terrorism'. The same Richard Slotkin just mentioned was one of a number of scholars asked to offer their thoughts on Sept. 11th in a special supplement to the Chronicle of Higher Education that appeared two weeks later. According to Slotkin,

[w]hen a society suffers a profound trauma, an event that upsets its fundamental ideas about what can and should happen and challenges the authority of its basic values, its people look to their myths for precedents, invoking past experience - embodied in their myths - as a way of getting a handle on crisis.
So far, I see two myths being deployed in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. One is the myth of "savage war", based on the oldest U.S. myth, the myth of the frontier. The myth represents American history as an Indian war, in which white Christian civilization is opposed by a "savage" racial enemy: an enemy whose hostility to civilization is part of its nature or fundamental character; an enemy who is not just opposed to our interests but to "civilization itself." The myth also provides a recipe for countering the threat, a model of heroic action that will bring victory and resolve the crisis. The hero of this myth is the wielder of extraordinary violence: He can win only by fighting fire with fire, evil with evil, and he must fight until the enemy is exterminated or utterly subjugated. In war with such an enemy, nothing less than total victory is acceptable.4

Slotkin then goes on to discuss the second myth, the "just war" myth through which Americans were able to understand World War II, but predicts that circumstances in the present crisis will probably result in our embracing the first myth, that of the "savage war". It should help here to identify at least a couple of examples from reporting on the war in order to see how the stage is being set for the decisions that will be the subject of more detailed analysis to follow.

On Nov. 9th, an article appeared on the front page of the New York Times that could have come straight out of the notebook of an eastern correspondent visiting the American Great Plains during the mid-nineteenth century Indian Wars. Entitled "To the stranger, a wild land, strangely awesome", the piece strings together musings and experiences dramatizing a rugged, "uncivilized" country, and the relation between the landscape and its inhabitants. The reporter, Dexter Filkins writes,

The natural world looms large in Afghanistan and its landscape seems bound up in all its parts. The faces of its people, now captured in a thousand photographs, seem merely the human reflection of the country's geography: all crags and fissures, dessicated and rough. To picture the war being fought here, imagine fighting in the Grand Canyon or Escalante National Monument, or perhaps even on the moon.5

Such perceptions of non-European peoples as essentially linked to the features of their environments has a long and ignoble history in the service of colonialism and imperialism on many different continents. Viewing the "dusky natives" as connected to nature has made it a more palatable proposition to conquer territory than if we viewed them, for example, as world citizens who happen to live in another place. Euro-American conquerors have historically found it more comfortable to understand themselves as subduing an "empty" wilderness than an inhabited one. If it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that there are indeed inhabitants there, they can still can be ideologically assimilated into nature, seen as its extensions, or presumed to be fundamentally limited by the characteristics nature has forced upon them. Stressing or suggesting the timelessness, or what Robert Berkhofer, Jr. terms the "atemporality" of their culture and connection to the land serves this purpose, and makes it easier to pursue one of our two time-honored American expansion policies, "extermination" ("war" policy) or "civilization" ("peace" policy), with a clearer conscience.6 Traditionally, the blending of natives into nature allowed Europeans in the Christian tradition to interpret the subjugation of both in terms of God's charge to subdue the Earth. Since the rise of evolutionism in the 19th century, the timeless links between natives and nature has made it easier to think of their subjugation as an inevitable result of the rise of the less trammeled, more geographically flexible Caucasian race to its rightful position of competitive dominance.

These days, of course, extermination is no longer an option, and even "civilization" is a word that can't be used indiscriminately. In the Times article, the word "technology" serves as a substitute. "Like a desert plant," Filkins claims, "technology clings to the soil here with shallow roots, struggling to take hold, and then a wind comes and blows it away." He writes, "In Farkhar, there is no mail delivery, no streetlights. No telephones, no telephone poles. Farkhar darkens with the sunset; most of the villagers, lacking anything else to do, go to sleep." But if someone sets up a TV or a satellite telephone, lines quickly form, life becomes interesting. Much as in descriptions of American Indian tribes during the 19th century, Afghans are here characterized fundamentally in terms of lack: it is difficult to imagine them doing anything but twiddling their thumbs in boredom, perhaps fighting each other to pass the time (and to express their innate savagery), but nevertheless remaining inseparable from their craggy landscapes. The paradoxical double construction, according to which the Afghans are, on the one hand, bound to nature, and on the other, open to being led out of their timeless natural state by civilizing technology, mirrors the tension between the two time-honored policy strands of extermination and assimilation, a tension that remains unresolved today. Filkins's description of the Afghans' positive attitude toward technology is also notable for its very selective focus on telephones and TVs rather than laser-guide smart bombs and land mines.

The clear message of the article is that America can satisfy the natural, maybe even innately human, desire for technology, and through technology, civilization, on the part of the Afghan people. It is important to stress here that I am not accusing Filkins or the Times editors of intentionally promoting such a complex of associations. But they don't need to... the associations are already there in American culture, and they have the cumulative effect of making it easier for many of us to accept an invasion of Afghanistan as 'natural' or perhaps even beneficial to the Afghans. Although the racialist dimension of this story is not my main concern, its importance as an influence on American public opinion immediately becomes clear if we try to imagine America invading, for example, Ireland, to stop the rampant terrorism there. Even had Irish terrorists executed a devastating attack in the US, the kind of response we're pursuing in Afghanistan would never be seriously considered.

An essay in the October 15th number of the Weekly Standard by Max Boot, editorial features editor for the Wall Street Journal, demonstrates that the links drawn here with colonial and imperial subjugation "for the good of the natives" are not merely some fictional contrivance. Entitled "The case for American empire: the most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role", the essay argues that we need to do in Afghanistan what we have failed to do in Vietnam, in Somalia, in Iraq and in response to the bombing of the USS Cole a year ago: stand by our local minions, finish the job, unabashedly take over the country after we achieve military victory, stick around and make sure a robust democratic government is set in place, and not be afraid to lose some American lives along the way. According to Boot, "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in Jodhpurs and pith helmets." "The September 11 attack," he asserts, "was a result of insufficient American involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation." Boot suggests that the phrase "for the good of the natives" should once again be taken seriously. The Bush administration has not embraced anything quite so bold, but it is not surprising to see this theme enter the public discussion and be taken seriously.

The American manhood to be put to the test in the wilds of Afghanistan is crystallized and personified by the media in the figure of President George W. Bush. He it is who will avenge the savage attack, and in the process prove his own (and our collective American) manhood to the world at large. Of course Bush will not venture near the front lines in Afghanistan, but even before we started to bomb the country, this 'War on Terrorism' was being presented as the crucible in which Bush's masculinity, and with it, America's, is to be forged.

It is worth noting that, quite apart from the terror attacks of Sept. 11th, Bush had a very specific manhood problem. Clinton's had had to do with his avoidance of military service and objections to the Vietnam War. Before Sept. 11th, the suspicions about Bush's masculine credentials had at least in part to do with the perception among significant numbers of Americans that he had not gained the Presidency by way of a "fair fight". But more important still was the lingering unease about his apparent dependence on advisors and aides. The perception of dependency is of course a serious threat to the American image of proper masculinity, which is supposed to involve self-reliance and independence. It was painfully obvious to Bush supporters as well as detractors that the President had difficulty speaking or presenting himself to the public without close adherence to prepared scripts. There were widespread doubts about the idea that he was a self-made man.

On September 16th, the New York Times ran a front page article by David Sanger and Don van Natta, Jr. entitled "Four days that transformed a President, a presidency and a nation, for all time".7 This article could not have been more carefully designed to rectify Bush's shaky manhood image, but again, the intentions of the authors are not the important issue. The title of the article already encourages us to think of Bush's personal transformation as a transformation of America more generally. Near the beginning a before-and-after dualism is set up:

On Monday night, he was laughing over dinner with his brother Jeb at a seaside Florida resort, posing for pictures with the restaurant staff and dodging questions from reporters about looming battles over the vanishing budget surplus. By this morning, with downtown Washington locked down by the military, he was conducting a war council at Camp David and demanding that countries around the world, starting with the Arab world, declare whether they were allies in the war on terrorism.
As he rode Marine One from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House on Tuesday evening, Mr. Bush watched the smoke billowing from the jagged gash in the Pentagon and seemed to recognize how profoundly his young presidency had been transformed.

The young, not yet manly Bush is recognizable in the unsteadiness of his first couple of public appearances after the disaster, and in his willingness to let Vice President Cheney and his staff determine where he would fly to remain safe. But even while still allowing himself to be ferried about, there are signs of an emerging hardness, as he reportedly tells Cheney, "That's what we're paid for, boys. We are going to take care of this. When we find out who did this, they are not going to like me as President. Somebody is going to pay." After a meeting in a bunker in Nebraska, in which (according to Condoleeza Rice, presumably now an honorary "boy"), Bush resolves not to allow himself to be kept away from Washington any longer, he insists that his next address to the nation be made from the Oval Office. The day after returning to the White House, Bush then takes further steps toward assuming the mantle of full manhood, personally making the decision in council to use the term "war", and then giving a speech at the damaged Pentagon, where "[i]t was the first time he spoke without notes, and he seemed far more comfortable."

On the Friday after the attack, Bush was the featured speaker at a national Day of Remembrance at the Washington Cathedral. Sanger and Van Natta paint the scene for us:

Alongside him were his father and mother, and three former Presidents: Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford. The Pressure was on. This was the kind of event at which Mr. Clinton had excelled, and the comparisons would be clear to a nation looking for the right tone from a new President. Inside the hall, Mr. Bush seemed dwarfed by the massive limestone columns, but on television he took on a larger presence, and seemed to find his footing.

By the Saturday morning Camp David war council, the transformation was complete, with Bush acting and speaking like the real man America needed him to be. According to the article,

"[h]e seemed far steadier than he had earlier in the week.... On Tuesday morning, in his first public statement about the attacks, the President had called the suicide hijackers "folks". Today, he called them "barbarians". "This is a great nation; we're kind and peaceful," Mr. Bush said. "But they have stirred up the might of the American people, and we're going to get them."

III. Chorus of the hand-wringing panty-waists

Most of the gender-related stigmatization of the "other" has not come from the administration itself, but from the mainstream media, whose conservative wing is clearly in the ascendancy since Sept. 11th. The accusations of unmanly weakness have been directed chiefly at domestic critics of administration policy, most particularly at college students and professors. John Leo, one of the many national columnists who busy themselves regularly with the supposedly oppressive culture of "political correctness" on campuses, deplores what he calls "campus hand-wringing" and laments the "timid and content-free statements" of many college presidents after the terror attacks.8 Of course, many on campuses and elsewhere who are against the war are just as staunch and steadfast in their convictions as are the conservatives at the other end of the political spectrum, giving the lie to the notion that they are engaged in "handwringing". Lisa De Pasquale, Program Director of the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute, joins Leo in attributing the anti-war attitudes of many students to their professors. "The anti-war protestors [sic] of the 1960s and 1970s are now the tenured professors at America's colleges and universities. They have traded their placards and sit-ins for chalkboards and classrooms."9

For these two, as for many other columnists, the anti-war, and more generally leftist beliefs of many students and professors are not for a minute assumed to come out of a serious engagement with historical facts or to emerge from deep moral reflection, but rather to be "knee-jerk", i.e. irrational reactions. Since the beginning of the Reagan era, repeated reinforcement of such a view has been part of a most impressive smoke-and-mirrors rhetorical maneuver executed with much success. It leaves many Americans actually wondering why it is that institutions of higher learning of all places are hotbeds for critics of American foreign policy... the possibility that there could be some connection between the real historical and political knowledge which it is the business of educators to impart, on the one hand, and leftist critiques of American policy, on the other, would actually surprise many of our fellow citizens. As if this masterpiece of collective brainwashing were not enough, a number of columnists now explicitly reject the usefulness of thought or understanding more generally as guides to the present situation. Writing in the Washington Post on October 28th, the sociologist Paul Hollander, after lambasting the left for its "largely irrational, often visceral aversion to the United States and its government," urges us not to look for root causes of the attacks.10 While allowing that it might be worthwhile investigating the personal histories and psychological problems of the individual attackers, he angrily equates any wider search for causes in the history of American foreign policy with expressions of sympathy for the terrorists. This conflation of understanding with excusing has emerged as a hallmark of the right in the present crisis. Thomas Sowell, too, sees no daylight between attempting to understand the larger policy history of American involvement in the Middle East and repeating the admittedly awful mistake of Neville Chamberlain with regard to Hitler.11 He can hardly contain his contempt for "a former ambassador from the weak-kneed Carter administration" and sneeringly reports this ambassador's claim

that we should look at the "root causes" behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We should understand the "alienation" and "sense of grievance" against us by various people in the Middle East.

Along the same lines, Charles Krauthammer insists, "[t]his is no time for obfuscation. Or for agonized relativism.... This is a time for clarity. At a time like this, those who search for shades of evil, for root causes, for extenuations are, to borrow from Lance Morrow, "too philosophical for decent company"."12

Interestingly, it is a conservative woman columnist, Ann Coulter, who attempts to stigmatize not only anti-war Americans, but even liberal supporters of the war, as well as "soccer moms", in the most sharply gendered terms. Her November 1st article, entitled "The eunuchs are whining",13 is worth excerpting at length:

With the media suffering from fainting spells, the country is being run by people who can splice cables and land jets on ships in the dark of night. These are men, a subspecies of Americans heretofore invisible to the elites. But now the elites are complaining that the men aren't working fast enough.
Not exactly smashing stereotypes of liberals as mincing pantywaists, the left's entire contribution to the war effort thus far has been to whine.
Men are out in the driving rain trying to change a tire, while the womenfolk sit in a warm roadside cafe demanding to know what's taking so long. Just pipe down! The men are working as fast as they can.
In fact, no one is in the "grip of fear" over anthrax except the media and their most gullible targets, liberal women. Liberal soccer moms are precisely as likely to receive anthrax in the mail as to develop a capacity for linear thinking.
As Irish playwright Brendan Behan said, "Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves"
Women - and I don't mean to limit that to the biological sense - always become hysterical at the first sign of trouble. They have no capacity to solve problems, so instead they fret. But despite the fearful fifth columnists whiling away the war naysaying America's response, we will win this war.
You just stay warm, girls... the men are fixing the car.

It takes nothing away from Coulter's argument to quote a series of excerpts: the 'argument', such as it is, is essentially contained in the above passages. One could devote a whole essay just to Coulter's diatribe. It is, among other things, a classic illustration of the wider latitude available to dissenting members of a disadvantaged group in attacking, stigmatizing or stereotyping that group. Here it suffices to highlight once again the claim that opponents of the war are somehow indecisive or "fretful", and the related suggestion that the only way to be decisive or practical is in fact to go to war. Links between manhood and self-reliance are also clearly drawn.

In the late 19th century, opinion about the proper course to pursue in U.S. Indian policy was divided into the two broad camps mentioned earlier: the "war" camp and the "peace" camp. The former were in most cases politicians and prominent citizens and military men from the states and territories of the West; the latter, philanthropists, gentlemen scholars, as well as a few women, largely from the northeast. These 'Eastern reformers', as they were usually called, came in for exactly the same sort of gendered stigmatization as do Coulter's ladies waiting in the warm, dry cafe while the men fixed the tire. A pair of quotes, one from Francis A. Walker, Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the early 1870s, the other from an editorial in the Cheyenne Daily Leader, give a taste of this long pedigree:

[I]n our prosperous and well-ordered communities at the East, a gentleman of leisure and of native benevolence, whose ears have never rung with the war-whoop, whose eyes have never witnessed the horrid atrocities of Indian warfare, and who is only disturbed in his pleasing reveries by the occasional tramp of the policeman about his house, is apt to dwell exclusively upon the [peaceful] side of the Indian question.14
Let sniveling Quakers give place to bluff soldiers.15

The point is not that the two sets of policy alternatives, those facing us today and those which exercised writers 130 years ago, are exactly analogous, but rather that the gendered dismissal of the supposedly "weaker" option has a long history in association with American "savage wars". It is also worth noting that in both cases, the masculinist war hawks feminize their opponents within white society, but not the "enemy" himself (at least not in any direct way). For it is precisely the savage masculinity of the enemy that makes him a proper foil for the demonstration of manhood by tough white Americans. Taken collectively as a 'race' or a culture, the savage enemy might implicitly be feminized in the sense that he is doomed to defeat or extinction, but he must nevertheless be capable of posing a real test for our manhood before succumbing to the inevitable.

IV. Gender and public opinion regarding the U.S. 'War on Terrorism'

It is impossible to establish in any precise way what role such opinion-making has played in cementing the strong pro-war attitudes of the majority of Americans. That there is overwhelming support for the 'War on Terrorism' among Americans, and that pro-war attitudes dominate among women as well as men, nobody would deny. But a closer look at public opinion numbers reveals a more interesting story. A Gallup Poll analysis of October 5th bears the title "Men, women equally likely to support military retaliation for terrorist attacks ."16 Men (at 90%) and women (at 88%) are near parity in support of war, a sharp contrast to a 1965 poll asking whether the US should pull out of Vietnam (73% of men but only 59% of women supporting a continued US presence), and to a January 1991 poll in which 60% of men but only 45% of women favored going to war with Iraq. Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones notes that the 89% overall support level can be considered an upper estimate because it is gleaned from a question in which no reasons to oppose military action are given. The differences between men and women begin to appear when other information is provided, and to widen as the scenarios grow more serious. If US military action would continue for several months, the men / women support numbers drop to 89% and 84% (a 5% gap), respectively; if US ground troops would be used in an invasion, the numbers sink and the gap widens to 9% (85% vs. 76% in support); contemplating a reinstitution of the military draft, male support drops to 84%, female to 72% (a 12% gap); the prospect of US military involvement over a span of years pushes the numbers down to 74% and 58% support for war, that is, a 16% gap. Faced with a scenario in which 1,000 American casualties could be expected, male support registers 76% while female support drops to 55%, a 21% gap. This gendered pattern jibes with the clear difference in perceptions of the overall goal of intervention. Twenty-four percent of the men surveyed thought the US should punish the groups involved in the Sept. 11th attacks and then pull out; 64% favored mounting a long-term war against terrorism. On the same question, women were evenly split between the two options, 42% to 42%.

These numbers indicate a higher sense among women of potential human costs of war. Perhaps it is precisely the "liberal soccer moms" pilloried by Ann Coulter who leave a similar statistical footprint in an October 24th report in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:17


[A]mericans have been slow to return to a sense of normalcy and, as seen in earlier Pew Research Center surveys after the Sept. 11 attacks, women are feeling the emotional impact of the attacks more acutely than are men. In the current survey, eight in ten women worry that there will soon be another terrorist attack in the United States, while only 63% of men have that worry.
Women are also much less likely than men to say their lives have returned to normal (34% to 48%). In fact, women are among the most likely of all Americans to say life will never return to normal following the attacks, with fully one in five expressing this view. And women with children at home are especially shaken. Just 28% of mothers say their life [sic] has returned to normal, and 41% are very worried about an impending attack.

The earlier Pew poll18 had documented a gender gap on the issue of which priorities the government should follow, with men clearly favoring destruction of terrorist networks over the bolstering of homeland defenses (51% to 25%), while women, overall less optimistic about military success, favored defense over attack by a slim margin (39% to 37%).

These numbers can, of course, be read in many ways. A traditional view on gender would make it easy to fall into the trap of taking men's positions as standards or norms, and viewing women's responses as "failing to match" men's to a greater or lesser degree. But it is more enlightening not to take men's response patterns as the norm, and instead to view these patterns as in need of explanation. The polls may say more interesting and disturbing things about men than about women. One thing I would suggest they document might be termed a gender gap in learning ability. Recall, for example, that in the Gallup poll cited first, women were much more likely than men to respond differently to the idea of military action when confronted with new information on specific potential negative results. Quite apart from the specifics of the information, and even from the direction of change in women's attitudes, the mere fact of a stronger response to information is a sign of reason at work. But there is nothing biological about men that keeps them wedded, even in the face of all sorts of negative consequences, to such a stable pro-war attitude. I would instead propose that men are trapped in their thinking by the culture of masculinity described earlier. What we are seeing here, then, is a concrete illustration of the claim made by E. Anthony Rotundo which I cited at the very beginning: that masculine ideals dangerously narrow the range of individual male behaviors or policy options available to government leaders.

V. In search of an audience for American masculinity

One of the most fundamental 'justifications' for the 'War on Terrorism', recycled repeatedly both by the administration and by the conservative think-tanks and columnists, comes straight out of the core of the American culture of masculinity. It is the notion that America (in the person of Bush and through the agency of the Armed Forces) must prove that it is strong. This idea is so normal, so natural, so ubiquitous, that we can hardly gain any critical distance from it. But we can begin to see it in a different light if we ask the simple question, who was in danger of mistakenly thinking that America is weak or incapable of acting forcefully? Who in the world could be naive enough to imagine that such a symbolically and humanly devastating attack on talismans of US power would not meet with some kind of aggressive response? Who out there in the wider world might have been so ignorant of recent history as to hope or fear (as the case may be) that there would be no violent consequences? One need only recall the bombing of Tripoli, missiles launched into Afghanistan and Sudan, and larger interventions in Panama, Grenada, the Gulf War, etc. etc. to begin to suspect that proving we are strong may be an exercise that lacks an avid audience, that it may instead be a matter of strutting in front of the mirror. But for the sake of argument, it is worth identifying possible audiences other than ourselves, and examining a bit more closely the notion that these other audiences are either being reassured or deterred by our 'War on Terrorism'.

In his widely praised September 20th address to Congress, Bush claimed that "[t]he civilized world is rallying to America's side. They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next."19 In an address to the nation on October 7th, he claimed that in prosecuting the war, the U.S. was "supported by the collective will of the world."20 Three different audiences are implied here, the "civilized world" at large (already, of course, a problematic term), terrorists and their supporters. Regarding the first of these, world opinion on the matter does not support Bush's presumption. A Gallup International poll in October,21 surveying the populations in over thirty countries in Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, yielded the following results: (1) the overwhelming majority of respondents in all countries, except the U.S, India and Israel, believe that instead of attacking the countries out of which the terrorists worked, the U.S. should extradite them to stand trial. That is, while most people around the world would like to see the perpetrators punished, few accept the Bush administration's claim that going to war is the best way to do this. (2) According to the poll, only NATO member states, India and Israel showed a majority of respondents believing their own countries should take part in U.S.-led military actions against terrorism.

Taken together, these two sets of results reveal not only the falseness of Bush's claim, but also the fact that in NATO states, it must be an awareness of treaty obligations, fatalism, or something else other than personal moral or political conviction regarding the rightness of the war, which leads people to accept the participation of their own countries in military reprisals. The stance of the German government is illustrative of the tension. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has insisted on demonstrating complete solidarity with the U.S., and has lobbied vigorously in the German Bundestag to gain support for his historic decision to send German troops on their first offensive foreign military mission since the Nazi era. By contrast, the German President, Johannes Rau, according to the constitution the official international spokesperson for Germany, sounds a very different tone. In an address to those gathered for a demonstration on Friday, September 14th at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, Rau communicated in no uncertain terms the shock, outrage, sympathy and solidarity felt by the German people with regard to the U.S.22 But his comments on possible responses echoed the documented opinion of the German population, not the assertions of Bush:

We will not react to the challenge with powerlessness or with weakness, rather with strength and determination. And with circumspection. Hatred must not lead us into hatred. Hatred blinds. Nothing is so difficult to build and nothing so easy to destroy as peace....
Whoever wants truly to overcome terrorism must ensure through political action that the ground is cut out from below the feet of the prophets of violence.
Poverty and exploitation, misery and lack of rights drive people to despair. The disregard of religious feelings and cultural traditions robs people of hope and dignity.
This leads some to violence and terror. This sows hatred even in the hearts of children.
All people have the right to respect and dignity.
Those who experience respect in their lives and love their lives will not want to throw [them] away. Those who live in dignity and confidence will hardly become suicide attacker[s].
Determined action is the order of the day.... [W]e say the best protection against terror, violence and war is a just international order. Peace will be the fruit of justice....
John F. Kennedy remarked in his day, "Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right."

So much for the notion that the "civilized world" wishes to see America conduct a military 'War on Terrorism'.

We do not have access to polls revealing opinions among terrorists, the second intended audience for Bush's remarks. But it is clear from all public utterances that the administration intends its 'War on Terrorism' to intimidate any potential future doers of terrorist deeds whom it does not capture or kill into deciding against terrorism. Bush's Sept. 20th address can serve as a starting point.23 Bush asserts midway through his speech that "[t]hese terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends." Such motivations would seem to call for proof of our lack of fear, that is, for forceful assertion of American power. But, as George Will observed in a column the day after the terror attacks, "[t]errorism is the tactic of the weak. To keep all this in perspective, Americans should focus on the fact that such acts as Tuesday's do not threaten America's social well-being or even its physical strength."24 Will, like most other commentators, refuses to see how profound these insights actually are despite their obviousness, and devotes much of his column to the idea that despite these obvious truths, America needs once again to prove its strength. But if terrorism is a tactic of the weak, terrorists are not trying to prove their strength. It doesn't take a genius or a CIA specialist to recognize that bin Laden and his associates, or whoever actually pulled off the attacks, are perfectly well aware of America's military strength and willingness to use it! Who wouldn't be?! Furthermore, not a single terrorist anywhere in the world would have expected anything other than a massive military response by the U.S. after such an attack.

This huge blind spot is closely linked to the American culture of masculinity, which encourages us to conceive of conflicts in terms of tests of strength or prowess between two combatants playing by the same rules, as in the stereotypical western gunfight. If we flip back our duster-coat to reveal our big, shiny revolver, and stare down the villain with our steely gaze, he won't make the fatal move for his own weapon. The basic problem with this fantasy is that the Sept. 11th attacks, like most terrorist attacks, short circuited the whole logic of the showdown. Much has been made in the press of the emotional unwillingness of many Americans truly to accept that things cannot be made right again, that we can't undo what has been done. The immediate decision to rebuild the World Trade Center is explained in this light. But I submit that this unwillingness to accept, and the enraged frustration that often comes with it, can only be fully explained with reference to specifically masculine myths. The basic structure of the showdown, of attempts to prove manhood in combat, is one of confrontation, followed by escalation, followed by a climax either of actual violence or the facing down of the weaker man by the stronger. It is important in this mythical scenario that violence not happen right away, because men prove their manhood not simply in being violent but also, perhaps more importantly, by demonstrating unflinching resolve and courage despite the danger of a violent exchange. In other words, the showdown has to last a little while so the men have a chance to prove that they are brave, and for that to be possible, both gunslingers have to be aware of the danger they are in.

Measured against this mythical showdown scenario, the terrorist would indeed seem to be "a faceless coward", as Bush put it.25 But 'cowardice' is not really the right word: it requires that someone be 'cowed'. The attackers of Sept. 11th never gave the U.S. military a chance to 'cow' them. They bypassed the whole escalation scenario, never appeared for a preliminary confrontation or gave the warning that would have allowed us to show our fearless resolve. They simply produced horrible violence right away, horrible violence that will not be erased or made right even if we kill them all in a bloody war that shows the world once again just how mighty we are. This, I believe, is one important factor behind the rage felt especially by many American men.

The third foreign audience implied in Bush's address is made up of the actual or potential supporters of terrorists (by which the administration means primarily regimes in the Islamic world). Here, the think tanks and columnists can be enlisted to flesh out the argument. Kim Holmes, Vice President of the Heritage Foundation and Director of the Davis Institute for International Studies, claims

We should be confident that decisive and successful action by the United States against Bin Laden, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein would make a very strong point about the seriousness of U.S. resolve and determination.... The goal of U.S. policy should be to show countries like Iran, Syrai, Sudan and Libya that support for terrorism is not only unproductive and unprofitable, but even potentially dangerous.26

Thomas Friedman, globalization guru and columnist for the New York Times, concurs:

[t]he most important way we win the public relations war is by first winning the real war - by uprooting the Taliban regime and the bin Laden network, and sending the message that this is the fate of anyone who kills 5,000 innocent Americans. Quite simply, if we win the war and are seen to be winning, we will have friends and allies in the Arab-Muslim world. If we are seen as losing the war or wavering, our allies will disappear in a flash.27

According to this line of reasoning, actual or potential supporters of terrorism make decisions about the levels of support they offer to terrorists based on the demonstrated degree of resolve by the U.S. The thing is, terrorist-harboring regimes, like terrorists themselves but perhaps for different reasons, are not operating according to this logic, a fact which even conservative commentators admit. In remarks at a NATO conference in Berlin on the 19th of September, Jim Thomson, President and CEO of the RAND corporation, noted that "[c]ountries that assist terrorists already know that the U.S. and its allies could attack them".28 He must have in mind here the rich history of U.S. military projections of power around the globe during the last 20 years, but his admission undermines the larger argument he tries to make, that the U.S. has not yet adequately demonstrated resolve in protecting its interest internationally. On this latter point, Max Boot's pro-imperialism essay takes a particularly extreme line:29

After the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Clinton sent cruise missiles - not soldiers - to strike a symbolic blow against bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Those attacks were indeed symbolic, though not in the way Clinton intended. They symbolized not U.S. determination but rather passivity in the face of terrorism.... [Such] displays of weakness emboldened our enemies to commit greater and more outrageous acts of aggression...

Stepping back for a moment, it is difficult to imagine many people in other parts of the world agreeing that our firing missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan signaled our weakness or lack of resolve! The norm of international response to terrorist attacks implied in Boot's claim would have to be something like invasion for bombardment to appear weak or irresolute. The United States has been the only nation in the world, at least since the early 1980s, that has so often and so casually violated the territorial sovereignty of other nations. But even we have not treated invasion as a habitual first response to provocations. Even for us, such a norm is unrealistic; for all other nations it would be almost unimaginable. If the international community in general were to behave as if every terrorist attack called for 'something more than "mere" bombardment' of the country of origin, we would enter a state of endemic, multilateral world war that would make current levels of international violence look trivial.

The tack taken by Middle Eastern governments after the attack offers little evidence to support the administration's insistence on the need for military action. One source on this point is the record of the five-day debate on terrorism conducted by the U.N. General Assembly in early October. On the second day of the debate, a number of Middle Eastern governments made statements. The general pattern was one of expressions of outrage and sympathy with Americans in the aftermath of the attacks, but resignation regarding the inevitability of a retaliatory war, coupled with expressions of hope that the U.S. would not simply give itself carte blanche to attack any Middle Eastern nation under cover of overly vague definitions of terrorism.30

To sum up this part of my argument, neither terrorists nor regimes sympathetic to them are going to learn anything new from this war. If, as documented earlier, the so-called "civilized world" is also not being reassured by it, we can conclude that our exercise of aggression is having its intended effect on none of its audiences. Instead, we are flexing our muscles on the international stage because our deeply entrenched culture of masculinity has robbed us of a conception about what else to do. We are simply strutting in front of the mirror.

VI.Masculinity and the impoverishment of decision-making

If we lack a real audience for our masculine exercises on the international stage, many of the individual features of America's 'War on Terrorism', many of the concrete decisions about how to conduct it, can be seen in a different and more critical light. In what follows, a number of important components of the administration's policy will be critically examined in turn.

A. The intention not to change any of our foreign policies.

The administration's initial insistence that America not change its foreign policies, the insistence, in Bush's words, that "this country will define our times, not be defined by them",31 was ill-conceived. RAND President and CEO Jim Thomson is worth quoting at length here, because he simultaneously spells out the premises behind the refusal to adjust policy and implicitly admits that these premises are mistaken. The result is a fundamentally incoherent argument, and although I am excerpting selectively, the incoherence is not my doing, but afflicts the argument as a whole:

The new terrorists.... have no stated or apparent political aim other than to cause as much harm as they can inflict on the U.S. and the West....
Sitting in Europe the past week, I've heard a lot (mainly on BBC phone-in shows or TV) about how we have to be sympathetic to the causes of terrorism and to understand that many people have real grievances with U.S. foreign policy.... But, if my analysis of the enemy is correct, it is not possible to remedy the causes, because the terrorists' motives are so fundamental -- mainly cultural, not political. It may be that there are things we can do to slow the supply of foot soldiers, however, and this should be the focus of our policy....
But there is nothing the U.S. could do regarding Israel that would make a difference to the new terrorists, short of abandoning Israel completely.... In any case, the U.S. is certainly not going to abandon Israel....
Thus the U.S. (and more importantly its allies) should not be seduced by the notion that we need to alter our policies regarding the Middle East and Persian Gulf to bring an end to this terrorism. There may be reasons to change, but terrorism isn't one of them. This is not to say that the U.S. should be callous about the suffering of the Palestinians or should give Israel a blank check. We need a return to the peace process, which seems possible now.
The problem is so pervasive and so complex as to defy solution by the U.S. alone.... Thus diplomacy will be the most important tool, especially in and with the support and cooperation of Muslim countries. Our own diplomatic abilities have generally withered under the yoke of financial stringencies imposed by Congress....
Poverty, hunger, and poor health, especially when seen as a consequence of U.S. policy, help sustain the supply of foot soldiers. The U.S. needs to reverse its decades-long downward slide in international development assistance.
I don't see how the struggle against terrorism can be won with military force alone. I also do not see how it can be won without it.... Military capability backs up our diplomatic efforts. Countries that assist terrorists already know that the U.S. and its allies could attack them. The very existence of our forces and occasional brandishing of them may be enough to coerce cooperation. If not, we will have to strike....
The political backlash from military attacks will make our task of draining the sea that terrorists swim in all the harder.32

What stands out in these passages is a contrast between the psychology of fear and intimidation behind the insistence on attack and the model of rational persuasion behind the recommendations for policy changes. For policy changes, reasonable ones at that, are exactly what Thomson is recommending when he urges increased foreign aid, attention to the suffering of the Palestinians, and renewed funding for an adequate diplomatic corps. Thomson even explicitly acknowledges that pursuing the military option (and thereby generating fear and resentment) will interfere with the more constructive attempt to "drain the sea that terrorists swim in". The assertion that "military capability backs up our diplomatic efforts" is directly contradicted by the very next sentence (which I have already quoted in two different places): "Countries that assist terrorists already know that the U.S. and its allies could attack them." Reconciling the two lines of this couplet requires re-conceiving the concept of diplomacy as no longer an exercise in avoiding war but rather a starting point on a scale of potential escalation toward violence: by 'diplomacy' Thomson might then really mean the cordial communication of threats and ultimatums. This would match quite well with the way the U.S. government is actually employing the vestiges of its diplomatic corps, and, not coincidentally, with the template for policy provided by American manhood ideals. The limitations of such a policy are easy to discern. It is difficult, for example, to imagine how expressions of an intent to address real problems of poverty and oppression can be taken seriously when the big, bad American military is pointedly strutting around in the background shooting off guns and playing war games, or whatever Thomson means by "occasional brandishing". Observers in the Middle East can be excused if they expect nothing more from such a policy than Latin American nations got out of Kennedy's vaunted "Alliance for Progress" in the 1960s: token development assistance at best, a hasty abandonment of initial support for any real social reform, and dramatic increases in military assistance to friendly oppressive regimes.33 Whenever the U.S. attempts to follow a 'carrot and stick' foreign policy, the stick wins out over the carrot. I suggest that this pattern can be traced back to our ideals of masculine behavior.

Fortunately, in this case, Colin Powell and others in the administration clearly recognize that policy changes, particularly toward Israel, are absolutely necessary. The difficulty of breaking out of the mold of manly behavior is evident in the fact that (reproducing the contradiction within Thomson's essay) they must change policy without admitting that that is what they are doing. The fact of policy changes is far more important here than the image, and we can be genuinely relieved that Powell and company are beginning to put more pressure on Israel regarding its settlement policies in the West Bank and Gaza.34 However, it would be an even greater service to peace if the administration would acknowledge and begin to distance itself from the showdown mentality that hems us in and contributes needlessly to the danger of international violence. We need desperately to be able to step out of the logic of escalation toward violence, and to take alternative policy options seriously instead of merely using them as expedient window dressing to manage short-term discontent and then letting them die after the crisis has passed.

B. 'You're either with us or against us'

Military force is a blunt instrument in the sense that there are only three different modalities of use: a government either uses it, threatens to use it, or doesn't do either. An over-reliance on military force encourages the simplistic division of the world into two opposing camps: anything in between "friend" and "enemy" renders military force irrelevant as a tool of foreign policy. Given our deep investment in a military response, such irrelevance would be unacceptable. In Bush's Sept. 20th speech, and then in his October 7th address to the nation and again on Nov. 6th, , he made this kind of division a cornerstone of the 'War on Terrorism':

Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.35
Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground.36
I will put every nation on notice that these duties [in the war on terror] involve more than just sympathy or words.37

The imposition of "hostile" vs. "friendly" categories has a long and distinguished history in nineteenth century American Indian policy, having its heyday as a pillar of policy in the late 1870s, after the killing of Custer and his command at Little Bighorn. In fact, though, the hostile/friendly dichotomy was already inscribed geographically on the North American landscape by the Indian reservation system. Tribes or bands identified themselves as "friendly" by confining themselves to their appointed reservations; those who left the reservation were understood to have redefined themselves as "hostile" and thus to be subject to military attack.38 It is no accident that this policy was forged and constantly advocated by U.S. Army officers.

The historical parallel to "harboring terrorists" was the tendency of Indians at war with the U.S. government periodically to sneak back to the reservations and assume the peaceful demeanor of "friendlies" in order to collect treaty-mandated rations. This practice was repeatedly decried throughout the 1870s, for example by the same George A. Custer who would soon meet his end at the hands of the Lakota. Custer complained that "[t]he government feeds during the winter the Indians who make war upon the frontier during the summer."39 But the U.S. government never went so far as to attack the population of a largely peaceful reservation in order to capture, kill or otherwise stop the hostiles (Wounded Knee in 1890 was perhaps the only exception to this generalization). Officials understood that the backlash would have been severe, and they lacked the overwhelming military superiority the U.S. now enjoys with respect to Afghanistan. Thus they decided be content with the admittedly imperfect geographical distinction between those on the reservation and those off it. Today, as Thomson notes in the passages quoted earlier, the price for killing and injuring "friendlies" while attacking "hostiles", now known as collateral damage, can be very high. Now, as then, the pretense that the U.S. government believes it is dealing with political equals is given the lie by our brusque dismissal of any suggestion that the sovereignty right of the Afghans / Indians to preserve the inviolability of their territory should be taken seriously. Now, as then, all of the respectful rhetoric we produce to uphold the appearance of an international community of equals is revealed by our actions as transparent bullshit.

By forcing a 'for us or against us' choice on all nations, and giving notice that 'harboring terrorists' makes a nation our enemy, the U.S. also unwittingly highlights the global economic disparities it is otherwise so busy dismissing as unimportant. During the early October debates around terrorism in the U.N. General Assembly, a number of representatives from poorer countries worried about how they would be able to acquire the resources to make sure they would not be harboring terrorists in the future:

Speaking for Barbados, Ambassador June Clarke agreed that no country, however small, was immune from terrorism. "Indeed, small countries are particularly vulnerable because they frequently do not have the logistical and intelligence assets to effectively track the activities of terrorists and other agents of transnational crime", she said.
The Acting Permanent Representative of Botswana, Leutlwetse Mmualefe, said many developing countries faced enormous social and economic problems and were "in dire need of resources and technical assistance to help us upgrade our capacities to effectively participate in the global coalition against terrorism." He stressed that conflict-ridden regions of the world had proven to be easier breeding-grounds and havens for terrorist activities.40

In effect, U.S. policy has put poor countries in a position of long-term vulnerability to American intervention, and it is not difficult to foresee that, insofar as the U.S. attempts to address the problem, it will do so by helping countries beef up their security forces. The result may look a good deal like the pattern of the Cold War: scores of poverty-stricken populations on all continents held at bay by authoritarian regimes armed to the teeth against the threat of terrorism. This predicament, growing out of the simplistic hostiles vs. friendlies policy, is just one of many complicated issues that could well have been anticipated and perhaps more creatively and constructively addressed in an international discussion involving more serious efforts at diplomacy. The insistence on a 'war' footing, and the ingrained preference for military solutions, continues to relegate world peace to a more distant future.

C. Negotiation is for wimps

A third feature of the American 'War on Terrorism', closely connected with the either/or mentality, makes very clear the link between the absence of an interest in diplomacy, on the one hand, and the manhood ideals spelled out earlier, on the other. The most-discussed part of Bush's Sept. 20th speech was his list of demands "on [sic] the Taliban".41 Bush asserts, "These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share their fate." Announcing the military attack on October 7th, Bush said, "More than two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands.... None of these demands were met. And now the Taliban will pay a price."42 The impression of resoluteness and "sticking to his guns" is reinforced in an October 15th Washington Post article entitled, "Bush rejects Taliban offer on Bin Laden".43 In the opening paragraph, John Harris writes that in rejecting an overture,

"President Bush .... made clear that military coercion, not diplomacy, remains the crux of U.S. policy toward the regime. "They must not have heard: There's [sic] no negotiations," Bush told reporters..."
Drawing a line in colloquial terms, Bush added: "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty. Turn him over. If they want us to stop our military operations, they just gotta meet my conditions, and when I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations.
Bush's reference to eight foreign aid workers held in Afghanistan was notable because until yesterday he had avoided calling them hostages, instead using language like "unjustly imprisoned." His decision to strip away euphemism suggested the rising intensity of the war on the Taliban...

... and of course a President who is a real man, firmly in control of the situation.

The high price to be paid for such tough-guy posturing is suggested by another Washington Post article two weeks later. Entitled "Diplomats met with Taliban on bin Laden",44 this article also merits lengthy quotation, as it imparts a depressing sense of the constraints placed on the U.S. government's room for maneuver by its own deep-seated masculinist commitments:

Over three years and as many continents, U.S. officials met in public and secret at least 20 times with Taliban representatives to discuss ways the regime could bring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to justice.
Throughout the years, however, State Department officials refused to soften their demand that bin Laden face trial in the U.S. justice system....
Some Afghan experts argue that throughout the negotiations, the United States never recognized the Taliban need for aabroh, the Pashtu word for "face-saving formula." Officials never found a way to ease the Taliban's fear of embarrassment if it turned over a fellow Muslim to an "infidel" Western power.
"We were not serious about the whole thing, not only this administration but the previous one," said Richard Hrair Dekmejian, an expert in Islamic fundamentalism and author at the University of Southern California. "We did not engage these people creatively. There were missed opportunities."....
"We never heard what they were trying to say," said Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief who oversaw U.S. covert operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s. "We had no common language. Ours was, 'Give up bin Laden.' They were saying, 'Do something to help us give him up.'"....
U.S. negotiators started out "very, very patient", one official said. But over the course of many meetings, the envoys "lost all patience with them because they kept saying they would do something and they did exactly nothing."
[After the Sept. 11th attacks] U.S. officials launched a two-pronged policy to pressure the Taliban into handing over bin Laden. On the one hand, the United States used the United Nations and the threat of sanctions. On the other, it began a hard-nosed dialogue....
"I would say, 'Hey, give up bin Laden,' and they would say, 'No, show us the evidence,'" [State Department officer Michael] Malinowski said.....
Others, however, say the cryptic statements [from the Taliban leaders] should have been interpreted differently. Bearden, for example, believes the Taliban more than once set up bin Laden for capture by the United States and communicated its intent by saying he was lost.
"Every time the Afghans said, 'He's lost again,' they are [sic] saying something. They are saying, 'He's no longer under our protection," Bearden said. "They thought they were signaling us subtly, and we don't do signals."

If diplomats representing the world's only remaining superpower "don't do signals" and can only engaged in "hard-nosed" dialogue, the world may be in for dark times, because these are serious handicaps. The issue of "face-saving" raised in the article is a specific case-in-point. The concept should be understandable to a foreign-policy community so steeped in a masculinist worldview. The attempt to save face can be understood as a way of reconciling the compulsion to appear tough with the need for reason and compromise in negotiations. But the masculine behaviors on display in the American response to the current crisis are so primitive and stripped-down that even the concept of face-saving has no purchase. As a result, masculine posturing, which is not automatically harmful in and of itself, is far too tightly bound up with the actual exercise of violence.

If we are to avoid dragging the international community more deeply into a medieval international regime based on the rule of barely concealed force and little else, we need to recognize and combat the elements of the American manhood ideal and frontier mythology which together cripple our policy and contribute to the perpetuation of oppression and suffering around the world. The footprints of masculine ideals analysed here are not the only ones, merely some of the more obvious. But they are important. If we could somehow persuade our government to stop strutting around brandishing its firepower at an audience that, far from learning anything, already knows the script by heart; if we could persuade it to begin to imagine ways of categorizing members of the international community into more than merely two boxes (hostiles and friendlies); if we could make plain to enough people in and out of government how silly and destructive it is to treat negotiation and diplomatic signaling as a sign of weakness, that would already be something. In general, de-masculinizing American foreign policy means reviving diplomacy as an art and a major tool of our government in the realm of international relations. Approaching this incredibly complex and ever-more interconnected human world with nothing at our disposal but a big club and a tough-guy attitude is a recipe for disaster.


1 E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (NY: Basic Books 1993), p. 291.

2 Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (NY: Free Press 1996); Dana Nelson, National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 1998).

3 Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building (NY: Schocken Books 1990); Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press 2000); The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press 1998); Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press 1998).

4 Richard Slotkin, "Myths provide society with a functioning memory system", Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/28/2001, p. B11.

5 Dexter Filkins, "To the stranger, a wild land, strangely awesome", New York Times 11/9/2001, p. 1

6 Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (NY: Vintage Books 1978), p.30. Berkhofer is an excellent source more generally on the kind of imagery that has continued to serve American expansionism beyond national borders as well. See also Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest (Williamsburg, VA: W.W. Norton 1976); and James Blaut, The Colonizers' Model of the World (NY: Guilford 1993)

7 David E. Sanger and Don Van Natta, Jr., "Four days that transformed a President, a presidency and a nation, for all time", New York Times, Sept. 16th, 2001.

8 John Leo, "Campus hand-wringing is not a pretty site [sic]", http://www.townhall.com/columnists/johnleo, 10/1/2001.

9 Lisa De Pasquale, "Is patriotism dead on America's college campuses?", http://www.cblpolicyinstitute.org, 10/2/2001.

10 Paul Hollander, "It's a crime that some don't see this as hate", Washington Post 10/28/2001.

11 Thomas Sowell, "Pacifism and war", http://www.townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell, 9/24/2001.

12 Charles Krauthammer, "We need moral clarity", 9/21/2001, http://www.townhall.com/columnists/charleskrauthammer/printck20010921.shtml.

13 Ann Coulter, "The eunuchs are whining", 11/1/2001, http://www.townhall.com/columnists/anncoulter.

14 Francis A. Walker, "The Indian question", North American Review, April 1873, p. 339.

15 Anon., Cheyenne Daily Leader, 3/9/1870, quoted in Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846-1890 (Albuquerque, Nm: U. of NM Pr. 1984), p. 165.

16 Jeffrey M. Jones, "Men, women equally likely to support military retaliation for terrorist attacks", http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases.

17 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "America's new internationalist point of view", http://www.people-press.org/102401mor.htm.

18 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "Military action a higher priority than homeland defense, but guarded confidence in military success", http://www.people-press.org/sept01mor2.htm.

19 George W. Bush, "Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people", http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/print/20010920-8.htm.

20 George W. Bush, "Presidential address to the nation", http://whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/print/20011007-8.php.

21 Gallup International, "Gallup International poll on terrorism in the U.S. (figures)", http://www.gallup-international.com/terrorismpoll_figures.htm.

22 Johannes Rau, "Address by the Federal President Johannes Rau at the demonstration "Standing against terror - standing with the United States of America" on Friday, 14 September, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin", http://eng.bundesregierung.de/dokumente/Rede/ix_56185_5459.htm.

23 Bush, "Address to a joint session...", op. cit.

24 George Will, "America in agony", Washington Post, 9/12/2001.

25 Bush, quoted in Sanger and Van Natta, Jr., op. cit.

26 Kim Holmes, "America strikes back: looking ahead", A Heritage Foundation Web Supplement, http://www.heritage.org/shorts/20011008strikes.php.

27 Thomas Friedman, "One war, two fronts", New York Times, 11/2/2001

28 Jim Thomson, "Remarks at the opening of the 14th NATO review meeting", http://www.rand.org/hot/nato.php.

29 Boot, "The case for American empire", op. cit.

30 U.N. General Assembly, "Daily highlights", Tuesday, October 2nd, 2001, http://www.un.org/news/dh/20011002.htm.

31 Bush, "Address to a joint session...", op. cit.

32 Thomson, "Remarks", op. cit.

33 Tulio Halperin Donghi, The contemporary history of Latin America (Durham, NC: Duke U. Pr. 1993).

34 Patrick E. Tyler, "Powel pledges new U.S. role in the Middle East", New York Times, 11/20/01.

35 Bush, "Address to a joint session...", op. cit.

36 Bush, "Presidential address to the nation", op. cit.

37 George Bush, "Remarks by the President to the Warsaw Conference on Combatting Terrorism",11/6/2001, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/print/20011106-2.php.

38 Utley, The Indian frontier, op. cit., chapters 5 and 6.

39 George A. Custer to Assistant Adjutant General, 12/16/1874, National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 94, Letter received by the Office of the Adjutant General, Microfilm series M666, Reel 147.

40 United Nations, "Daily highlights", 10/5/2001, http://www.un.org/news/dh/20011005.htm.

41 Bush, "Address to a joint...", op. cit.

42 Bush, "Presidential address", op. cit.

43 John F. Harris, "Bush rejects Taliban offer on bin Laden", Washington Post, 10/15/2001.

44 David B. Ottoway and Joe Stephens, "Diplomats met with Taliban on bin Laden", Washington Post, 10/29/2001.

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