‘Are Soldiers Human?’: 27 July 2010

Now then, now then…. If I could have found a web link to this workshop, I would have just posted that, but instead I’ll cut and paste the notice I received by email. I think it will be of interest to Kings of War readers, so I hope you’ll indulge my sharing it. I should state that I’m not involved with this workshop, nor will I be going, but I’ll post a few thoughts underneath the notice:

Are Soldiers Human?
Workshop at The University of Manchester
Friday 24 September 2010
Second Floor Boardroom, Arthur Lewis Building

Western militaries in conflict and post-conflict situations have
increasingly been positioned as ‘humanitarian’ actors that are expected
not only to make death, but also to bring life to the populations
subject to their interventions. This workshop seeks to engage with a
separate but related phenomenon: that of the construction and
reconstruction of soldiers as human beings, and the dense symbolic
economy that now surrounds the humanity of Western soldiers. As we are
increasingly called upon to properly mark and grieve the deaths of
military service personnel, it seems important to engage a series of
questions concerning the ways in which soldiers are made and unmade as
human beings in the first place.

· How are soldiers made to live?

· How is their humanity worked upon, for instance in military training?
To what extent are soldiers in action properly understood as human? Has
their humanity come to be transcended through the use of technologies
(including performance-changing drugs)?

· How are soldiers treated as human ‘material’, and what constraints are
posed by their humanity? Do soldiers become human only after death, in
their memorialisation?

· What are the consequences when soldiers who act ‘inhumanely’ come to
be viewed as monsters, and as outside of humanity?

· What do we mean by the ‘human’ or ‘humanity’ and can these concepts
(still) inform thinking about war?

To register for this workshop, please contact Rebecca Whitehead,
Institute Manager, HCRI at:rebecca.whitehead@manchester.ac.uk

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, we’re in the middle of a recession and the most severe spending cuts that anyone can remember…even more severe than 1983.. in fact, 1983 is going to look like a champagne-fuelled party of pound coins, compared to now… so why are the post-structual politics working group (for it is they) having a seminar about whether soldiers are human? For surely this is only likely to attract the adverse attention of those bean-counters looking to take the social sciences at the knees…

And do you know what?

It beats me.

The point about certain training regimes and drugs to inspire infantrymen to perform like robots is an interesting moral, ethical and military question. They can have my reworded version of their question. If killing other humans is inherently repellent (and the incidences of post-traumatic stress would suggest it is) then desensitising soldiers to this, removes part of their decision-making process. People should talk about this, as it might have caused problems in the theatres today, and will obviously cause mental health problems to a larger number of coalition soldiers in the future. But as for the other questions, I would need to see something pretty interesting come out of it to be convinced…

So, what do we reckon? Are soldiers human? (Dons tin hat, and hides)


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