Women Must Stand Up For Peace & Security

A deranged soldier, armed with gun and knife, walks off the base into the nearby small town, and massacres 16 people, including 9 children.

No, it’s not the plot of the latest Schwarzenegger movie.

It’s real life in Afghanistan.

Or Oslo, Norway.

Or Homs, Syria.

Or the local high school or university in Anytown, USA.

What happened in Afghanistan this week is part of an ever-escalating pattern of violence visited on innocent civilians by armed men.


Whether the men are sponsored by a state (ie, they’re soldiers), are part of armed militias (think Taliban or Janjaweed or Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army) or individual “rogue” psychopaths is immaterial to the victims of the violence.

The larger point that must be reckoned with is that we cannot expect to live in a global society dripping with arms and saturated with constant virtual and real instances of violence, and come away unscathed.

Americans are always so shocked when the violence happens in our backyard, as in school shootings or Timothy McVeigh-style bombings or police brutality against unarmed Occupy protesters.

We’re shocked when our soldiers, “our boys,” commit atrocities while serving in the armed forces abroad.

But how can we expect our boys to be immune to the general atmosphere of violence that we all live and breathe—young boys and men in particular?

People like to argue about whether playing countless hours of shoot-em-up video games results in more violent youth.

All I can tell you is that the military now uses video game technology to teach warfare to young soldiers, and one of the goals is precisely to overcome the natural human aversion to killing, especially killing those who haven’t done you any harm.

Lt. Col. David Grossman

In the class I teach periodically on gendered violence in military culture and war, we read excerpts from the work of Lt. Col. David Grossman, who maintains a website called “Killology.com.

Grossman, a psychologist who has become one of the most sought-after military and police trainers in the U.S., if not the world, defines “killology” as “the study of the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations.”

Grossman began his career teaching soldiers and police officers “the psychological techniques needed to develop Mental Toughness, a Survival Mindset, and a Hardened Focus,” integrating “psychological skills with physical and tactical training… to achieve maximal performance excellence as a modern warrior.”

Interestingly, now he not only offers training in the psychological “hardening” necessary to become a socially sanctioned killer—ie, a soldier–but also has begun to write and speak out against media violence, which, he says, teaches children to kill.

I think he would agree that what happened at Abu Ghraib a few years back, or in Afghanistan this week, when ordinary American soldiers go haywire and start torturing and killing civilians, is not just a case of a few bad apples.

If we allow our kids to grow up playing “harmless” violent games that are ever more realistic, gripping their imaginations and giving them access to the bloodthirsty, adrenalin high of killing, we can’t expect them to be agents of peace, especially when, as soldiers, they are further trained for war and given real weapons and the authority to use them.

My heart bleeds for the victims of this latest massacre in Afghanistan.  I can hardly imagine the pain of the survivors of the family of nine children and their mother annihilated all in one foul blow.

They aren’t the first, and they won’t be the last innocent bystanders to be caught in the crossfire of a senseless war.

I think of the many other places in the world where civilians have been caught in the crossfire of baleful enemies: Central and South America in the 1970s and 80s, when the US and USSR funded proxy wars that wreaked havoc with innocent local communities; current conflicts in Africa and the Middle East that are really about the control—by outsiders, the same old Great Powers–of ever-shrinking resources; the list goes on.

Like the Russians before them, the American military is preparing to throw up its hands and give Afghanistan back to the warlords.

It will be a disaster for the women and girls there, who had begun to hope that a more liberal mindset might prevail and help them shake off the bonds of radical Islamic gender-based oppression.

Perhaps it is up to the women of the world to rise up together to insist that our men and boys stop pouring so much time, energy and money into creating and using lethal weapons, and representations of violence.

We have seen what happens when we let boys be boys and play with their guns, real or virtual.

Can we afford to stand by and watch the endless replay of rapes, homicides, massacres, the endless parade of crippled bombing victims, the burned, the sightless, the psychologically damaged for life?

I am losing faith in the ability of the men in charge to solve this problem.

Back to Lysistrata!

If we want life, we women have to walk boldly forward and manifest our visions of peace, security and cooperation.

We need to create a procession of the world’s women, those who will stand up for peace and nonviolence—a procession so long, so wide and so loud that it cannot be ignored.

Women of the world, the future is in your hands.  What will you do with it?


Leave a comment


  1. Your line “If we want life, we women have to walk boldly forward and manifest our visions of peace, security and cooperation” reminded me of this video of systems thinker and visionary, Donella Meadows, leading a visioning session:

  2. Hi Jennifer, great blog post on a difficult topic. I share your frustration and anger over this kind of horrifying violence, but I also feel it’s a bit unfair to give up completely on men, or to place the burden of responsibility for change solely on women’s shoulders.

    We *all* suffer when institutional violence leads to human suffering, regardless of gender. There are men committed to being part of the solution. (The White Ribbon Campaign is a good example: http://www.whiteribbon.ca/) I think we need men like these on our side to be leaders, role models and advocates. Ultimately, feminists of all walks of life (and genders) need to work together. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  March 14, 2012

      Of course, I agree with you that we need men to be leaders in peace, security and sustainability. I am just so frustrated at how they go in the opposite direction, over and over…and tired of wasting energy trying to bring them along. Those who want to walk the path alongside me, I welcome.

  3. I’m with you that relying on men to do this job will bring us more of the same. I took a great class entitled Women and Religion and our teacher, Professor Stewart, was sure to point out that “matriarchal” societies were actually characterized by EQUALITY between genders, whereas “patriarchal” societies are hierarchical and the men are in charge. When I say that I want to stand up for myself and other women I don’t mean that I want to dominate anybody–I just want my value to be equal to others.

    Historically speaking much of humanity switched from matriarchal to patriarchal roughly 10,000-8,000 years ago, and since then humans just seem to become more violent and destructive (I’m sure this also ties in with the rise of agriculture, city-states, empires…yet the patriarchy is so entwined with “civilization”). Today, women comprise the majority of the world’s population but they aren’t in power. I know that if we took a stand things would definitely look different–so yes, let’s take a stand!

  4. As you know Jen, he forced those children from their beds, with their mother, in the middle of the night. They died clutching eachother, one after the other. Blood, tears, the piss and shit of panicked young bodies, a mother’s desperate pleas, children crying, and the ending of their lives, forever, like that. At the hands of an American Soldier.

    Fuck soldiers, actually. All of them.

    ….(not conscripted lads of the past, who were fed the “glory of defending freedom” blah to salve them, until they succumbed in the gory truth of the trenches)

    but these days, when the footage abounds, what excuse?

    Every soldier, including “females” as it were, know in detail what will be expected of them, before deciding to join an academy. Let’s face it, some of them are sadists -sociopathological haters of other cultures- and our system pays them to get their jollies killing people, or falls over itself in a parody of solemnity to regret the tragedy of their loss when they have “bravely sacrificed their lives in the service of their great country”. Vomit.

    And frankly, parents who inculcate their kids in this inter-generational, cross-cultural myth of the need for all-out wars to resolve our struggles are puppets. How can adults support their kids’ choosing military careers? Do they love them less than they love their country? Many, not all, but many of those who join up are following the lead of their fathers. Pity the mothers in this world, helpless to dissuade their kids in the face of patriotic blather. And then pity dads who are not war -mongers, but who can’t compete with the recruitment ads depicting a whole lot of enticing extreme-sports and high achievement type opps. The old “travel to new countries, meet new people and kill them” irony still applies…

    Is it possible those revolting war games are an insidious and deliberate device to keep the kids keen? Prime them, innure them?
    I mean, why that weird preoccupation with censorship against mention of drug use and nipples, but chainsawing bits off screaming girls is relatively ok?

    The sad horrible thing is that many of the personnel who kill or are killed haven’t really deeply considered what it is they are signing up for, and yet it is the most profound of human experiences that awaits them. Hurting. Killing. Being Hurt. Dying.

    I’m with you again, Jen (and Kara). Let women try.We’re better disposed to appreciate the magnitude of this stuff. We’re coming from the empathic mind of potential motherhood.

    Some of us would get it more right than the predominantly men-led world has to date. A lot of us, together, would get it a lot more right, I believe.

    You rock.

  5. Hi Jen. I’d like to retract “all of them” after “Fuck soldiers” above, in deference to their mothers, and because they’re the hapless young of our species, which only ascended on the back of brutish elimination of contenders, after all. Our males have been prewired for war for a long time – those who are more evolved can neocortically(?) transcend this. But that’s for another discussion.
    And I need to transcend my “post comment” impulsiveness.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  March 15, 2012

      Angie, I will edit it out for you if you like, but I think having future readers of these comments be able to follow your thought process might be better. I am so with you in my compassion for the young kids who grow up brainwashed into glorifying violence, especially the “honorable” military kind. We need to start more conversations about how to channel young men’s testosterone-induced warrior energy into becoming warriors for truly honorable causes, like upholding the peace and protecting the defenseless. All of the words I just wrote can be so easily manipulated to rhetorical flourishes in the service of violent ideologies, that we almost need to invent a new language for what we are intending here. I want to re-read Mary Daly more carefully soon, because that is, I believe, what she was trying to do–and she got branded as a crazy feminist witch. How to chart a new, anti-establishment course without being demonized and rejected out of hand by the mainstream? I don’t expect to get any traction with the Fox News goons, but there are a lot of caring people out there, men and women, who have a moral compass and know that as a human civilization we need deep systemic changes in order to survive. Literally. Climate change may be the catalyst for this kind of change, but as we know it won’t be easy or pretty. Thanks as always for your comments, and let’s keep on keeping on….

  6. Super rant, Angie, don’t change a thing.
    Mary Daly was awesome, but it went down hill after that and Andrea Dworkin put the seal of death on it… argh.

  7. I agree with the tenor of the post and all comments and I would not mind living in a society lead by wise women!

    I wrote about the same incident on another comment thread:

    Soldiers are trained to kill and to follow orders, that is the purposes of boot camp. Whats the big deal here? He just did what he was taught to do in his military training.
    Drone operators who send a hellfire missile into a home and annihilate a family in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen (and who knows where else), are in fact doing nothing different.

    So don’t fuss about a few Afghans, this is just the “fog of war.”

    Chris Hedges put a thoughtful and poetic piece on truthdig: Murder Is Not an Anomaly in War.

    which I commented on CD:

    A wonderful piece which only fails to mention that new war projects are prepared all the time. War is not as popular as it was in former (heroic) times so now it is euphemistically called “humanitarian intervention.”

    The USA just successfully destroyed Libya, removing the most social responsible regime in the Arab region. Syria is next. If the war preparations against Syria are called out by Common Dreams, I will take this news aggregator serious again.

    I know this is not the fault of Chris Hedge, he is probably not allowed to write anything against the preparation for “humanitarian intervention” in Syria.

    I hope, you understand, that from my prospective the part of your post:

    “It’s real life in Afghanistan.
    Or Oslo, Norway.
    Or Homs, Syria.”

    makes me a bit itchy, because one could misunderstand this as a call to end the assumed bloodbath with a “humanitarian intervention” and rain down missiles and bombs on the monstrous thugs of the Baath regime like it was done so successfully in Libya.

    If this was meant to condemn the FSA insurgents, who occupied Baba Amr, using the civilians as human shields, I agree completely.

    I know, things are not black and white, I’m aware that the picture is complicated with shades of grey, but this is not the time for noble theoretical discussions, this is a matter of preventing another war and preventing the destruction of another country!


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