The fact that George W Bush's military record (or lack of) is of such concern to the US public (or certainly the US and international media), illustrates how militarised masculinity continues to be seen as a criterion on which the ability to lead a country is judged. Pitched up against a “real” veteran, even George W, leader of the “war on terror” has been found wanting.
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Is George a “real” man? Well, possibly not (cardboard, wooden, blow-up, puppet, alien, etc, all spring to mind), but that has nothing to do with whether he fought in a war which - by fairly universal agreement - was a terrible ideological misadventure.
Is George W a hypocrite? Well of course, but how different is he from any other leader who sends their young people off to foreign shores to kill strangers - and then refuses to put themselves in a similar combat position?
Pressure to conform?
Meanwhile, over in the Democrat camp, John Kerry is busily dusting down his medals and attempting to walk an impossible line between “I am a vet, turned peacenik” and “I'm a war hero, I am a real man who can make America strong and able to protect itself.”
Kerry was co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America and former spokesperson for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, but as a soldier, prosecutor, and Senator, John has “never backed down from a tough fight”.
So just in case you were hoping that the US might be led by a peacenik, here is a scary snippet from the Kerry campaign official website: “John Kerry will set a goal of one million Americans a year in national service within the next decade [...] The highest form of service is military service.”
In corporate Amerikkka, run by the arms, oil, pharmaceutical and other massive companies, there is as much hope of a genuine non-militarist running the country, as someone from Greenpeace or PETA. No matter how hard John Kerry, with all his faults, tries to tread the wobbly line, the next leader of the US will be the one of who best serves the interests of corporate and military power.
Getting back to militarised masculinity: it is, prospective democrat candidate - and former US general - Wes Clarke who has provoked the most curious responses, and who returns us to the fascination with concepts of honour, bravery, manliness and courage.
Filmmaker/author/commentator Michael Moore, a Vietnam Conscientious Objector, wrote an open letter of endorsement for Clarke's campaign (which was probably the kiss of death! Poor old Wes now trails in fourth place) in which he evidently also felt compelled to use militarised masculinity as a criteria for selecting the next leader of the free world, “I want to see him on that stage in a debate with Bush -- the General vs the Deserter!”
In the unlikely event that there was a high profile woman candidate, would the media be queuing up to ask “difficult” questions about whether she had also carried out some kind of “service” to the state in its recent wars? Or would her femininity be enough to sound the death knell for her campaign anyway.
Stand up for change
We all live in societies that - to a greater or lesser extent - value male power, hierarchy and the acquisition of capital. Sometimes it's more obvious than others, but it's always there, under the surface, constructing our values and our notions of what security really means.
But there's an alternative definition of security, which has nothing to do with warfare or weapons, but with having enough food and water and shelter - it's about having the basic resources to live an ordinary life, free from poverty, disease, oppression.
If we genuinely oppose militarism then we have to construct a new agenda, that encompasses not only opposing wars, or conscription, or the concept of armies, but all those institutions in which masculinised militarism is valued. We have to redefine notions of security, and set about making choices in determining how we organise ourselves to push for real security - which has the interests of people, not corporations at the centre of its agenda.
The surreal posturing taking place in the run up to the US elections, merely illustrates that while, perhaps in the short term, tactical decisions about lesser evils need to be made, they are no substitute for working towards genuine nonviolent revolution.
We need not a single tumultuous upheaval, but an ongoing dramatic cycle of positive change; and if male power, hierarchy and the acquisition of capital stand in our way (as inherent obstacles and sources of violence in their own right), then we have to work at presenting real alternatives, otherwise who would be interested?
Are we “woman” (or “man”) enough?