Do you have to go to war to be a hero?
Quote:Plans for an Armed Forces Day have been drawn up in a bid to bridge the gap between the military and the public. But does a man still need to go to war to prove himself a hero?
Before Prince Harry went to Afghanistan he was widely pilloried as an over-privileged wastrel. By the time he came back, he was feted as a rugged hero.
After a succession of pictures of Harry staggering out of nightclubs, the man who was third-in-line to the throne transformed, in the eyes of the Daily Star, into: "Royal hunk Prince Harry - Mr Right in the eyes of British women".
Even the notoriously anti-royal Independent on Sunday had to concede he was the "People's Prince", while the Times ran the headline "From wastrel to warrior prince: the making of a right royal hero".
On the face of it men today are under little formal pressure to join the armed forces. Quite the opposite sometimes. In Peterborough, last year, anti-military sentiment became so strong that local airmen were told not to leave their base in uniform.
The on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen a shortfall in military personnel slump even further.
Yet the will-he-won't-he theatre of Harry's deployment is not the only way boys today are drawn to the image of the hero soldier.
This summer, the Army will pitch its recruitment tents at community fairs up and down the country. Just one glance from the young soldiers in uniform to the lads in tracksuits lounging by the fairground rides, will separate the men from the boys.
Over on the other side of the Atlantic, there are some people who feel they've been at the sharp end of an even greater pressure to prove their manhood through war.
Former US marine reserve Stephen Funk came from a military family and signed up as a 19-year-old in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
There were many reasons he enlisted, but a core one was a need to prove himself as a man, he says. "I was in the marines, especially the marines because it's the most 'manly' of the services."
But Stephen soon realised he had made a grave mistake and applied to leave as a conscientious objector. The response was ruthless. One man said he wanted to shoot Stephen in the face. Perhaps most telling, though, was the response of right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
"He compared me with Jessica Lynch [the American soldier taken prisoner in Iraq during the 2003 war]. He was saying that there was this woman who was way more courageous than this man."
The experiences of Stephen Funk and the lads keeping a hesitant distance from the recruitment tents echo the attitudes of an altogether more troubled era. In We Will Not Fight, a new book on World War I, Will Ellsworth-Jones describes how women toured the country handing white feathers to men out of uniform to show they were cowards.
They often gave them to boys as young as 15 and even to veterans who were in civilian clothes after being invalided out of service. Many signed up or even re-enlisted, and went to their deaths as a result.
Today, the Ministry of Defence quickly rejects claims it glamorises military life. It is not in the military's own interests to recruit people who are not capable of doing the job that is expected of them, it says.
Yet critics counter that the social pressures are merely more nuanced and the forces' own recruitment strategy is more subtle than the famous Lord Kitchener poster.
There is promotion of teamwork and of saving lives, rather than taking them. But the emphasis is still very much about heroism.
This strategy plays directly into the anxious need of teenage boys to prove their manhood, believes David Gee, author of Informed Choice?
"These magazines and internet resources are aimed at 13 and 14-year-olds, particularly boys, who are very much thinking about whether they have sex appeal," he says.
"And also about what their relationships with other boys are, and whether they have power and are tough, and by describing these opportunities to become invulnerable, they are offering solutions to these problems."
One edition of Camouflage, the Army magazine targeted at potential 13 to 17-year-old recruits, reads: "Imagine yourself in command of the British Army's ultimate armoured weapon - the big, bad Challenger 2 battle tank. The excitement is intense; the tank's mere presence feels like a threat, it reeks of power... Tanks are the tough-guys of the battlefield."
For social psychologist Dr Hannah Hale, from University College Dublin's Geary Institute, the military appeal to heroic masculinity is not necessarily a bad thing.
"In terms of the military itself, a very positive image was portrayed on Harry's transition to manhood by going to war," she says.
"The message to potential recruits was that on becoming part of the military, you gain an enormous sense of pride and comradeship, especially when faced with the dangers involved in operations."
She also says the appeal of the military, particularly in post-industrial areas where manhood used to be defined through heavy industry, may be due the fact that it is one of the few arenas where being a man is acknowledged as having its own unique value.
"Men live in a confusing time," she says. "Demands are placed on men to show their strength physically and mentally while at the same time, being sensitive and 'in touch' with their emotional side.
"It's one of the few remaining areas where one's masculinity can be acknowledged."
The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. - Che Guevara
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