How can we raise critical awareness about the militarisation of culture?

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How can we raise critical awareness about the militarisation of culture?

There is a lot that we can learn from each other by simply knowing what has been done, what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. Consider these questions when sharing your experiences in this forum topic:

  • What areas of culture are used to promote uncritical support for the military (state or non-state militaries) and the prioritisation of military capability? (think about film, television, fashion, public ceremonies, etc)
  • What activities have you undertaken to question this militarisation of culture?
  • Is it possible to re-interpret or reclaim military symbols?
  • Which tactics have been most successful? What have been the challenges?
  • With which members of society have you allied - or could you ally with - to counter the militarisation of culture?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

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Nepal: Militarization of Culture

There is almost no critical public discourse about the role and influence of state military over common people. Though, the state military participates in some national days and festivals- like Republic day and Ghode Jatra (a cultural function). State military has been broadcasting event based programs and news via private TV stations. They are also visible in some developmental works; like road construction in remote and difficult areas, and in relief works during natural disaster. 

Comparatively the state military in Nepal right now looks less aggressive in cultural promotion. But before during the armed conflict with Maoists militant (1992-2002)- Nepal army (then Royal Nepal Army) was more prevalent and influential in society. 

While writing these notes, I would like to raise a question to you all: what is the boundary/limit of military and its practices in culture and society? Or, are we dreaming of no military at all? 

When do we start to or need to question the military symbols? 

Militarism in the US - Hiding in Plain Sight

Many in the United States would argue that militarism does not exist in their nation. They think of Central or South American nations where the military is as visible as the police patrolling streets, and operating with varying degrees of impunity. Or, they think of other parts of the world where the military is the police and they say, "The US is nothing like that!"  The problem is that militarism comes in many forms. While the US does not have its military patrolling the streets it does have its own version of militarism and, in a lot of ways, it is as debilitating to the nation as militarism can be in any nation. Militarism is here in the US and it is hiding in plain sight.

Recognizing that militarism shows up in the way the military industrial complex siphons money from taxpayers and gives money to help elect politicians who will help their corporate bottom-line, recruitment advertisements targeting children and marginalized youth, and in the consciousness of those who are told to embrace the military without question and without critique, we find that militarism in the US is a key factor for US foreign policy initiatives that involve the use of force.  Without militarism, the US military and those who govern it would be harder pressed to wage indiscriminate wars of aggression.

Here in the US airshows, Hollywood propaganda films, war toys, and the patriotic hyperbole of those who may have never even served in the military lure us in. The best possible way to raise critical awareness is to focus on the youth. The generations not yet able to enlist, or be drafted are the ones we need to help understand that militarism is a burden on our society. Working with these young people to more critically understand the dogmatic aspects of militaristic language and to, instead, embrace the true fundamentals of democracy and egalitarianism is the best way to struggle against the militarization of culture. This can be done by visiting schools to share information and insights, holding community events that embrace those who struggle for peace, or simply by helping youth see the chasm between the national ideals they are told to believe in and a militaristic consciousness. 

It takes work and it takes commitment to transforming a society that has fundamentally bought into militarism, but it is work that needs to happen if we truly think a different world is possible. People look to the US as an example of might and strength and there are those who think that we can, as a nation, show the world a different kind of strength by working directly with young people to reject militarism. 




Militarism in Canada - by comparison, it doesn't exist

To a Canadian, it's funny to think of militarism being covert in the US. Canadians like to think of the US as monstrous warmongers in order to downplay or deny our own participation in all the same conflicts. Canadian children are usually told to think of the Canadian military as peacekeepers who ship in with crates full of aid supplies at the end of all the killing, and much is made of men like John Humphreys, the Canadian who wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Juxtaposing US and Canadian military spending statistics is an easy way for our government to show how much "worse" the Americans are, and I think many Canadians would be baffled if they were shown a true and accurate picture of the increase in military spending in the past few years. But as a population-small country next to one of the world's most powerful nations, it's hard to drum up acknowledgement, let alone concern, about growing military visibility in Canada.

As inane as it sounds, government initiatives like the Canada Student Loans Program are a fantastic tool for counter-recruitment in Canada. For most kids it's not cool to be patriotic, so the Canadian military targets teenagers in low-income, economically depressed areas who don't have a lot of options if they're not university material. Ensuring that graduating high school students have easy access to low-interest student loans for university, college & trade school is a fantastic way to starve the military of recruits and suppress the glorification of military life among young Canadians.

Re-interpreting and reclaim military symbols

[Is it possible to re-interpret or reclaim military symbols?]

Reinterpreting military symbols can be a powerful way of highlighting the potency and underlying messages of the original image.

One of the key goals of militaristic actors is to appear neautral; antimilitarist campaigners, meanwhile, often struggle to be portrayed as anything other than radical idealists. I think images can help antimilitarists to reclaim the idea that the military and militarist forces are not apolitical, or 'neutral', but have distinct agendas that are based around abuse of power and brutality.

The pink tank and the fun with a flower in the barrell of a gun are examples of this. In many places around the world, tanks and guns are seen daily in the media, or on the streets, and almost sink into the background of daily 21st century life. Contrasting them with something regarded as beautiful and inherently benign - like a flower - can have the effect of reminding the viewer that those weapns are the direct opposite, designed to hurt and impose control.

Recently, this image posted on War Resisters' International social media - of a rifle turned into a saxophone - was shared more than any other post since we started using Facebook. Images can portray a message quickly and clearly. They can be particularly useful online, where attention spans are notoriously brief. Images can also be of use to portray complex stats or figures quickly - and to shock. I've recently been reading about the importance this image had to the movement to ban the Transatlantic slave trade in Britain. It showed people the reality of something more swiftly and powerfully than words had succeeded in doing.

In terms of reclaiming images: some military (or militaristic) symbols have been reused by peace movements. Take, for example, the white poppy used in the UK. The red poppy has been used by the British Legion post-the 1914-18 war, whilst the white has been used since the 1930s both to commemorate all those who died in war - not just members of the armed forces - and to challenge the drive for new wars. This has had some success in terms of publicity and visibility of an opposition, but it could also be argued that by adopting a militarist symbol (in the UK, a poppy), this symbol is not being subverted, but rather accepted. Some pacifists refuse to wear the white poppy as a result. However, some who do wear them can testify to the number of interactions, in person or otherwise, that come about as a result of promoting this symbol.

I think this video from

I think this video from Bilbao offers an inspiring example:


The video is interesting. Thank you Howard.

Impact on culture

There is a significant impact of militarization in children in Nepal. It was more prevalent in the past few years. For the first time in our society, children were more exposed to play with gun toys, play of army and 'others'. This was because of open publicity of military, weapons, killing, winning, power etc. 

Since there is not a strong scientific research base of this kind in Nepal, real impact and situation cannot be said in specific way. 

From personal level, I always oppose to such toys, children carrying such toys, or their parents/guardians. Many times- I have bought such toys from child's hand with a condition that they will not by such toy again and bye something else instead; and explain what a gun does to our loved ones; and I use to distroy those toys in front of the child and their parents. Later on, most parents feel sad that they bought such toy for their children to play. 

The Military Culture and History of Pakistan

The link between the military and state building is an enduring questionin political science. How does the military shape the construction of civilian state institutions? How does military culture evolve in response to the emergence and development of a state? The history of Pakistani state building and military culture supplies an ideal context for studying these questions. Pakistan was the first state created in the post-WorldWar II order. Since then, it has become a major player in world politics. However, much of the extant literature on Pakistan’s military culture and history, 1947-2001, has relied excessively on nonPakistani sources and emphasized the weakness of the state. Consequently, the Pakistani perspective on its own security challenges has been largely neglected or oversimplified. My dissertation seeks to fill in the gap in the existing social science scholarship on Pakistan’s military culture and history by bringing in an analysis of the Pakistani security perspective. How do the state of Pakistan and its institutions conceive of what it means to be secure in adangerous neighborhood? How does Pakistan's strategic location impact the formation of its security policy, and the role of the military in the broader society? Through which mechanisms has the Pakistani military establishment adapted to the rapidly shifting security environment in South Asia, as well as the globe? A thorough understanding of the Pakistani security perspective also requires us to move beyond the nuclear question, which has been the main focus of the existing work, and situate it into a broader analysis of security given Pakistan's status as a critical state at a regional crossroads. 

the role of pakistan army in our society

The army of Pakistan plays a major role in governance and nation building activities in arenas such as infrastructure development, industrial development, National disaster management and other miscellaneous national tasks. Besides defending the boundaries of its motherland, Pakistan army runs a number of welfare organizations such as AWT, FWO, Fauji Foundation, Bahria Foundation, Shaheen Foundation, SCO and NLC that work towards uplifting various sections of the society including national martyrs, those disabled in national service and military retirees. The army also takes up massive restoration and rehabilitation tasks in places hit by disaster. It works towards providing basic facilities such as medical aid and education in addition to restoring infrastructure such as roads, bridges and dams.

The contribution of Pakistani army in maintaining internal peace in a country that is always characterized by terrorism and violence is appreciable. The army acts as a major stabilizing force in the country.

Re-interpreting slogans

In Finland, there is still conscription for men and some 70% of conscripted go to army. Anyway, the Finnish military runs wide recruitment campaigns and advertises both military education and civilian jobs within military.

One recruitment slogan that army has used for several years is ”Tee työtä jolla on tarkoitus” (In English: ”Work that has a meaning.”) The slogan is usually used in recruiting employees to the military. One example is this ad, ”Another side of the Defence Forces”, which basically tells about different jobs within military.  (The slogan is almost at the end; 3:35.)

Finnish antimilitarists have reinterpreted the slogan several times. Actually military even reacted to the some of the reinterpretations and tried to forbid them back in 2003 or so, which just shows how effective they can be. One example of the interpretations is series of posters of Union of CO's (AKL). They have been spread during yearly call-up campaigns. You can see one poster here:

Although I find the main idea of the poster good and useful, I need to say that the other part is deeply problematic because of the other slogan under the picture. The other slogan (Sivari on sankari, totaali on tosimies …) is about different kind of  conscientious objectors (from conscription) being heroes or ”real men”. But that slogan and why we've decided to not to use it anymore is another story.

Even left-leaning Vermont the US military hides in plain sight

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Even in the US state of Vermont – famous for its environmental awareness and left-leaning politicians, the military hides in plain sight. In dozens of towns, small companies and entrepreneurs are trying to land military contracts. They may not be making guns, but they are making other weapons components or tanks shields or even socks for the military. And no one wants to protest this. The politicians who represent us in Washington are well known in the US for having liberal and socialist views but the all of them support this military economic development and also rush to call all Vermont soldiers heroes who are defending our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our Vermont peace group, Vermont Action for Peace, has had a difficult time making even other activists aware or concerned about this – people seem to just think it's “normal.” We're now working with some comic book editors on on a graphic cartoon and comic book about the militarism hidden in our midst. We hope that by getting these comics into the hands of young people, they will read the stories and make their own conclusions that they don't want a militarized society..

Counter-militarization of faith communities

Unfortunately in the United States and many other countries, public holidays exalting the military as an inherent good are celebrated by faith communities, who seem to wed militant patriotism with holiness.

Some denominations, such as Anabaptist sects, have sought to demilitarize their faith traditions primarily through abstainence (from war, politics, etc).  This may be a helpful form of noncooperation with cultural and spiritual norms, but sometimes it results with a passive affirmation of a militarized mainstream culture in the long-run.

Sadly for folks like some of us (myself included) who wish to see rapid social change, cultural paradigm shift may take longer, and it may require a blend of tactics.  Adbusters might give us a few examples of how to use art and marketing in a way which subverts the militarization of culture, and we may need strong alliances of tech-savy folks to help out (think Anonymous).

As a side note, I think there should be a discussion around destruction of property (is it violent or not?)....In my mind, some property (stealth bombers, for example), should not exist.  There may be a way to disarm certain instruments used exclusively for violence, and drawing attention to such acts through media could be one of many steps toward a less militarized culture.

Of course all of this is said in generalities with the acknowledgment that details for each of these broad ideas are very much needed to acheive success.

Finally, (and perhaps more immediately tangible): counter-recruitment in all places (schools especially) should be performed not only by lanky, nerdy folks, but strong tough men as well, so as to appeal to a certain demographic of students.  I have mixed feelings about the ethics of doing this, but I do think it would be more "effective" in opposing military recruitment and showing youths (especially young males) that there are other economic options besides the military.

'Tough men'

[ counter-recruitment in all places (schools especially) should be performed not only by lanky, nerdy folks, but strong tough men as well, so as to appeal to a certain demographic of students.  I have mixed feelings about the ethics of doing this, but I do think it would be more "effective" in opposing military recruitment and showing youths (especially young males) that there are other economic options besides the military.]

Interesting suggestion! I agree that it can look subversive to a young audience - they may expect antimilitarists to look very unlike the fit, well-groomed military men who come into recruit them. It might make them have more impact on them if they do - but actually say the opposite.

On the other hand, many people who reject the military as an institution may also reject ways in which is works e.g. in reinforcing the look and idea of very masculine 'strong men'. However, I don't think the military should have the monopoly on people who look fit and healthy! 

War Resisters' International have this week launched a book on the militarisation of youth (to buy here, and online soon on the website for free too), and in it Kelly Dougherty from Iraq Veterans Against the War says 'Many veterans find it very rewarding to be able to offer young people a different viewpoint, one not influenced by the pressure to meet recruitment numbers. IVAW members have spoken to students across the country, from elementary school students to university students. I've done this many times. The simple act of telling the story of your military experience, your experience in a war zone, and the difficulties you face when you come home and leave the military, can have a profound effect on young people who have never heard anyone talk about their military service outside of the patriotic, black and white lens of the military establishment. Speaking candidly about military realities to young people is a way for veterans to share viewpoints and perspectives that were never shared with them and it can mean the difference between deciding to join the military and deciding to choose another path.'

Having veterans speaking about their experiences can be a powerful way of getting across an antimilitarist message.

Having veterans speaking about their experiences

[Having veterans speaking about their experiences can be a powerful way of getting across an antimilitarist message.]

Speaking truth to power: this is such a simple, straightforward, and powerful tactic. Something that can be done anywhere. Where there is a recruiter, counter that message with downside of joining the military. Thanks for sharing this, Hannah.

Does anyone have any specific examples of veterans speaking about their experience, and what the impact was?


Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

The militarisation of culture and the role of gender

As the militarization of culture is a creation, so are gender roles within society. It is not a coincidence that these two aspects are linked to each other.  For many centuries, society has called upon its men to take up arms to protect the community/ nation/ people (incl. the women). When discussing gender and militarism, the recurring focus is on how militarism affects the lives of women. But if we would change our lens, and instead of perceiving men merely as perpetrators of violence and gender injustice, would focus on the fact that men often end up as victims of war as well? Such a perspective could open the door for critical evaluation of the connection between militarism, violence and hegemonic notions of masculinity. 

The Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) has a long history of connecting the notions of gender and militarism. To deconstruct these linkages, WPP uses the notion of active nonviolence, which looks beyond the direct perpetrator and instead focuses on the entire oppressive system upholding the injustice. This philosophy reasons that those oppressing others in the end also oppress themselves. Though patriarchal society does provide men with privilege and power, it also comes at a cost - which is seen in particular during times of war, though hardly spoken about, as the term "victims" is usually only used to refer to women and children.The theory and practice of active nonviolence also provides men with other options than having to use violence to address conflict and injustice.

Our pilot Training of Trainers Cycle (2009-2010) focused on Masculinities, Violence and Peacebuilding, and trained 19 gender-sensitive men from 17 countries around the world to share the message of gender-sensitive active nonviolence with their community and to break hegemonic connections between manhood and militarism. The stories of these men have recently been documented in the WPP May 24 publication, available here:

Finally, Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of WPP, wrote an extensive blog for the Centre of Women's Global Leadership, on the connections between masculinities and militarism. You can find it here:

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