Belonging

The Men and Masculinities in Culture and Society network, based at the University of Bristol, hosted a workshop this week on Institutions of Masculinity, featuring speakers working in sociology and military theory. Dr Victoria Basham (Cardiff) directed me to this series of adverts for the current British armed forces:

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many scholars (ancient and modern) writing on the Roman military  who report frequent re-enlistment of late-Republican soldiers, particularly those under the command of Julius Caesar. Pierre Cagniart’s “The Late Republican Army (146-30 BC)” in Paul Erdkamp’s A Guide to the Roman Army, provides a detailed exemplum to be paralleled with this ad campaign:

Since 58 bc, most of his legionaries had spent years together without returning home, finding in the life of the camp, in the numerous marches in enemy territory, in countless raiding and counter-raiding operations, and on the battlefield, a feeling of belonging to a distinct society with its own rules and codes. Caesar himself let them know, on many occasions, how different, not to say superior, they were. They came to look at their commander as the supreme authority, the only authority. Caesar’s leadership, courage, military expertise, personal flair, and individual charisma made him a hero for his troops. The men who fought for Caesar had become dissociated from civil society. They found in their comrades in the contubernium, the century, the cohort, and the legion, a new world, a new way of life, the life of professional soldiers. (Cagniart 2007, 84-5)

These themes run through almost every piece of military narrative or theory that I have encountered, which touches on the experience of life in the camp. Either you embrace this environment as a new ‘family’ (cf. Owen Sheer’s Pink Mist), or, conversely, you are not fit for service.

To find out more about Dr Basham’s work on army influence in institutions, have a read of her recent research, such as this article on military values in schools.

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