Katharine M. MillarDec 8, 2023
Support the Troops
Military Obligation, Gender, and the Making of Political Community
Oxford University Press 2022
In the past, it was assumed that men, as good citizens, would serve in the armed forces in wartime. In the present, however, liberal democratic states increasingly rely on small, all-volunteer militaries deployed in distant wars of choice. While few people now serve in the armed forces, our cultural myths and narratives of warfare continue to reproduce a strong connection between military service, citizenship, and normative masculinity.
In Support the Troops: Military Obligation, Gender, and the Making of Political Community (Oxford University Press, 2022), Dr. Katharine M. Millar provides an empirical overview of "support the troops" discourses in the US and UK during the early years of the global war on terror (2001-2010). As Dr. Millar argues, seemingly stable understandings of the relationship between military service, citizenship, and gender norms are being unsettled by changes in warfare. The effect is a sense of uneasiness about the meaning of what it means to be a "good" citizen, "good" person, and, crucially, a "good" man in a context where neither war nor military service easily align with existing cultural myths about wartime obligations and collective sacrifice. Instead we participate in the performance of supporting the troops, even when we oppose war—an act that appears not only patriotic and moral, but also apolitical. Failing to support the troops, either through active opposition or a lack of overt supportive actions, is perceived as not only offensive and inappropriately political, but disloyal and dangerous.
Dr. Millar asserts that military support acts as a new form of military service, which serves to limit anti-war dissent, plays a crucial role in naturalizing the violence of the transnational liberal order, and recasts war as an internal issue of solidarity and loyalty. Rigorous and politically challenging, Millar provides the first work to systematically examine "support the troops" as a distinct social phenomenon and offers a novel reading of this discourse through a gendered lens that places it in historical and transnational context.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose forthcoming book focuses on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.