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Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Military and Veterans Studies | Social Policy
The military has a long tradition of distributing honors to its soldiers in a calculated and uneven way, all to reinforce internal hierarchies it finds necessary. For example, officers have nicer uniforms, are shown more respect, and are awarded medals at a higher rate than the soldiers they command. "Normal" soldiers used to be similarly privileged over their auxiliary "colored" counterparts. In the 20 th Century a new line of demarcation was created between front-line combatants (infantrymen, artillerymen, and so on) on the one hand, and rear-echelon support soldiers (supply clerks, cooks, and so on), on the other. This new line of demarcation creates a two-tier system of honor, with support soldiers debased in social standing to show greater honor to their combatant brethren. Before the 20 th Century, there were hardly any support soldiers to demean, as the logistical needs of the U.S. military were provided for by civilian camp followers. Now uniformed support soldiers constitute roughly seventy percent of the military. The front-line combatant soldier, once the typical soldier, has become a minority within the military, but a prestigious minority. The two-tier system of honor that privileges combatant soldiers over their support counterparts finds enthusiastic support among combatant soldiers, support soldiers, and in the civilian world. It is reasonable to show the most respect to soldiers who have suffered the most, and undeniably combatant soldiers are killed and wounded at the highest rate. Yet the nature of the two-tier system of honor has qualities that suggest that it is based on more than simply logical and just deference. First, support soldiers (the majority of the military) are not so much shamed as invisible: the fact that the new "median" soldier is today not an infantryman, but a cook, clerk, or water purification specialist rarely enters into public discourse. Secondly, while some uniformed service members are denied military honor, certain civilians have begun making unprecedented claims to military honor. By analyzing recent commemorative art about war, including the Washington D.C. memorials, the Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee, VA (a museum founded to honor support soldiers), and local commemorative projects that aspire to national recognition, I will show that the social narrative of combat, long the dominant storyline of the military, has been fused with the related personal (and more inclusive) narrative of trauma. This new storyline of trauma-combat has discredited competing storylines. Technical competence, contribution to victory, and belief in the system one defends have become irrelevant, and these were the pathways to military honor open to support soldiers as such. The new narrative of trauma-combat also makes it possible for a war widow or a disabled contractor to claim the honor formerly reserved for soldiers. Loss related to war is the ultimate and only sign of a soldier, and who best embodies this loss than a war widow or a civilian contractor paralyzed by war wounds? At the beginning of the 20 th Century, military authority asserted direct control over its camp-followers by placing them in uniform, thus creating a body of support soldiers that would eventually outsize the combat component it was designed to support. At the beginning of the 21st century, the periphery of the military continues to be militarized, while within the military itself, the typical soldier ceases in many ways to be a soldier at all.
Burland, Daniel Alton, "The Persistence Of Military Honor In A Culture Without Victory" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations 1896 - February 2014. 309.