Military mobility as moving morals: Dutch peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines how acts of war violated the assumptions and beliefs about right and wrong and personal goodness of veterans of Dutch peacekeeping missions. It is argued that military mobility between battlefield and home implies shifting narratives.
Paper long abstract:
Dutch soldiers in the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, 1992-1995, and Afghanistan, 2006-2010, were confronted with pain, sadness and death. They were direct or indirect victims of violence, witnessed the human toll of violence and its aftermath, and also inflicted violence and destruction upon others. They survived violent contacts, yet the violence has not left them unscathed. This paper examines how acts of war violated these soldiers' assumptions and beliefs about right and wrong and personal goodness. It looks into more detail how they justify the violent acts they have inflicted, suffered and observed according to the conflicting norms and values of army culture and civilian society, arguing that the military mobility from the "front" to "home" implies a shift of narrative. Our fieldwork material suggests that the psychological problems some soldiers develop after deployment are not so much about what had happened in combat, but rather follow from the struggle of returning home. As soldiers they have been disciplined to embody a specific organizational identity; their unit prepares them for missions by restructuring their connections to civilian life. Moving between battlefield and home, they undergo significant identity shifts following institutionally sanctioned regulation and socialization. They are expected to realign in society yet the moral systems of military culture and civilian life conflict. Shifting narratives help to make sense of these experiences of moral breakdown.
To the "front" and back "home" again: military mobilities and the social transitions they entail