Thursday, June 24, 2021

Michael Messner's "Unconventional Combat"

Michael A. Messner is Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. He is the author of several books, including Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (2015) and Guys Like Me: Five wars, Five Veterans for Peace (2019). His honors include the Pursuit of Justice Award from the California Women's Law Center, the Feminist Mentoring Award from the Sociologists for Women in Society, and the Jessie Bernard Award, presented by the American Sociological Association in recognition of contributions to the understanding of women's lives.

Messner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unconventional Combat: Intersectional Action in the Veterans' Peace Movement, and reported the following:
On page 99, the reader will find the tail-end of a story I tell about how 4000 U.S. Military veterans gathered in the frigid November of 2016 at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, to support an Indigenous coalition of “Water Protectors” who were working to stop the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. I tell this story mostly through my interview with Army veteran Phoenix Johnson, an Indigenous Two-Spirit person who joined in this collective act of resistance against Big Oil and the U.S. government. The presence of the veterans at Standing Rock is at once an inspiring story of allyship and reconciliation. On the other hand, Phoenix Johnson laments that the vets “…were not effectively collaborating with Indigenous people…this was just another expression of white supremacy and white saviorism. They were just here to benefit themselves. To make themselves look good.” Despite this blistering criticism of the mostly white, male and non-Indigenous veterans’ leadership team, Johnson did observe that “There were veterans in the space that actually cared. There were veterans who were being activated for the first time in their lives and I got to witness that.” One of these vets told Johnson, “‘I don’t know how or why I'm out here, but I’m crying and I feel like I'm becoming a part of something important.’ And I’m like, ‘You are, and here’s how you can continue to do that.’ I mean, they were rubbing their eyes and blinking like they were just waking up.”

In some ways, a reader who lands on page 99 would get a good sense of the book’s main themes. In Unconventional Combat, I focus in on the productive possibilities, and also the strains and tensions between a young and diverse cohort of “Post 9/11” veterans as they move into veterans’ peace and justice organizations that have dominated until recently by older, white men veterans of the Vietnam War era. Earlier in the book, I examine the tensions and limits these younger vets confront—including gendered racism, homophobia and transphobia, and lingering unspoken assumptions about “what a real leader looks like” (White, male, heterosexual, combat veteran) within organizations like Veterans For Peace. The chapter of which page 99 is a part turns outward, examining the ways that this new generation forges new ways that their anti-militarism groups can form coalitions with organizations working for gender and racial justice, climate action, and migrant justice.

In some ways too, page 99’s focus on Phoenix Johnson offers insights into the story-telling heart of the book. While I did some participant observation with Veterans for Peace and with About Face: Veterans Against the War organizations, and some interviews with older white male vets who have worked for peace for decades, Unconventional Combat centers on the stories of six vets—all people of color, most of them women, some who identify as queer, or gender-non-binary. Through deep, life-history interviews that revealed their pathways into and through the military, I show how these veterans’ shared experiences of violence and oppression shapes their commitments to working for peace and social justice.
Visit Michael Messner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Guys Like Me.

--Marshal Zeringue