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The Special Forces Rebels

By Jim Travis

29 September, 2006

During Special Forces training, instilling the will to kill is equally important as teaching the skills to kill. Commandos are heavily indoctrinated in the rightness of using violence to defend and expand the US empire. It's part of the esprit de corps, inseparable from the ethos of patriotism.

It's not surprising, then, that few Green Berets can throw off this indoctrination, reject violence, and rebel against the military, against a part of themselves. Those who do so are usually extraordinary people with stories to tell.

Two such Special Forces combat veterans have defected from the warrior cult and told their stories in books.

Stan Goff, former commando and instructor of military science at West Point, has published three books on the interrelation of gender, violence, and patriarchy.

His first, HIDEOUS DREAM: A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti, gives a close up view of imperialism in action. His second, FULL SPECTRUM DISORDER: The Military in the New American Century, charts the ongoing collapse of the Pentagon's quest for "full spectrum dominance."

His new book, SEX & WAR, goes a level deeper. It is both an eloquent refutation of the conventional wisdom that war is essential to human nature and a working manual for overthrowing the male domination of our society. He illustrates his points with combat anecdotes and quotes from feminist writers.

Stan Goff, the ultimate warrior turned peacemaker, has this and more to say about gender:

"Masculinity constructed as sexualized-violence and violent-sexuality is not some alpha-male genetic defect; it is not natural. It is an historically evolved reflection of a division of labor and a division of social power. The military -- an organization within the state -- simply
took this construction into itself, and made itself in masculinity's image."

"Gender is not the imposition of human characteristics on sex. It is the division of human characteristics -- forged into their concrete forms in the dialectic between society and the individual -- into a gendered division of productive, reproductive, epistemological, affective, and psychic labor.

"Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. They have been exiled there from Earth."

"Social phenomena, then -- like sexuality or economic production -- can never under any circumstances be explained or understood as universal or timeless abstractions like 'drives' or 'nature.' They are historically contingent, existing only in their specific forms at specific times and places, with biology and society interfused.

"This is in many ways the most radical proposition of Marxism, so it merits more than a passing thought. Once we begin to dispense with ideas that are abstracted or naturalized out of history, the ideological edifices of patriarchy and capitalism begin to crumble."

"While males as an aggregate have material benefits in the gender system, my argument remains that the price we pay in every other aspect of our lives is terrible. Somehow we have to connect not with male privilege but with male pain and make that our point of departure for re-integrating the struggle for the liberation of all human beings from the tyranny of gender."

"It becomes a revolutionary responsibility then for male revolutionaries to become feminist, and to exploit their own privilege for the purpose of destroying become gender traitors."

"The liberation of women is not an outcome of revolution. It is a precondition for it."

Further selections from SEX & WAR are on the publisher's website,, and more of Stan Goff's writing is available at

In addition to being a prolific author and a devoted family man, Goff is an energetic activist. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, within striking distance of his former base, Fort Bragg, home of the Special Forces. Now he goes there to demonstrate for peace.

His specialty as an organizer is building resistance to the military from within it, among soldiers and their families. He co-founded Bring Them Home Now! and helped organize Walkin' to New Orleans, a 150-mile march this spring from Alabama to Louisiana to protest the militarism
that is impoverishing our society.

William T. Hathaway, another Special Forces rebel author, shares Goff's conviction that patriarchal machismo causes war and other pathologies of our culture. His first novel, A WORLD OF HURT, won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its portrayal of the blocked libido and the need for paternal approval that draw men to the military.

"I was trying to uncover the psychological roots of war, the forces that so persistently drive us to slaughter," says Hathaway. "Our culture has degraded masculinity into a deadly toxin. It's poisoned us all. Men have to confront this part of themselves before men and women together can
heal it. I was lucky to have found a partner skilled at this.

"Understanding the effects that our culturally imposed gender roles have on us is crucial to understanding why we go to war. One attraction of war is that it is a substitute for eroticism; it is the ultimate sexual perversion. It also reduces our ability to love."

Hathaway shares Goff's leftist politics. He wrote the introduction to "America Speaks Out: Collected Essays from Dissident Writers" and has published numerous political articles.

In his latest piece, "Sedition, Subversion, Sabotage," which is published in CounterCurrents, he argues against liberalism, saying its purpose is to preserve the system by defusing discontent with superficial reforms. "Capitalism, although resilient, is willing to change only in ways that shore it up, so before anything truly different can be built, we have to bring it down."

Hathaway's writing won him a Fulbright professorship at universities in Germany, where he currently lives.

In addition to writing he supports counter-recruitment work to persuade young people not to join the military. He is active in a group encouraging soldiers to refuse to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. For those who want to desert, they have a sanctuary network that helps them build
new lives. "Refusing or deserting the military takes great courage, and I wish I had been that brave. If convicted, they're punished viciously because they're such a threat to the government's power. They're the real heroes," the combat-decorated Green Beret veteran states.

Hathaway sees spirituality as an essential component of a more peaceful world. "My military experience convinced me that to prevent war we need to raise human consciousness. A look at the history of revolutions shows that switching economic and political systems isn't enough. The same
aggressive personality types take over and start another army. We have to change the basic unit, the individual.

"I've found Eastern meditation to be the most effective way to change people. Unlike psychotherapy or prayer, it works on the physiological level, altering the brain waves and metabolism. It refines the nervous system and expands the awareness so that the unity of all human beings becomes a living reality, not just an idealistic concept.

"After a while of meditation people stop wanting to consume things that increase aggression, such as meat, alcohol, and violent entertainment. They become more peaceful.

"I think it's very true that peace begins within you. As Gandhi said, 'We have to become the change we want to see in the world.'"

Hathaway's just-released novel, SUMMER SNOW, approaches peace from this meditative perspective. It is set amidst the war on terrorism as a US warrior falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality.

The book's wisdom figure is an aged Sufi woman, the warrior's lover's teacher, who has survived by outsmarting male political and religious hierarchies. "This bin Laden, this Bush, all these leading men, they have highjacked us all with their violence," she states. "They have turned the whole world into their suicide airplane. These men are too primitive to have such power. Too ignorant of the underlying reality. We must stop them. We must take the boys' toys away from them...these terrible weapons."

How she does that becomes the climax of the novel.

Its theme is that higher consciousness is more effective than violence and that women may be more able than men to lead us there.

In writing SUMMER SNOW, Hathaway drew on his experiences during a year and a half in Central Asia. The first chapter is on the publisher's website,, and a selection of his writing is available at

Stan Goff and William T. Hathaway shine light into the military's heart of darkness. These two defectors from the elite guard have become effective opponents of the empire they once served, and their example will help other soldiers to rebel and tell their stories.

Jim Travis reads and writes and sometimes works in Massachusetts
He can be reached at

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