Meeting Report

April 21, 2013

Kathleen Barry, PhD
Unmaking War, Remaking Men: How Empathy Can
Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves

Dr. Barry opened her presentation with the surprising assertion that “the AHA is about to come out with an atrocious statement” about prostitution, riveting us to our seats for the next hour and a half of a Sunday afternoon.

Indeed, more than thirty of us heard Dr. Barry’s thesis on “expendable lives,” “innocent lives,” and the treatment of war by the news media. She defined an “innocent life” as a noncombatant, and an “expendable life” as someone who expects to be killed, for example a combatant. She pointed out that the Geneva Convention on the Conduct of War contradicts the UN Declaration of Human Rights, in that it allows for the taking of human life—“expendable life”—in warfare.

Referring to the results of her interviews with US Viet Nam War veterans, she said she got an insight into why men fight: “It’s about the “protection of wives and children.” However, she went on to drop another stunner on us with “None of this is biological,” a lead-in to her premise that most of the aggressive behavior of human males is a result of cultural conditioning.

Relative to men’s attitudes toward rape, Dr. Barry told us that, among other statistics, 83.5% of males believe that “some women are asking for it.” Then she equated violence against women with violence in war. She pointed out that the goal of Army Basic Training is to destroy empathy in the new soldier, and that the Army has revised its training over time in order to make soldiers less empathetic. She said “This is where PTSD begins.”

Dr. Barry believes the solution to our problem of violence is to redefine masculinity to entail empathy in place of violence. Indeed, the premise of her latest book, Unmaking War, Remaking Men, is that we can and should take steps in the direction of increased empathy and reduced emphasis on violence.

Dr. Barry’s prepared speech was followed by a spirited question and answer session. Thank you, Kathleen Barry, for a very interesting afternoon. We look forward to hearing from you again.

Report prepared by Roger Zabkie

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