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Mothering and The Military: How Do We Raise Our Children? by Sharon Doubiago

October 12, 2013
Sharon Doubiago  credit: Andrena Zawinski

Sharon Doubiago
credit: Andrena Zawinski

Mothering and the Military: How Do We Raise Our Children?

by Sharon Doubiago first published in War Crimes Times, Veterans for Peace, Fall 2013, Vol V. No. 4

I went in search of a book for him. I went through the Children section and Fairy Tales, through Parenting and Mothering, through Psychology, Alternative Education, Women’s Studies and Feminism. Then Philosophy, Mythology, Politics, New Age, and War. Nothing even remotely close to what I was looking for.

I wanted a tale of a boy/man hero against war. A Conscientious Objector. A warrior for peace. A tale of a boy with the morality, integrity, intelligence, courage, physical and psychic/spiritual strength to resist our culture of war. I wanted a children’s tale fitting to the culture of peace, art, love, activism and ecofeminism I’ve rooted my life in, and one a growing boy like my grandson could find meaning and inspiration in, could model himself on.

I understood the feminist protest against macho heroes, but I was knowing, again, as I had with my son, a negative side of this protest. To be an anti-war male is an heroic stance. We need such representations, especially for our children, to counter the military’s glorified image of the war-mongering righteous killer for God and Country, and its stereotype of the unpatriotic, cowardly resister of war.

The manager was summoned. She seemed startled as if the thought had never occurred to her, but she understood what I was looking for, and why.

“Such a book does not exist,” she said.

I remember the sinking feeling for humanity, for all life, for the future, for Gaia. Why is there no such book? Why hasn’t the counterculture or any of those History of Consciousness Ph.d-ers, particularly those who are parents, not written and published such?

The sacrosanct heart of Western Culture is individualism, always proclaimed as our superiority over the primitive world ignorantly rooted in collectivist values. “Let your children go” is the Commandment, particularly to mothers. The edict, especially if the child is male, begins in pregnancy. The good mother constantly prepares to let her child go on the cultural certainty that this is good. In my own writing on mothers and children I only slowly came to grasp this unquestioned, unexamined certainty as a core issue, an enormous barrier to finding solutions to our problems, especially war. The failure of true individualism in this country is tragically, massively deep: so many of our problems, especially our sons’, stem from the culture’s invalidating their relationship to their mothers, which becomes, ultimately, the invalidation of the deepest self, and all other selves.

In maternal love and instinct we let our children go in support of their struggle for independence, in our understanding that the child must individuate to find the self. (For the male: to find his manhood.) On the scholar/cultural level also, the fundamental “complex” of the human psyche is the child turning from the mother to the father to find individuation (i.e., Freud’s Oedipus and Electra Complexes). The very foundation of our psyches, our first act of will, is this turning from the feminine to the masculine which becomes the structure of our personalities, our societies, our patriarchal religions.

At the heart of the Commandment is perhaps our greatest taboo, the mother-son relationship, the root of misogyny, violence, the military, war, and our headlong suicidal rush into the destruction of All. Many brilliant explosive and culture-changing feminist books of the 70s-90s explored gender/war themes but the mother-son relationship remained a taboo to the feminists too. Until we begin exploring this relationship, with hearts and minds congruent, until women begin consciously to undertake what it means to raise males (and females who would become soldiers, or mate with them), until we begin to assert our mothering over the doctrines of the military, the Armies will always win our children, and humanity will continue to move ever closer to annihilation.

The stereotype of the cowardly antiwar pacifist male is Robert Bly’s soft male in Iron John, the international best seller during the first Gulf War, reported then to be history’s bestselling book after the King James Bible and Shakespeare. The main thesis of this shallow but profoundly seductive book is the importance of mother-son severance in the old European fairy tales (when men were men of iron, etc.). I still maintain, as I did in my Ms Magazine essay back then, that Iron John as bestseller at that Gulf War moment was no coincidence. We read it to restore our imperialist, warmongering programming which had been overcome by our horror of Vietnam. Iron John was our Desert Storm bible. Its ridicule of the wimpy boy unable to cut the apron strings became the significant reactionary backlash blow to the evolving ecofeminist culture.

Something like Iron John happened before to devastating effects on our fathers’ capacity to be “soft.” Just after World War II, Edward Strecker, a psychiatrist who served as adviser to the Secretary of the Navy, published Their Mother’s Sons, charging “Mom” with so crippling her son that “the very breath of democracy” was nearly stilled. Strecker is credited with re-popularizing the epithet “Mama’s Boy.” (The main killers of history, of course, are teenage boys who’ve just left their mothers, soldiers who must prove to their fathers and themselves that they aren’t Mama’s Boys.)

For all the work done in regards to the catastrophe of Vietnam, there is still very little account, much less acclaim, of the draft dodgers. 100,000 went abroad, according to Wikipedia. Who were they? What gave them the insight and courage not to go to war? How were they raised? Where’s the big Hollywood movie, the books for children? In the two books under Google: Vietnam Draft Dodgers, one, All American Boys, by Frank Kusch, was published August 2001! And is priced on Amazon at $100+! The other, Confronting the War Machine, by Michael Foley, 2003, seems to make a big ethical issue of the difference between Conscientious Objectors and dodgers and avoiders. Hey, teach children to resist war, period.


was the poster I carried when we started our next war against Muslims, in retaliation of 9-11, blowing again the work of a generation against violence. How do we raise a child in love (of self, others, and earth), in ethics and morality, and not damage and endanger it? How do we protect the child’s psychic health? It’s been clear for a long time that our survival is endangered by our obsolete patterns of relationship to self and others, by our ancient religions and belief systems. How do we raise a child not to be a soldier, a killer for the cause? How do we survive the armies of God?

How do we raise a person to think through and over the instinct to obey—beginning, yes, with the parents? Individualism is the heart of our culture but there is also the opposite human trait: to blindly follow orders, to join the killer gang/army so contrary (and opposed) to individualism. This blind allegiance stems from having survived the first psychic trauma, the separation from the mother. In desperation the child bonds to the culture without question, so as not to undergo the shock of such abandonment again.[1]

Grasping that “let your child go” is cultural at least as much as psychological is not easy. We are as psychologically and culturally blind as African mothers who cut the clitorises from their young daughters, as blind as most of our mothers were in betraying us for and to our fathers. (Our fathers, the sons of our grandmothers.)

“It takes a lot,” Meridel Le Sueur said, “to make a human being a racist, a sexist, a killer.” How do we affirm in our children that they and all life are sacred? How do we raise children against the brainwashed revenge ethic?

“When I look at the earth’s people, after 64 years, there is not one person I wish to see suffer, no matter what they have done to me or to anyone else” [2]. How do we raise children to remain in touch with this natal psychic state? “War is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery,” Alice Walker goes on, “as my teacher Howard Zinn taught me.” How do we get to this truth as we have with cannibalism and slavery? How do we teach, not as religion but as fundamental truth, the Nazarene’s edict: Love thy enemy? The edict that in the Twentieth Century helped inspire the major non-violent political movements—India’s emancipation from England, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the significant cultural impacts of the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era.

How were children raised in the ancient, war-free, matriarchal/partnership societies?

I will never believe it takes evil to change but major, positive cultural shifts did rise out of the ashes of Vietnam. The military is inimical to mothering, that is, to family values. To grasp this would be the major consciousness shift out of our present madness.

It is the necessary shift we must make to survive. Let’s start with new books, new images for our children.

[1] Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child, Bantam Books, 1980, p. 72-73.
[2] “White People Have A Racial History Too.” Alice Walker, posted April 2, 2008. 08/80898

guest post by Sharon Doubiago

Sharon Lura Edens was born and raised in Southern California to young parents recently from the South. She married George Doubiago two weeks after graduating from Ramona High School; they have two children, Daniel and Shawn. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from California State University, Los Angeles.

Her books include Hard Country, inspired by the American and gender themes the work had engaged her in for three years and South America Mi Hija which was nominated twice for National Book Award and was named the Best Book of the Year by the LA Weekly, The Husband Arcane. The Arcane of O (Gorda Plate Press), Psyche Drives The Coast (for which she won The Oregon Book Award for Poetry) and Body and Soul (which includes her third Pushcart Prize winner) and Love on the Streets, Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh 2008).

Memoir, starting with the still unfinished Son, has been an important focus for the past twenty years. Son focuses on the mother-son relationship and her son’s life as an athlete; he played five years of professional football. Published chapters received two Oregon Institute of Literary Arts fellowships, Sigma Delta Chi’s Sports News Reporting First Place Prize, Tom Robbin’s Journalist of the Year Award (“for the most outrageous, risk-taking, life-affirming article published in the Northwest”). My Father’s Love, Portrait of the Poet as a Young Girl, 2 volumes, (Summer 2009) is a memoir of her childhood. Her new collection of memoir stories, Why She Loved Him, is circulating.

She’s been a Visiting Writer at many colleges. Currently, she’s an on-line mentor in Creative Writing for the University of Minnesota’s Split Rock: onlinementor@​ and a board member of PENOakland.

To learn more about Sharon Doubiago, visit her website:

photo credit: Andrena Zawinski

first published in War Crimes Times, Veterans for Peace,
Fall 2013, Vol V. No. 4
P.O. Box 10664, Greensboro, NC 27404
“Mothering and the Military: How Do We Raise Our Children” Sharon Doubiago

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2013 1:35 pm

    Reblogged this on whisper down the write alley and commented:

    worth reading, please share

  2. October 15, 2013 4:44 pm


  3. October 15, 2013 4:46 pm hi teacher :) !

  4. Paula Ewers permalink
    August 17, 2016 11:41 am

    Jack Gilroy has written a novel about a young man who refuses to register for the draft. The name of the book is”Absolute Flanigan” and can be purchased on
    Jack is a CO and I knew him when my husband was arrested for protesting at the School of Americas in Ft Benning, GA in 2000. Jack is still protesting, even at the age of 79.

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