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Impotent Warriors

Impotent Warriors: Perspectives on Gulf War Syndrome, Vulnerability and Masculinity

Susie Kilshaw
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    Impotent Warriors
    Book Description:

    From September 1990 to June 1991, the UK deployed 53,462 military personnel in the Gulf War. After the end of the conflict anecdotal reports of various disorders affecting troops who fought in the Gulf began to surface. This mysterious illness was given the name "Gulf War Syndrome" (GWS). This book is an investigation into this recently emergent illness, particularly relevant given ongoing UK deployments to Iraq, describing how the illness became a potent symbol for a plethora of issues, anxieties, and concerns. At present, the debate about GWS is polarized along two lines: there are those who think it is a unique, organic condition caused by Gulf War toxins and those who argue that it is probably a psychological condition that can be seen as part of a larger group of illnesses. Using the methods and perspective of anthropology, with its focus on nuances and subtleties, the author provides a new approach to understanding GWS, one that makes sense of the cultural circumstances, specific and general, which gave rise to the illness.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-879-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In June 1993 the UK television programmeNewsnightfeatured a story about American soldiers who had fought in the Gulf War, soldiers who were now reporting a plethora of mysterious ailments. Fatigue, diarrhoea, hair loss and cancer were some of the reported symptoms, but the list included more unusual things like vomit that glowed in the dark and semen that burned. Formerly strong, fit and healthy soldiers were becoming weak and frail. The story spread through the UK Gulf veteran community like wildfire: suddenly the malaise that they had been silently experiencing had a name. They were not alone and...


    • Chapter 1 “Desert Rats, Not Lab Rats”
      (pp. 17-42)

      During their Annual General Meeting and Respite Week (AGM) in 2002 the members of the Gulf War Veterans’ Association (GWVA)² discussed their experiences of the war. One veteran stood up and said, “We were desert rats, not lab rats”. The room erupted in enthusiastic agreement. I was struck by this interesting analogy because it seemed to embody the veterans’ beliefs, their ongoing attachment to their identity as a soldier in the Gulf War and their unbending assertion that they had been experimented upon by their government.

      Gulf veterans had a series of experiences which they make sense of in a...

    • Chapter 2 Chains of Causation, Chains of Knowledge
      (pp. 43-62)

      This chapter continues to explore the themes contained in GWS explanatory model(s) and meaning systems. I will be referring and adding to Mark and Debbie’s extended narrative in the previous chapter and supplementing it with data from other veterans’ accounts. The issue of cause is central to GWS theories, but there are levels and chains of causality, which provide a great deal of flexibility. Contained in these narratives is a search to make sense of a variety of experiences: a search for meaning. Questions about information, knowledge, truth and expertise are woven into veterans’ narratives and are impossible to separate...


    • Chapter 3 Leaky Bodies
      (pp. 65-92)

      The taxi took me from the train station in Skegness to the family resort, my home for the next week while I attended the GWVA’s Annual General Meeting and respite week (AGM). There was something odd about bringing all these ill people together to a holiday camp to discuss and dwell on their suffering, yet the depressing surroundings of a Butlins holiday camp in the middle of a cold and grey March seemed to match the mood. I was ushered into the lobby of the meeting building where I saw Rebecca, John, Jack, and other familiar faces. They had set...

    • Chapter 4 “We are the Enemy”
      (pp. 93-122)

      We have seen in the preceding chapters that veterans experience the world as full of risk and danger, particularly with regard to the toxins they were exposed to in the Gulf War. Veterans show a great concern for body boundaries and the permeability of these frontiers. Just as there is an anxiety about body frontiers, so too is there an anxiety about inner boundaries. In this section I will extend the notion of boundaries and look within the body at that component which is seen as the consummate barrier to threat and illness: the immune system. My interviews with Gulf...


    • Chapter 5 Veterans’ Associations
      (pp. 125-153)

      At first Ed, the veteran introduced in Chapter 3, felt unsure of whether or not he belonged at the GWVA AGM because he had not been deployed to the war. His uncertainty soon gave way to conviction, a process I was able to observe. Ed describes the way he came to link his problems with GWS:

      I say it is Gulf War Syndrome [When did you start to think it was GWS?] When I spoke to Dame Laura,¹ who was a nurse who was administering injections, it was ahh, let’s think, about ’96. It was then that I realised. I...

    • Chapter 6 The Disappearing Man: Narratives of Lost Masculinity
      (pp. 154-182)

      One day Rebecca said to me,“ I think they are all turning into women”. This comment struck me and as I continued to interview GWS sufferers it took on more and more meaning. The issues of sex and reproduction appeared in sufferers’ accounts over and over again. Early in my fieldwork I observed a key meeting between Bob, an ill veteran (introduced in Chapter 3), and Malcolm Hooper, the veterans’ scientific advisor. The meeting was to prepare Bob for his war pension appeal tribunal the next day. Bob was attempting to increase his war pension by demonstrating that he had...

    • Chapter 7 Impotent Warriors: The Context of Narratives of Lost Masculinity
      (pp. 183-207)

      The context and causes of GWS must be seen as wider than the Gulf War, as many other things were happening in the lives of these men. GWS was their way of making their various experiences intelligible. GWS shares certain features with other new illnesses, but it arises out of anxieties particularly relevant to a specific group of people: the package for these men (and women) is unique. GWS responded to, addressed and commented upon issues relevant to the specific things that were happening economically, physically and culturally in their lives. In this chapter I will provide an account of...

    • Conclusion GWS and World Trade Centre Syndrome
      (pp. 208-228)

      One day in 2003, having completed my fieldwork, I was looking at various GWS websites. A woman had posted a message saying that she believed herself to be ill with GWS as her symptoms were the same as those she had seen described on the message board. She had not been in the Gulf War. In fact, she was not a soldier. Living in New York in 2001 at the time of the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks, she believed that the terrorists, from the Middle East, no less, had been carrying viruses or toxins on the planes with them....

  5. Appendix One Symptom List
    (pp. 229-230)
  6. Appendix Two Veterans Interviewed (67): Branch of Service
    (pp. 231-232)
  7. Appendix Three Programme of Routine Tests Undertaken at the GVMAP
    (pp. 233-234)