, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 67-79
Date: 23 Nov 2012

Under the Mountain: Basic Training, Individuality, and Comradeship

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Abstract

This paper addresses questions of friendship and political community by investigating a particular complex case, comradeship in the life of the soldier. Close attention to soldiers’ accounts of their own lives, successes and failures shows that the relationship of friendship to comradeship, and of both to the success of the soldier’s individual and communal life, is complex and tense. I focus on autobiographical accounts of basic training in order to describe, and to explore the tensions between, two positions: (1) Becoming a soldier is a corrupting loss of individuality and moral sensitivity, and friendship is resistance to it. (2) Becoming a soldier is one form of flourishing, and comradeship—the soldier’s distinctive form of friendship—is one of its constitutive virtues. I draw particularly on George Orwell’s account of basic training and fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and on Tim O’Brien’s account of basic training and fighting in Vietnam.