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Lives on the line

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Being prepared to die for one's country has long been the touchstone of nationalism. But as the confused debates about Britishness have indicated over the last decade, concepts of national identity in the UK have been eroding fast and there is a growing uncertainty about what it means to serve one's country. The figure of the soldier is ubiquitous throughout the media, but the image of the flag-draped coffin remains a site of intense struggle, not just over the meanings of military sacrifice but also the perceived value of the war in which the individual soldier 'gave' their life. The response of different European electorates to the NATO-led ISAF operation in Afghanistan shows how governments can be vulnerable to the political risks inherent in committing their countries to war. Managing these risks entails controlling the representation of harm experienced not just by civilians (including torture and abuse of detainees) in the war zone but also by serving military personnel being deployed. Paying close attention to the figure of the soldier as a particular kind of worker-citizen can expose the hidden material and financial resources required to commit the country to war. It can also provide a focus for tracking the ideological energy involved both in securing public acquiescence and in marginalising opposition as a form of disloyalty to the national state.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 11 August 2010

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