A Book Review
(Oh come on, its a good book, don't get bored yet.)
Brothers and Others in Arms is a book about gay males in the Israeli military. The book challenges the reader to be open minded, and to get past the graphic descriptions. The book has three sections. The first section is the introduction, the second part is interviews with actual gay soldiers, and the third is his interpretation of what information he has gathered. The author is a gay former-military member himself, so he is able to gain access to this information without much suspicion. There is much information to be found about social norms and even military structure if one can get past his graphic descriptions of sexual activity. His style of writing has its merits and drawbacks. I feel that much of his description was not necessary, and even detracted from his overall intent, however. Kaplan's inclusion of every detail is in part brutally honest and realistic, and in part makes the book a much more difficult read.
From my research, most reviews and information about this book resides in gay magazines, newspapers, etc., and not in Middle East related scholarly journals. I feel that his descriptions of sexual activity in the book may lead many people to miss out on the other information that Kaplan goes out of his way to provide. Gender study and specifically homosexual sociological study has the danger of landing itself in a niche market, and Kaplan's book also has that added danger due to his inclusion of the details provided to him by the soldiers he interviewed. The author does not tiptoe around the subject at all, and his inclusion of the very blunt answers to his questions may come as a shock to people used to reading politically correct, formally worded textbooks.
However, only a small part of the book includes any material that may offend the eye of someone with qualms to overcome. Kaplan has a fascinating way of presenting his information. He has interviews with several men, and then has a section interpreting it all and putting it into an academic (and more specifically sociological) context. The interviews alone provide information on many different topics. Not only do the men talk about what it is like to be gay, but they also give a lot of information about how the military is run and its general role in everyday people’s lives. The book would be a difficult read if it were not for the variety of information he gets out of each of the people he interviews.
He interviews all males, so in that sense the view of gender is limited to that. The men have the shared experience of the pressures put on their gender to be masculine (tough, dependable), but also have separate experiences with personal relationships and the military. For the most part, it may be hard for females of either sexual persuasion, or heterosexual males to identify with the characters. However, he does include one interview with one (somewhat comical) soldier who is definitely presented in a way that allows the reader to see that he is an "every day young guy".
I find the interview with Yaniv to be a very integral part of the book. He “went to a school for the performing arts, played in a rock band, and hung out with the druggies”. (9) Yaniv is the person that allows the reader to see that aspects of young culture are not absent from this world that Kaplan wants to bring to us. An important part of peaking a readers’ interest is making them feel like they can identify with the subject matter and if that fails, at least creating a very vivid picture of something entirely alien and interesting. Kaplan does both of these things, by choosing a subject matter that is so specific, and including a story such as Yaniv’s.
There is a constant ethic
al struggle which is spoken of by more than one of the interview
ees. It has nothing to do with gender or sexuality in many cases, for it is the ethical struggle of having to commit violence
against the very people the military is supposed to protect. There are many cases of violence against civilians in the book, and in each case the interviewee is unsure whether to just follow orders or to say something and risk getting in trouble. This aspect of the militarization
of society provides the reader with a glimpse of the dark side of it, outside the lives of the soldiers themselves. Though the book is based on the lives of the soldiers interviewed, their qualms with the orders given are what reveal the other stresses put upon them, and the fact that their higher ranked officer
s can get away with breaking the rules. It reveals inefficiency in the chain of command, as well as the distain toward civilians (and lower class civilians) by members of the military