Iraq, Afghanistan, and rethinking the post-heroic turn: Military decorations as indicators of change in warfare

Research paper by Brieg Powel

Indexed on: 25 Oct '17Published on: 10 Oct '17Published in: Journal of Historical Sociology


This article compares the awarding patterns of the two senior Anglophone military decorations, the British/Commonwealth Victoria Cross and the American Medal of Honor, to challenge arguments that a shift to ‘post-heroic’ warfare has been in progress in Western societies since 1990. Despite the two decorations being independent of each other, each born of a particular military, political, and social context in their respective parent societies, the article reveals strong consistencies across the two. These include common understandings of military heroism centred on infantry- rather than machine-intensive combat, and a shared neglect of armoured, aerial, and naval combatants. Crucially, the medal data suggests that, despite academic suggestions to the contrary, there was no discernible shift towards ‘post-heroism’ in the post-Cold War era. Such a shift, however, is observable between 1916 and 1920, suggesting that the ‘new Western way of war’ began far earlier than is often suggested.