Tracking Wokeism: The Case of Battalion Ayacucho, Manizales-Colombia in the Post-Conflict Reality
I would like to begin with a controversy that took place at the end of 2020 in Colombia when a neighbor of the Manizales’ Military Base denounced the use of denigrating songs against women during a training camp. The complaint was made in the local newspaper, opening a dialogue on systemic practices of symbolic gender violence, in which hate speech, misogyny and machismo are replicated. Adriana Villegas Botero, the author of the article, No es broma, es violencia, explained how she casually overheard the soldiers repeat and shout while marching in circles in the courtyard of the base, a song with the following words:
Upon Lucifer's mustaches, killing criminals, the thirst for subversive blood, war, the tar of the boots, "climb up, climb up, guerrilla fighter, I am waiting for you with grenades and mortars at the top of the hill"/ "men, when they see a good butt, …" and "taca otca taca taca taca ta". Izquier, 2, 3, 4 (La Patria, October 19, 2020).
The complainant points out that we, as Colombians, live in a context where comments that may be jokes for some people, normalize violence against the other, particularly against women. The song continued:
One minute before dying, I heard my girl friend’s voice With a bitch’s voice she told me ‘If you die, I will give you over to the police’ Because I am, ja, I am, ja, a black vampire! I never had a mother, and I never will! If I ever had her in my hands, I would hang her. I never had a girlfriend, and I never will! If I ever saw with my eyes, I would rip them out! When my mother in law dies, I hope they bury her face down because I will make a ladder To get to her grave, and stamp on her skull. With my mother-in-law’s hair, I will make a scourer to brand her daughter On her bellybutton, and even lower. (La Patria, October 19, 2020).
The official in charge of Manizales Base denied the event. Denying the songs were sung is negating the reality of the military practices in which systematic use of derogatory language spoken by the soldiers inform and, indeed, existentiate reality. Therefore, any brutality or excessive violence against people is justified from the state and perpetrated by its institutions.
In this context, the use of a gender narrative in military songs can be analyzed under the notion of Wokeism and may serve to examine the effect of the military apparatus in the Colombian post-conflict reality with regard to three fundamental factors: (1) who sings the songs, (2) in what context these tunes are sung, and (3) the normalization of violence against women and, by extension, other minorities and culturally marginalized communities. These three factors are relevant because many of the social and political issues related to the Colombian conflict have not been resolved, despite the signing of the peace agreement in 2012.
The macabre tone of the songs acts as an invitation to gender violence repeated in the daily life of the military community and in the training of soldiers throughout the country. This nation, that is protected by the state in case of vulnerability by its soldiers, still retains the authority to reprimand them. The act of condemning the songs can thus be seen as a manifestation of cancel culture.
It is likely to be thought that in this accusation, or in the chants themselves, there is nothing new because many soldiers in different places have similar songs in their training. It might also be thought that this type of military practices only reflects an innocuous hyper-masculine embrace of tradition. However, opening a conversation about an incident that is not isolated, and is perhaps emblematic of a major problem, can be framed within the boundaries of Wokeism advocating to cancel a practice that depicts the Other harmfully. This initiative anticipates a transformation of invisible violence that, in some cases, has been silenced or ignored by the overwhelming records of victims and deaths in a conflict that had lasted for more than half a century and has still not fully ended.
Therefore, it can be considered that the military narrative is not merely routine and the repetition of phrases, despite having a simple rhyme that is regularly used, and easy to follow. The songs propose a frivolous oratory pattern from the argumentative point of view, whose purpose is to encourage combat desire (protreptic). The connection between the songs and the mood of those who listen and follow the canticles is accentuated by the euphoria required at the beginning of any military confrontation. There is a clear stimulus that arises from the repeated language, the steps accompanied by the music and in general from that excitement and empowerment of the performance requested by the commander of the troop. Generally, its content takes advantage of pejorative platitudes in a racist or homophobic tone, elevating the self-confidence of the solder.
The woke call denounces a narrative that is grounded on the discriminatory use of force against a female target (the girlfriend, the mother, the mother-in-law), even as it is encouraged by the state despite its damaging effects. The repercussions of reiterating the Others being vilified is clear. Whether it is the guerrilla, the bandit, or just a woman, this kind of violence can be extended to other minorities. In conclusion, the normalization of a tradition is no longer ignored. There is a clear call for a transformation of a language in a post-conflict framework, where it is imperative to renovate cultural practices because laws and agreements have not been sufficient to structure an inclusive and less hateful society. The exercise of cancel culture may be here a legitimate response to demands for new narratives.
Despite some reactions to the so-called excesses of Wokeism and what some others named reverse censorship, the resistance to the content of the military songs generates an important dialogue that turned the public gaze to the way in which the military power has constructed the Other; whether it is the female subject or the guerilla, they are always seen as an adversary/enemy. This opponent must be eliminated because it is implicitly worthless. Indeed, the case of Manizales displays the intersectional nature of cultural practices and the impact on gender citizenship. What was once a passive membership, today is a way of activating political participation. Villegas Botero subverts the violence of these songs by speaking against the tradition, redefining the scope of the military narrative, and pushing the institutions to be transformed.