Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Friendship in Uniform

Tuesday, April 9, 2024 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics
Room 250

A conversation with:

Tanja Petrović, principal research associate at the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the author of Utopia in Uniform: Affective Afterlives of the Yugoslav People's Army

Sebastian Junger, New York Times #1 bestselling author of Tribe, Freedom, War, Death in Belmont, Fire, and The Perfect Storm. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism.

Utopia of the Uniform: The compulsory service for young men in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) created bonds across ethnic, religious, and social lines. These bonds persisted even after the horrific violence of the 1990s, in which many of these men found themselves on opposite sides of the front lines. In Utopia of the Uniform, Tanja Petrović draws on memories and material effects of dozens of JNA conscripts to show how their experience of military service points to futures, forms of collectivity, and relations between the state and the individual different from those that prevailed in the post-Yugoslav reality. Petrović argues that the power of repetitive, ritualized, and performative practices that constituted military service in the JNA provided a framework for drastically different men to live together and befriend each other. While Petrović and her interlocutors do not idealize the JNA, they acknowledge its capacity to create interpersonal relationships and affective bonds that brought the key political ideas of collectivity, solidarity, egalitarianism, education, and comradeship into being.

Tribe: We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding--"tribes." This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival. Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today. Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Tribe explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Tribe explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today's divided world.