Nihilism on the Highway with the War Fighters Motorcycle Club Veteran Bikers
The Untold Story
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Author’s Note
- Introduction: The War Fighters
- Chapter 1. Joining the War Fighters Motorcycle Club
- Chapter 2. Club Structure and Activities—History of the Subculture
- Chapter 3. The War Fighter Aesthetic—Origins of the Biker Aesthetic
- Chapter 4. Harley Davidson—From Obscure Cult Classic to the Mainstream
- Chapter 5. Subjectivity in Crisis—A Three-Phase Model
- Chapter 6. Phase One—Rupture
- Chapter 7. Phase Two—Disconnection
- Chapter 8. Phase Three—Reconnection
This study employed qualitative methodologies, including those of ethnography and grounded theory, and data collection techniques which included formal interviews and participant observation. It presents not only one of a small handful of ethnographies into motorcycle clubs, but also the results of a grounded theory that draws on a Nietzschean tradition in continental philosophy that is under-appreciated in sociological research. Owing to the secretive nature of the biker subculture and its penchant for using violence to solve problems, the identities of the research participants have been disguised. This book explains how I became accepted by the club and the unique research opportunity this acceptance provided. ← vii | viii →
Black leather vests, backpatches featuring a stylised human skull, black and chrome Harley Davidsons, a first drinking session, then another, and another. Like other motorcycle clubs, the Australian War Fighters are a fringe-dwelling subculture that provokes strong opinions. Newspaper editors have been salivating over motorcycle club imagery since the subculture emerged in California in the middle of the twentieth century. Should a club member find themselves involved in any activity garnering police and media attention, the pejorative terms of ‘bikie’ and ‘gang member’ splash across the headlines.
Hunter S. Thompson described Sonny Barger and others capitalizing on this attention in his enduring work of gonzo journalism Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966): ‘[T]he burden of fame made the Hell’s Angels very conscious of their image; they began reading the newspapers like politicians, looking for mention of things they had said or done. And as they dealt more and more with the press, they were inevitably asked to comment on the issues of the day.’
Motorcycle Clubs remain the subject of persisting ‘moral panic,’ and have been the subject of successive crackdowns, police operations, and hard-hitting legislation aimed at driving them out of existence. The War Fighters (Pseudonym) operate on the periphery of the hard-core one percent element of the ← 1 | 2 → subculture. They still ‘hold church’ on a Tuesday night but are more likely to be discussing a charity event or upcoming club ride than the extortion or trafficking schemes that supposedly preoccupy one percent clubs as depicted in the fictional Sons of Anarchy. While they enjoy the notoriety of looking mean, the War Fighters do significant charity work, and the seemingly bizarre combination of outlaw biker subculture aesthetic with raising money for local hospitals means these men enjoy the paradox of looking bad while doing good. Yet the impact of thirty riders howling into town on big block Harleys tends to raise eyebrows and can make locals think twice before crossing the street. The club usually stays overnight in country towns sleeping in a main street hotel. The impact on a sleepy town of a group of mean looking bikers thirsty for beer, and dressed in denim and black leather can have a lasting impact.
What follows is an account of the time I spent with the War Fighters Motorcycle Club. It’s a club made up of predominantly military veterans who operate of the periphery of the outlaw motorcycle club subculture. This book tells the story of the hard lives that many of the War Fighters have led. Their story is a complex one with many contradictions. They were ostracised from society upon their return from Vietnam and are now, at times, guilty of ostracising veterans of more recent conflicts. They wear a patch that says ‘brothers for life’, but the club was often witness to infighting, backstabbing, squabbling, factional leadership coos, break away groups, threats of violence, double crossing, dummy spits and theatrical resignations. The book presents the stories of these men as they were presented to me. While they are at times fragmented, confused and confusing, they have been minimally edited in an attempt to faithfully convey the words with which these men chose to present their stories.
This book represents two years of original ethnographic research with the goals to both record the lives of these club members and to theorize how some of it may be understood. Veteran bikers are interesting to social scientists because of the doubly liminal status they hold of both returned war veterans and members of a socially marginalized subculture. Using a tradition in continental philosophy, this book reads the lives of these psudo outlaw bikers as having undergone a kind of crisis of identity following their return from Vietnam.
The Vietnam War provoked significant popular opposition and ended in disastrous defeat and uncertainty. This lack of agreement on an editorial narrative left many veterans asking themselves if they were accomplices to a crime or heroes and patriots, victors or losers. They experienced the fallout of ← 2 | 3 → this confusion on a very personal level, which affected their personal sense of identity. While such experiences have led many Vietnam veterans in Australia to join one percent motorcycle clubs and further remove themselves from society, others chose to join positively focused clubs, such as the War Fighters and in this way have attempted to reintegrate into the community.
The club’s fundraising and charity work transforms these veterans from those in need of a hand to those that can give a hand. The philanthropic orientation of the club also complements the reading of Vietnam veterans as those who were willing to serve when required by their country. While the club experience is not the same for every member, the opportunity to reimagine their war experience, with a corresponding change to their sense of self and their place in the Australian community, is offered to those who choose to take it. One tragedy among so many is that those individuals most negatively affected by their experiences are the ones who are least able to articulate them or to heal themselves. The sense of unity this book has created was often absent from the lives of the War Fighters. This was unavoidable. In theorising actual experience, there emerged an order that is not entirely present in reality.
While the purpose of this research is sociological, the subtlety of the processes with which it is concerned directed it towards anthropology and philosophy, particularly the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. In innumerable ways throughout this research, the tradition of continental philosophy proved best disposed to a sensitive understanding of how people have been deeply affected by circumstances that shape their behaviour and self-understanding. It was likewise best able to capture the unique moment of recovered selfhood experienced by some.
Their lives have been affected by a deep sense of disconnection from themselves and from others, alcoholism, (prescription or other) drug abuse and a host of other problems. While this book proposes theories to make sense of the lives it documents, it also attempts to capture the ambiguity and confusion that surrounds many of these stories. It therefore attempts to stave off the dis-benefit of presenting a unity that does not exist by including the inarticulate incompleteness of the data wherever possible. Any attempt to capture an essence of social experience is never more difficult than for those for whom the usual social coordinates have been damaged or are missing entirely.
The book adopts elements of both ethnography and grounded theory methodologies but also a somewhat informal process of what Charlesworth (2000) calls an attempt to use philosophical ideas ethnographically. That is, ← 3 | 4 → to use philosophical ideas to explore a perspective on the past and on human life that explains why events and emotional processes have transpired the way they have.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2018 (October)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. VIII, 158 pp.