We here at ToM hope that your Memorial Day weekend has gone swimmingly. Over the years, our writers have explored various aspects of foreign policy and military history, from the American Civil War and the idea of “total war” to the impact of the all-volunteer military and the efficacy of intervention in Iran and Syria. In honor of the holiday, we’ve gathered our most relevant pieces below.
Was the American Civil War the First Total War?
Alex Sayf Cummings (ASC) asks the question and surfs through the historiography to find the answer.
Crayons, Fraternities, and Military Historians: The Perception and State of American Military History
Market Volunteers: The Role of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the All Volunteer Army
When the armed services shifted to an all volunteer force (AVF) in 1973, it marked a internal demographic transformation that led to greater numbers of minorities and women entering the military along with greater numbers of families attached to service personnel. Beth Bailey’s social history of the military’s transformation, America’s Army: Making the All Volunteer Force serves as the core text in this discussion of the AVF and its impact.
The Municipal Military: The Impact of the Armed Services on Urban America
Ryan Reft (RR) looks at how military installations have shaped metropolitan regions like Fayetteville, NC, Columbia, SC, and Central and Southern California. From integration to economic development, the military’s influence on urban America might be greater than you think.
“Double Victory”: From WWII to the AVF, African Americans and the U.S. Military
For decades the military has proven an opportunity for the nation’s minorities to exert agency and claim citizenship. From the Civil War through the AVF, even when enduring segregation, African Americans have played a central role in the armed services. ToM looks at what military service has meant for African Americans in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
The Motor City at War: Mobilization, Wartime Housing, and Reshaping Metropolitan Detroit
RR delves deep into the historiography to present a panoramic view of Detroit in the midst of WWII, as military mobilization transformed the politics of race and housing in Detroit.
“Inglorious Basterds” and the War on Terror
ASC’s review of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II counterfactual offers a different take on the film, which many commentators simply saw as a rip-roaring Nat-zi-killing revenge fantasy (not unlike Tarantino’s similarly-themed Kill Bill and Django Unchained). Rather than an uncomplicated tale of whupping bad-guy ass, we saw Basterds as a cautionary tale about the dehumanizing dangers of seeking vengeance–one that spoke to a historical moment when American presidents (note the plural) felt perfectly entitled to go torture and assassinate alleged terrorists without a shred of due process or simple human decency. The Dirty Dozen-referencing finale showed Americans gunning down and burning alive Nazi officials, who had gathered to watch a gratuitous propaganda film that consisted of nothing more than a German sniper shooting one Allied soldier after another. How different was the climax of Basterds from the mindless German film-within-the-film, Tarantino seemed to ask, and when do we become the thing we hate?
Love and Death in the Early 90s
What do Meat Loaf, Robin Hood and Dracula have to do with the Persian Gulf War? Filmmaker Bradlee Crawford Hicks draws out the connections in one of ToM’s more avant-garde efforts, discussing his mashup, “The Highway of Love and Death.”
How Do We Know an Intervention has Succeeded?
Adam Gallagher asks how we should evaluate military interventions and how much do political science theories frame this evaluation. Predictably, it’s more complicated than one might think.
The Suburb and the Sword: Wartime Housing, Integration, and Suburbanization in Alexandria, VA, 1942-1968
RR explores how WWII defense housing shaped Alexandria, VA’s growth in the decades that followed and how it revealed the suburb’s class and racial biases in the process.