Here and Away: African Americans, WWI, and Civil Rights

Florine Stettheimer , "New York City/Liberty, 1918" Whitney Museum of Art, Photo by Ryan Reft

In 1925, General Robert Lee Bullard, Commander of the U.S.’s Second Army during WWI in Europe, retired and released a book of memoirs: Personalities and Reminiscences about the War. Bullard had enjoyed a fairly distinguished career in the military peaking during the Great War. Yet, like many of this day, he harbored prejudices; most notably his dismissive attitude toward African American soldiers. In his memoir, he described America’s black soldiers in WWI as cowards – “Couldn’t Make Negroes Fight says Bullard” read one New York Herald Tribune headline - inferior to white troops, and generally unsuited for service. “All this constructive equality I regarded as an injustice,” Bullard … [Read more...]

Privatizing the All Volunteer Army: Gender and Families in the 1990s and Early Aughts

via Wikipedia Commons

[Editor's note: This is the final installment in ToM's three part series on social welfare policies in the All Volunteer Army using Jennifer Mittelstadt's new book The Rise of the Military Welfare State as our guide. Parts I and II can be read here and here.] In his assessment of post-1945 army housing, the late military historian William C. Baldwin pointed out that programs aimed at increasing housing stock for military households often followed trends in private sector. So when privatization and deregulation emerged as central themes in government run housing programs and elsewhere in the 1990s, the military soon followed. For our purposes and because we will return to it later, … [Read more...]

Feminism, Evangelicalism, and Social Welfare in Ronald Reagan’s Military: Part II of Jennifer Mittelstadt and The Rise of the Military Welfare State

Ronald Reagan, Official White House photo, 1981, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: This is part II of ToM's three part series on the AVF via Jennifer Mittelstadt's recent work The Rise of the Military Welfare State. Part I can be read here.] Even as governor of California, Ronald Reagan had celebrated military service. He held up the Vietnam War as “a noble cause,” wrote Edmund Morris in his biography of the president, “every returning serviceman, dead, alive, or drug addicted, a hero. He held prayer breakfasts for them, and celebratory receptions for as many as he could crowd around his hearth.”[1] Moreover, like Milton Friedman and others, he questioned the validity of the draft. “Why can’t we evolve a program of voluntary service? I don’t want the … [Read more...]

Transforming the Military Amidst Austerity: The 1970s and the All Volunteer Army in Jennifer Mittelstadt’s The Rise of the Military Welfare State (Part I)

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In 1974, in the wake of the nation’s retreat from Vietnam and the institution of the all volunteer military, President Gerald Ford and Congress agreed to end the long-standing G.I. Bill. It cost too much, critics suggested, particularly in an era of austerity. Moreover, veterans no longer needed it. In the context of a volunteer force, many argued, soldiers would make careers of the military and the adjustment to civilian life in peace time would not be so severe as to warrant the costly provisions of the bill. Needless to say, army leaders sharply disagreed, warning that the number and quality of recruits would decline. “I told you I could make the volunteer army work, but I never told you … [Read more...]

The Somme at 99: WWI, Death, and the Trap of Technology

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“The nearer to the Front one goes, naturally, the more blasted the countryside becomes. Beyond Roeselare, the land grows crater scarred, crisscrossed with collapsing trenches and pocked with burnt patches where not even weeds take root. The few trees still standing here and there are, when you touch them, lifeless charcoal. The skein of green on the land seems less nature revivified, more nature mildewed … farmers still daren’t plow the land for fear of unexploded ordinance. One cannot pass by without thinking of the density of men in the ground. Any moment, the order to charge would be given, and infantrymen well up from the earth, brushing off the powdery soil. The thirteen years since … [Read more...]

Remembering a Forgotten War: Memorial Day and World War I

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In a recent visit to Kansas City, I took the opportunity to visit the National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial. I found it rather odd that the national museum and memorial to the Great War were located in Kansas City and not D.C. or an East Coast location. However, upon further investigation the location made sense. Kansas City was an entrepôt and depot for soldiers heading to training camps in the East and Midwest. From there, the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force travelled to France and the trenches of the Western Front. As Memorial Day approached, it was an interesting time to visit the museum and memorial. The museum was busying itself for the approaching holiday … [Read more...]

Jeff Davis’s Ghost: The Long Battle over the Memory of the Civil War

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History versus heritage? Memory versus history? Whose history and why? These questions are currently brewing a controversy at the University of Texas-Austin campus. The controversy swirls around a statue of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America. The turn-of-the-century statue is being hotly contested because of its association with a certain memory of the Civil War and for the heritage it represents. To opponents of the statue, Davis represents a racist past – one incongruous with a multicultural present. Those battling to preserve the statue, namely the Sons of Confederate Veterans, claim that the Davis statue represents a piece of heritage. Contestations over … [Read more...]

Northern Virginia and Cold War Covert Capital

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The covert actions of the US government abroad, and their domestic ramifications, have drawn an increasing amount of attention from journalists and the general public. Yet for decades historians like Thomas Bender and Amy Kaplan have mined similar territory in an effort to debunk the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and to demonstrate how US foreign policy reshape demographics, national culture, and local politics.[1] In Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, Andrew Friedman demonstrates how CIA skullduggery in Vietnam, Central America, and Iran intersected with burgeoning post-World War II suburbanization in Northern … [Read more...]

The American Military: Nineteen Histories about War, Society, and the U.S. Military’s Influence on the Nation

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Even today, the category of military history still elicits a bit of head scratching. Our own John Southard noted as much in a 2012 essay for ToM: “Crayons, Fraternities, and Military History.” Southard pointed out that in the last throes of the twentieth century and the first decade of the new millennium, there existed among historians a great deal of doubt regarding the efficacy of military history. At the 1997 meeting for the Society of Military History, John Lynn publicly confided that one of his University of Illinois colleagues inquired, in the best voice of academic condescension one can imagine, if military historians “write in crayon.” At the 2008 meeting of the American Historical … [Read more...]

“Capital within a Capital”: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

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“That flag is the symbol of the spirit of the refu­gee,” Springfield resident and Vietnamese American talk show host Liem D Bui told journalists in 2012. The flag to which Bui referred is that of the fallen South Vietnam government and it along with an American flag fly over Eden Center shopping plaza in Falls Church, VA, a symbolic embodiment of Vietnamese American culture that some call “a capital within a capital,” for D.C.’s 80,000 residents of Vietnamese descent. Unfortunately, in recent years, the shopping center has garnered attention for more than its restaurants and markets. A murder-suicide left two men dead in July of 2012 and gambling raids in 2011 linked Eden Center and its flag … [Read more...]

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