It was the early years of yet another postwar American era. My father had come home from the Indian, Burmese, British, and German war zones of World War II. My mother, who had spent most of the war as a de facto single mother, supplied solace for my father as he bumpily reentered civilian life. It was postwar peacetime, a time when my parents could take my brother and me on modest vacations. They both liked road trips. One of the family expeditions I most vividly remember was to the shores of Lake Champlain in upstate New York. The high point of the trip was a visit to Fort Ticonderoga. I must have been about ten years old. Just learning how to say “Ticonderoga” seemed like an adventure.
The fort began as a contested strategic site in 1755, when French and English colonial troops fought each other for control of what were then forested frontier regions, crisscrossed by valuable lake and river trade routes. Each warring European power had its own Native American allies. The fort became more famous several decades later as a battle site during the early years of the American Revolutionary War. In 1775 the heralded Green Mountain Boys of rebellious Vermont crossed the lake to seize the fort from the British. The fort thereafter was deemed of historic value, worthy of preservation, even in the early days of the Republic. It initially was the property of the state of New York, then owned and turned into a museum by a wealthy New York merchant family, and finally taken over by the federal government, which declared the fort a National Historic Landmark.1
Even prior to this designation, at the time my mother and father took my brother and me there, “Fort Ti” had become a popular destination for local tourists. It combined a romanticized American history narrative with a beautiful geographic site. I already would have known something about the American Revolution from my public elementary school history lessons, though I wouldn’t have grasped the murkier politics of the preceding French [End Page 529] and Indian War and certainly would not have been given much insight by my teachers into the tough strategic calculations each Native American tribe had had to make during both of these late eighteenth-century conflicts.
Surprisingly, looking back to this childhood visit to a military fort and battle site, what I most clearly remember were not the cannons or the beautiful lake views from atop the battlements but the interior museum displays—especially the uniforms. There were wool, slightly moth-eaten, but still distinctly red jackets fitted on headless manikins. Every American child knew about “the redcoats.” What struck girlhood me, though, was how short these British red-jacketed soldiers seemed to have been. I think that I even exclaimed to my mother at these military men’s short stature. They didn’t seem to be much taller than ten-year-old me. I learned something that day that, on the face of it, doesn’t seem particularly militarized: the average heights of people of seemingly the same national/racial “stock” could change dramatically over the centuries.
Perhaps because the Fort Ticonderoga restoration and museum then featured no battle reenactments and no paintings of bloody engagements, I didn’t come away from this early tourist adventure with any sense of violence, pain, or loss. I did absorb a sense of wartime victory, but it was rather vague. Perhaps that made its absorption all the more insidious. What I remember best, however, was that short male soldier’s faded red jacket.
Becoming a feminist makes one more reflective. That, of course, can be uncomfortable. When I first began investigating both the above-ground and subterranean processes by which women and men—and their gendered communities, workplaces, entertainments, and governments—became militarized, I had to think about the dynamics of my own girlhood and, even more discomforting, those of my parents’ marriage. I read my mother’s diary with fresh eyes. I thought about how my father’s military participation in World War II affected their relationship. I...