- Army of Hope, Army of Alienation: Culture and Contradiction in the American Army Communities of Cold War Germany
Anthropologist and career Army Reserve officer John P. Hawkins has produced a study of U.S. Army communities in West Germany during the 1980s, a decade of achievement for the Army as it went from a demoralized and cynical “hollow force” to perhaps the best combat force in U.S. history. In spite of the Army’s success in turning itself around, Hawkins paints a gloomy picture of military life in Army of Hope, Army of Alienation. He suggests that soldiers and their families began their assignments in Germany with enthusiasm but that differences between civilian values of individualism, privacy, and freedom and those of army culture—group identity, hierarchy, and obedience—spawned discontent and alienation.
Hawkins served on active duty in West Germany from 1986 to 1988, during which time he interviewed soldiers and family members living in a pseudonymous military community. He characterizes his subjects as motivated, ambitious, and ready to make sacrifices for what they saw as a vital mission. He then details the many ways the Army abused this reservoir of good will, beginning with the transfer to West Germany. The move was stressful, Hawkins writes, because the Army did not do enough to prepare and support families and allowed the process to become unnecessarily difficult and confusing. The Army created a poor first impression that tended to linger, and those who were stationed in West Germany for a year or more passed on their bitter experience to newcomers. As Hawkins puts it, “the anxious were socialized by the disgruntled” (p. 63).
When they arrived in West Germany, Army personnel found themselves in a community with no separation between work and private life. Officers spent an inordinate amount of time on family matters: “traffic tickets, notices of overdue library books, bank problems, German landlord grievances—all crossed the commander’s desk,” Hawkins writes (p. 155). But because most Americans had no knowledge of [End Page 149] German language or culture, they generally did not venture into the local community. The Army promised that it would “take care of its own,” providing benefits like housing, health care, childcare, shopping, and recreation. Unfortunately, Hawkins discovered, the Army often failed to live up to its commitments. Family members angrily described to him inadequate and even dangerously deficient support services.
Hawkins is thorough and sympathetic in detailing the unique stresses of Army life overseas, but his book raises many questions. First is the issue of context. As a work of anthropology, not history, the book examines military society in West Germany during a particular time, but its conclusions are less insightful than they might have been if they were firmly placed in the context of historical trends. For instance, Hawkins discusses the unappealing plight of military spouses, mostly women, who resented their dependence on their active-duty sponsors. This resentment may be understandable, but it should be viewed in the context of women’s changing roles in the 1980s, a decade in which the efforts of first-wave feminists were coming to fruition. Young spouses in the Army of the 1980s confronted a system set up in the 1950s and earlier. Army spouses in the 1950s reacted to their status differently. Likewise, Hawkins does not discuss the impact of the “new Cold War” of the 1980s precipitated by the modernization of both missile forces deployed by the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The tension that added urgency to the job in the 1980s was not “typical” of the Cold War military in West Germany. Instead, it was the product of a specific time and set of circumstances.
But if this is the quibbling of a historian, another question concerns methodology. Hawkins does not explain how or why he chose his interviewees, nor does he describe his interview protocol or consider important quantitative studies of military communities in Germany, including several large-scale surveys conducted...