- Restaging War in the Western World: Noncombatant Experiences, 1890–Today
Thoughts of war typically conjure images of soldiers in battle, but this collection of essays edited by Maartje Abbenhuis and Sara Buttsworth provides an alternative vantage point from which to view war. The essays focus on the experiences of noncombatants in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and the United States since the 1890s and seek to determine what those experiences reveal about war and military culture in times of both strife and peace. The collection’s central argument is that the effects of war often linger on in the lives of noncombatants long after the battles have ceased, and thus the perspectives of the men, women, and children who did not fight help explain not only the immediate consequences of war but also why militarism has remained a central feature of Western culture since the end of the nineteenth century. Covering three general topics–the experiences of noncombatants, remembrances of war, and peace activism–the collection decenters combat in its analysis of war, society, and culture.
The chapters on noncombatants include essays about Swedish women’s support for civil defense initiatives during the Second World War, war brides in New Zealand, and the children of Nazi collaborators in the Netherlands. Irene Andersson’s work on Swedish women reflects a body of literature that illustrates women’s participation in wartime mobilization. Her essay demonstrates that militarization in some form or another can even find its way into the culture of neutral nations. Examining the arrival of the new wives and young children of servicemen to New Zealand during and after the Second World War, Gabrielle Fortune contributes to a growing field of research on the relationships between overseas troops and local women. Ismee Tames’s chapter, the most intriguing of the three, raises questions about how children and notions of innocence are constructed in the context of war. Three chapters on remembrances of war analyze how militarism becomes part of cultures in peacetime. Mark Potter studies commemorations of the U.S. Civil War as attempts to instill martial ideals in a people not at war. David Rosen examines constructions of the child soldier, while Sara Buttsworth analyzes representations of war in youth literature. Karen Hall argues that war play eventually can move a society away from militarization if parents and toymakers use war toys to instruct children on the dangers of combat. Finally, Penelope Adams Moon and Suellen Murray contribute the two essays on peace activism. Moon analyzes American women’s anti-Vietnam War protests, while Murray studies Australian women’s opposition to the U.S. military presence in Australia and its coastal waters in the 1980s. As a collection, the book’s nine chapters provide a glimpse at scholarly efforts to expand the view of war beyond combat and soldiers’ experiences, and it would be useful in graduate and upper-level undergraduate classes about war’s impact on societies and cultures.
Although the scholarship is solid, there are two areas in which the book disappoints. First, although the book’s title makes it clear that its focus is on the [End Page 1350] Western world, because so much of Western warfare since the 1890s engaged the nonwestern world, voices from outside the West are crucial to understanding the impact of Western war on noncombatants. Second, the editors’ agenda distracts from the valuable historical work most of the essays do. Both the introduction and the last chapter stress the editors’ opposition to militarized culture, and such a forceful statement of agenda can influence readers’ processing of the information contained in the bulk of the essays. Yet despite these faults, the book encourages readers to think beyond the battlefields and thus makes an important contribution to the expansion of military history.