- Over There: Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present
The historiography of the military is a strange field. To some it is the last scholarly enclave of male and masculine fantasies of heroism in need of continuous reiteration. To others it is battle minutiae in disguise. Second only to cookbooks, its popularity is greatest among (overwhelmingly male) Anglo-American readers. Most historians look at military historiography with some measure of disdain and/or ignorance.c In contrast to military history, military sociology/ethnography is a small field populated by a dozen or so (mostly female and feminist) scholars. Such feminist scholarship on military matters deals primarily with the victims of military establishments and wars. While in some ways treading in the footsteps of Cynthia Enloe's pathbreaking scholarshipc on the numerous and varied mechanisms and modes of militarization, Over There quite uniquely engages an in-between heretofore almost entirely alien to scholarly inquiry: the volume focuses on the moments when and places where the U.S. military and foreign local populations encounter one another professionally, politically, romantically, and sexually within and around American military installations abroad. The volume is disturbingly timely for a number of reasons. First, since the Cold War, the bulk of U.S. military power—90 percent of its troops—has been anchored in Germany, South Korea, and Japan, with about 65,000 troops in Japan and Korea and an equal number stationed in Germany in 2005. Second, military bases fall between all the scholarly cracks, as neither American international relations specialists nor area specialists of the countries concerned perceive such extraterritorial military installations to fall within their purview. Third, about twenty years after the more or less formally declared end of the Cold [End Page 478] War, the United States maintains military bases in 150 countries, a fact that is largely marginalized in national media coverage on America's sprawling military reach, which is focused firmly on the troops or their loved ones at home and particularly their heroism and willingness to sacrifice and how the troops represent those qualities that are best about America.
The authors find three very different models of power relations between the U.S. military and host societies: West Germany, with the most egalitarian arrangement; South Korea, with the most unequal one; and Japan (and Okinawa), roughly in the middle of the continuum. As the authors convincingly show, the shape of these power relations matter a great deal for U.S. military interactions with civilian societies, be it in terms of gender, race, or regime—that is, whether they take place within the context of a democratic society, as in West Germany, or a society governed by a repressive military dictatorship, as, until recently, in South Korea.
The twelve chapters of the book are organized in four parts: "Monitored Liaisons: Local Women and GIs in the Making of Empire," "Civilian Entanglements with the Empire: American and Foreign Women Abroad and at Home," "Talking Back to the Empire: Local Men and Women," and "The Empire under Siege: Racial Crisis, Abuse, and Violence." The two editors, Maria Höhn, a historian of Germany, and Seungsook Moon, a sociologist of Korea, each have written four of the twelve chapters, complemented by chapters written by two historians and one anthropologist of Japan (Michiko Takeuchi, Christopher Nelson, and Chris Ames), one U.S. historian (Donna Alvah), one women and gender studies specialist (Robin Riley), and one anthropologist and former member of U.S. Army Special Forces (Jeff Bennett). Collectively, the authors highlight the "uneven social costs that are imposed on host communities, the unintended consequences of imperial expansions, and the eruptions of disorder and violence" (p.11).
The question of the sociopolitical impact of a large foreign military presence, particularly when composed primarily of single young men, constitutes a subcurrent throughout the volume and is directly addressed in some chapters. Several fascinating contributions by...