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Anthropological Quarterly 76.4 (2003) 823-825



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Catherine Lutz. Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002. pp. 328

The "Military City" of the subtitle is Fayetteville, North Carolina, location of Fort Bragg, one of the nation's largest military installations and home to the 82nd Airborne Division. Fayetteville and Bragg exist as more than simply a large case study in Lutz's examination of the military and American culture; their intertwined history serves as a cautionary tale about the harmful effects that military culture can infuse into the civilian world. This is not a book about the culture of the military, or its history. Instead, Dr. Lutz is writing about a facet of the military often neglected, the effects the military has had on the civilian culture which surrounds it. In war and peace, there are more than just soldiers—wives, businesses, politicians and civilian employees in towns like Fayetteville bear much of the cost of hot wars, cold wars and no wars. In her presentation of these people, Dr. Lutz presents an insightful, if limited, social history of civil-military interactions.

Lutz is very critical of military culture, and she presents a large amount of data, from a dizzying array of sources—interviews, public records, primary sources—in support of her contention that America as a whole has been dependent on an oversized and insidiously influential military. Lutz does not restrict her examination or conclusions to Fayetteville, which is a plus, since saying that the military has a great deal of influence in Fayetteville is much like observing that the car industry [End Page 823] is very influential in Detroit. Bragg dominates the town, as more than just its largest employer, and Lutz finds this relationship has been harmful to Fayetteville. By the end of Homefront we know that what has happened in Fayetteville is the most extreme example of what has happened all over the country.

Since Pearl Harbor, America has looked to the military to do more than merely defend borders and ward off direct attack. The military has become an ideological tool, extending the role of the US abroad, and reshaping other nations in the process. The common view is that the military, and the men and women who serve in it, has been altered to fit this relatively new role. It's American society, however, that has undergone the larger change in order to accommodate a larger, more diverse, and far more politically significant military. Lutz finds that rather than imbuing the military with the basics of American Civil Society, the trend moves the other way as military doctrine and principles corrupt the nation which they serve.

All of Lutz's observations are quite astute, and her passion for her subject comes through in many ways. Cold War America was one divided into two extremes, Us vs. Them, and this attitude has limited American culture's ability to think about the world as more than these two extremes. In a very stimulating passage, Dr. Lutz laments the loss of alternative modes of thought, a world of resources, a world of needs, or a world of freedom. Dr. Lutz's descriptions of Fayetteville are equally artistic, miles of strip malls and strip clubs dominate the landscape, once fertile farmland is ruined by military tests and trials. It is obvious that Dr. Lutz cares very deeply for what she feels has been lost to the military machine of Fort Bragg, and she can evoke these images with a style that makes it easy for a reader to share her vision.

Unfortunately, Dr. Lutz's passion sometimes overcomes her objectivity in such a way as to reduce the value of this text for scholars of the military. Foremost among these very explicit assumptions is the belief that the military is corrupting influence on society. The reasoning for this assumption is simply stated: when a country selects and trains a group of men to kill, one of the most violent forms of anti-social behavior, it attempts to cordon off those men from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1518
Print ISSN
0003-5491
Pages
pp. 823-825
Launched on MUSE
2003-11-07
Open Access
No
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