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  • Over There: Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present
  • Angela Wanhalla
Over There: Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present Edited by Maria Hohn and Seungsook Moon. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010.

World War II initiated a remarkable increase in American expansion post-1945 in the form of a formidable global network of military bases. At present such bases operate in 150 countries. As the editors of this fascinating collection emphasise, this was a concerted effort at military empire-building that began in the nineteenth century and rapidly expanded after World War II. In twelve essays Over There tells the story of American military expansion from 1945 to the present, drawing attention to the social and economic implications of military structures, processes, personnel and cultures for civilian communities overseas. The result is a dynamic collection of essays that seeks to incorporate the military more fully into interpretations of American imperialism, and to trace the ongoing legacies of its global presence.

The contributors to this absorbing and vibrant collection utilise gender, sexuality and race as organising concepts covering three key sites: Korea, Japan and West Germany. Maria Hohn and Seungsook Moon, who provide three chapters each, in addition to the introduction and conclusion, make up half the contributions to Over There, lending a measure of coherency and stability to the different voices, perspectives and approaches offered from history, sociology, gender studies, social anthropology, religious studies and cultural studies.

At the heart of the collection is the claim that the U.S. military is an "empire," and that this empire is composed of an integrated network of overseas military bases. Hohn and Moon lay out in fine detail how the military base framework developed and was sustained in the postwar era, which they characteriseas "America's global empire of bases" (3), for from 1945 to the present the U.S. military has been at the forefront of American expansion. The statistics are sobering. In 1942 the U.S. had 2,000 bases in over 100 countries. By 1957, there were 815 overseas military bases operating outside of the United States. In 2009, 700 U.S. military installations were in operation overseas with 140,000 soldiers, 20,000 civilian personnel, and a further 72,000 personnel working for the U.S. military in some capacity. Those 700 bases, although reduced from the number operating overseas in the Cold War era, are housed on 29 million acres (over 11 million hectare) of land. While the number of bases decreased significantly since 1942, the U.S. military still retains a significant territorial presence, and it has also gradually expanded into new territories.

The geographical focus of the collection is on Korea, Japan and West Germany because that is where "more than two-thirds of American overseas military bases and troops have been concentrated for the past six decades" (4). In searching for the complex social and economic encounters between military structures, personnel and host communities the editors have engaged with the rich scholarship on gender, sexuality, empire and cultural imperialism and sought to identify particular spaces of engagement, collaboration and contestation.

In Part 1 the range of relationships between foreign women and American military personnel is explored; another essay examines the role played by American military families as exemplars and exporters of American ideals and values; and dating practices and marriage in contemporary Okinawa are detailed, especially the social costs for the women. In Part 2 three essays paint a picture of civilians in contemporary South Korea and Okinawa, and in West Germany after the end of the occupation, focusing on American models of soldier masculinity and how civilian men in each place encountered, understood, challenged and co-opted that culture. The essays in Part 3 critique American military culture, which is "imbued with notions and practices of hyper-masculinity, as well as of cultural and racial superiority," and used to justify dehumanisation of "those who are outside its gender, sexual, and racial boundaries" (27).

This excellent and intellectually stimulating collection offers a nuanced interpretation of American military endeavour since 1945, demonstrates the social and economic impact...

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