- Engendering Responsibility and Citizenship in War
The field of critical war studies developed in the decades after the Vietnam War as scholars struggled to understand how Americans could have been led into that foreign policy disaster. “Militarization” offered an explanation, and it soon crystallized into something of a watchword in the literature. Over time, militarization—and its more culturally oriented cousin “militarism”—became more complicated and laden with meaning. The historian Michael Sherry, in his indispensable synthesis of the era, defined militarization as “the process by which war and national security became consuming anxieties and provided the memories, models, and metaphors that shaped broad areas of national life.” Critical war studies explored several interlocking themes: how war institutions and war cultures shape other institutions and cultures, how gender and sexuality are constructed by war, and vice versa, and how warfare produces and reproduces the nation-state and personhood (or citizenship) within it.
Recent works on war are indebted to this older set of conversations. Bringing a broader set of perspectives, scholars from other fields have turned their attention to the subject of war—more and more academics “do” military topics now. [End Page 163] Two of the books I discuss here take up the subject of the American military, in particular the US Army, as a vast social institution, incorporating into the narrative not only soldiers but also families and whole communities. Jennifer Mittelstadt, who wrote her first book on welfare reform and liberal policymaking in the United States, turns her discerning gaze toward the post–Vietnam army, in The Rise of the Military Welfare State. She examines the intersection of military service, citizenship, welfare, and entitlement in post-Vietnam America. It is the story of how the army created a vast social and economic safety net in order to recruit and retain volunteers, not only for the more than ten million Americans who volunteered to serve, but also remarkably for the tens of millions of family members in the wider military community. In an effort to make good on its old promise to “take care of its own,” the army constructed a welfare system modeled on a paternal “Army Family” (7).
This engaging history is an excellent companion to Kenneth MacLeish’s Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community, which is an on-the-ground ethnographic study of soldiers, military families, and the wartime community surrounding Fort Hood, Texas, at the height of the Iraq War. Big questions about citizenship, obligation, and soldiering in a liberal democracy are what drove MacLeish to Fort Hood, which is home to two combat divisions (the First Cavalry and the Fourth Infantry Division). From this context, he discovers that although Americans like to think of war and violence as regrettable interruptions to peace, they are in fact “fundamental to the exercise of power over human beings rather than regrettable exceptions to enlightened ideals” (9). Whereas Mittelstadt writes about how and why the military welfare state arose in the latter third of the twentieth century, MacLeish shows us what happens when the entire military community gets mobilized and is put to the destructive purposes of war.
The next two monographs engage with the aftermath and consequences of war, focusing on disabled soldiers and veterans. John Kinder’s Paying with Their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran seeks the origins of American anxieties over war and disability, and finds their roots in the Progressive Era and the aftermath of World War I. He argues that...