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  • Introduction: Homefront Frontlines and Transnational Geometries of Empire and Resistance
  • Deborah Cohler

What changes when we think about homefronts transnationally? What structures of power and resistance emerge?

Coined in England during World War I, the term “homefront” ties domesticity to militarism while constructing an imagined barrier between the life-threatening space of combat and the geographical foundation “at home” of the state waging war. On the one hand, homelands are spaces away from conflict, and thus of safety. On the other hand, the discursive militarizing of such spaces by making them a “front” enlists all civilians in the war effort.

Frontline, the linguistic partner of homefront, produces a separation of violent conflict from spaces of civilian life and harkens back to military stratagems of the past in which soldiers advanced toward one another to battle for territory in a linear fashion, with rules of engagement that predate urban warfare, drone strikes, and nuclear threat. Frontlines also imply a military rear detachment and layers of militarized power separating the civilian from the military. The term produces a geometry of warfare in which only those whose bodies are located at the front are supposedly directly impacted by combat.

Not only does the material work of homefront/frontline rhetoric erase the histories of women’s militarization and the militarization of everyday life (see Enloe 1989, 2000), but these geometries also produce a nostalgic ideology of war that bears no resemblance to the consequences of armed conflict. Notably, the discursive work of homefronts and frontlines denies the embedded impact of militarism in people’s lives and living spaces outside of protected spaces of bourgeois and imperialist enclaves.

As distinctions between peacetime and wartime become ever more permeable and with the proliferations of non-governmental militias, “third country nationals,” military contractors, military “humanitarianism,” and video streams of both urban warfare and anti-war activism circulating transnationally, geographic delineations of frontlines from homefronts become increasingly blurred. [End Page vii] Yet, homefronts continue to operate powerfully on levels of representation, ideology, and policy. Engaging the historically specific origins of homefronts, this volume traces the long tail of this ideological figuration of spaces of war and peace, masculine danger and feminized protection. Each contributor to this special issue interrogates how homefront ideologies produce gendered nationalisms during wartimes, mute civilian and military opposition to war, and domesticate the militarism of everyday life.

Homefronts function not only to incite nationalism in noncombatants, but also to frame violence geospatially, temporally, and politically. Geospatially, homefronts promote the fiction that violence occurs only beyond the domestic (national, household) realm. When this fiction is belied, attacks are read as exceptional breaches requiring exceptional military responses. While bombs landed across England during World War I, the British government sought to shore up England as a homefront, a domesticated space far from combat. German Zeppelin raids produced not only material damage and widespread fear, but occasions for national grievance for the attack on the nation’s home rather than on “legitimate” military targets. The US has adopted similar home-front logics. Temporally, homefront logics frame some military attacks on US territories as exceptional and temporally bounded—“homefront” attacks from Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, are memorialized as exceptional days “that will live in infamy” (Roosevelt 1941, n.p.). Other forms of state violence—frequent and ongoing militarized assaults on marginalized communities by the FBI, National Guard, state and local police—are politically normalized as law enforcement rather than combat, in the logics of homefronts. Finally, the twentieth-century rise of homefront rhetorics transformed British and US homes into gendered spaces of combat, though their combatants fight battles in kitchens and factories, rather than in trenches or from airplanes. The concept of a homefront relies, then, on the separation of combat from civilian geographies and the production of only certain people and communities as proper civilian citizens. If one’s home is a battleground, one cannot be on a homefront: it has become a war zone. And as such, homefront is, at least in its origins, a term of empire. Indeed, genealogically, the concept of a “homefront” is tied to an imperialist logic of locating warfare in...


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