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The Sexual Economy of War

The Sexual Economy of War: Discipline and Desire in the U.S. Army

Andrew Byers
Copyright Date: 2019
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    The Sexual Economy of War
    Book Description:

    In The Sexual Economy of War, Andrew Byers argues that in the early twentieth century, concerns about unregulated sexuality affected every aspect of how the US Army conducted military operations. Far from being an exercise marginal to the institution and its scope of operations, governing sexuality was, in fact, integral to the military experience during a time of two global conflicts and numerous other army deployments.

    In this revealing study, Byers shows that none of the issues related to current debates about gender, sex, and the military-the inclusion of LGBTQ soldiers, sexual harassment and violence, the integration of women-is new at all. Framing the American story within an international context, he looks at case studies from the continental United States, Hawaii, the Philippines, France, and Germany. Drawing on internal army policy documents, soldiers' personal papers, and disciplinary records used in criminal investigations,The Sexual Economy of War illuminates how the US Army used official policy, legal enforcement, indoctrination, and military culture to govern wayward sexual behaviors. Such regulation, and its active opposition, leads Byers to conclude that the tension between organizational control and individual agency has deep and tangled historical roots.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-3645-2
    Subjects: Military Studies, American Studies, Psychology, Gender Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Society, Sexuality, and the U.S. Army in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 1-20)

    In June 1900, William B. Johnson published a sensational exposé, entitled “The Administration’s Brothels in the Philippines,” that alleged the U.S. Army had established a network of brothels in the Philippines for the exclusive use of American soldiers. The American League of Philadelphia, a group that opposed U.S. overseas expansion, soon republished Johnson’s piece as a pamphlet entitled The Crowning Infamy of Imperialism, which garnered national attention, blasting the army for its immorality and urging the McKinley administration to withdraw its forces from the islands.¹ Three months later, American newspapers and moral reform organizations began publishing the “Custer Henderson Letter,”...

  2. Chapter 1 “Conduct of a Nature to Bring Discredit upon the Military Service”: Fort Riley, Kansas, 1898–1940
    (pp. 21-55)

    The U.S. Army experienced tremendous change in the early decades of the twentieth century.¹ We see all of those changes playing out at Fort Riley in Kansas in this era: growth and transformation in the size, scope, and demographics of the army and the men who served in it; professionalization and institutional transformation in response to the massive changes wrought by World War I; and heated domestic debates surrounding morality and health, and how the army would revolutionize its legal system to accommodate these conceptual changes. Because Fort Riley was an old, established U.S. Army post in the Midwest by...

  3. Chapter 2 “Benevolent Assimilation” and the Dangers of the Tropics: The American Occupation of the Philippines, 1898–1918
    (pp. 56-92)

    These two statements reveal starkly contrasting perspectives on the United States’ early venture into empire. Publicly, President McKinley promoted a policy of “benevolent assimilation,” in which American civilization would overcome barbarism, transforming the Philippines into a facsimile of the United States. The soldier, theoretically sent overseas to realize these ideals, privately asserted that his mission was instead to violently overturn Filipino racial and sexual order.¹ These contrasting notions highlight the conflicting means and ends of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. During the American occupation, U.S. soldiers displayed many of the “uncivilized” traits imperialists attributed to Filipinos. U.S. soldiers learned to...

  4. Chapter 3 “Come Back Clean”: Camp Beauregard and the Commission on Training Camp Activities in Louisiana, 1917–1919
    (pp. 93-127)

    By the onset of American intervention in World War I, the Progressive movement had reached its pinnacle of influence in the United States. Progressives shared a commitment to reforming American government and society, with the desire for moral reform a unifying concern. Progressives tended to have great faith in the power of a reformed American state to impose sweeping, cleansing changes across all aspects of American society. They believed that public and private life were indivisible and that the state should do more to ensure the moral and social welfare of its citizens.¹ As the United States entered the war...

  5. Chapter 4 “Complete Continence Is Wholly Possible”: The U.S. Army in France and Germany, 1917–1923
    (pp. 128-162)

    While the U.S. Army engaged in many significant deployments in the first four decades of the twentieth century, only one, the AEF sent to Europe during World War I, involved a major conventional war that required massive conscription and national military-industrial mobilization. U.S. intervention in World War I brought about the opportunity—and the perceived need—to intervene in the sexual economy of war on a vast, unprecedented scale during wartime. During the course of the American war effort, a total of 4,734,991 American men served in the armed forces. Of these, 2,810,296 were conscripted under the Selective Service Act...

  6. Chapter 5 The “Racial (and Sexual) Maelstrom” in Hawaii, 1909–1940
    (pp. 163-199)

    As in other locales, the U.S. Army in Hawaii was concerned about the problems that sex could cause for the institution, and it created a series of medical and legal interventions to mitigate the damage. These problems often occurred when soldiers’ sexual misconduct was embarrassing or scandalous, or when it caused conflicts with local civilians in the communities surrounding the army’s bases (for example, sexual harassment of local women or disputes with civilian men over women). Soldiers’ sexual activities might also damage unit readiness, as in the case of soldiers who contracted venereal diseases. Sexual misconduct could create morale problems—...

  7. Conclusion: Ongoing Concerns with Soldiers’ Sexualities and Sexual Cultures
    (pp. 200-212)

    This pithy but illuminating vulgarity has been variously attributed to Civil War generals J. E. B. Stewart, Philip Sheridan, and William T. Sherman, as well as World War II commander George S. Patton.¹ The statement is apocryphal but has nevertheless become part of the popular mythos surrounding the American military and its historic attitudes toward soldiers and sex. It appears, however, that this quotation has never been attributed to John J. Pershing, or to any other U.S. military leader during the early twentieth century, a period in American military history unusual for its encouragement of sexual abstinence by soldiers, at...