VIRTUE UNDER FIRE: How Worm War H Changed Our Social and Sexual Attitudes by John Costello

VIRTUE UNDER FIRE: How Worm War H Changed Our Social and Sexual Attitudes

Email this review


This bills itself as an examination of the sexual aspect of WW II. No, not 300-plus pages on how guns are phallic symbols, although Costello does devote more than a few lines to Freudian theories on the link between violent and erotic impulses. What it does mean is a fact-laden, far-ranging account of the war's effect on the sexes and sexual roles--from women in war plants to homosexuals in the Army, from GI Joe's figurative embrace of pinup posters to his literal embrace of foreign brides. Focusing primarily on Britain and the US, Costello's premise is that war-induced changes, though often temporary, sowed the seeds of peacetime movements--Women's Lib, the sexual revolution, equal pay for equal work--that sprouted 20 years later and are still bearing fruit today. Indeed, thousands of Rosie the Riveters' demands for factory child-care facilities in 1943 strike a distinctly familiar chord in 1986. Unfortunately, Costello doesn't come near to proving or even arguing his thesis, offering a mess of statistics in place of an evocative analysis of the gradual shift away from prewar morals and mentality. Virtue Under Fire numbs with numbers: the divorce rate, the illegitimate-birth rate, the venereal disease rate (Costello seems especially obsessed with the latter, discussing the VD epidemic over three separate chapters). Our social and sexual attitudes are well-documented; how WW II changed them is not. Even so, amateur historians should delight in the historical, if not historic, gems uncovered here: tales of female fighter-pilots of the Soviet Union who ""put on pale lipstick before taking off for combat""; the failure of the US Women's Army Corps to reach its projected enlistment levels because WACs had a reputation for being loose or lesbian or both. And the quotes from those who lived through it are great, injecting emotion and humor into Costello's dry text. As one British housewife summed up the behavior of the period: ""We were not really immoral, there was a war on.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1986
Publisher: Little, Brown