A fresh contribution to women’s history.

THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR

BRINGING HOME FRONT TO THE FRONT LINES

A military historian examines women’s volunteer efforts to support American troops.

An adviser to a PBS documentary on the United Service Organizations, Vuic (War, Conflict, and Society/Texas Christian Univ.; The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military, 2017, etc.) draws on extensive archival sources to create a thoroughly documented, anecdote-filled history of women’s roles as recreation program volunteers from World War I to the present. Besides illuminating women’s significance in military life, the author chronicles changes in assumptions about gender, sexuality, and race in American culture for the last 100 years. Under the auspices of the Red Cross, the USO, and the military’s Special Services, young women worked on bases and battlefields “to distract lonely men from war’s boredom and brutality,” serving as “representations of ideal femininity and womanhood, and as reminders of the civilian and domestic life to which the men would return.” Preferred volunteers were college-educated, attractive, vivacious, and independent, eager for the adventure of an overseas assignment. Above all, they needed “to embody a particular kind of middle-American wholesomeness” that would contrast favorably with scantily clad USO performers and “exotic, sexualized native women” such as prostitutes, who thronged around military bases. Volunteers cooked, handed out doughnuts, and danced with servicemen; however, they were warned, romance and sex were not in their job description. During the Vietnam War, the Red Cross rotated women often during their tour to keep them from becoming too close to soldiers. Some volunteers chafed at restrictions, which included living behind barbed-wire fences, obeying curfews, and never leaving camp alone. In 1973, the transition from conscription to the All-Volunteer Force meant that more families accompanied servicemen and servicewomen, changing the volunteers’ role from being “wholesome symbols of desire” to offering programs such as community centers and summer day camp. Still, even with increasing numbers of servicewomen, officials continued to sanction “hypersexualized entertainment,” evidence of the “conflicting, yet intertwined ways” that women have been used by the military.

A fresh contribution to women’s history.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-674-98638-1

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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