war/military

In Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq, John Dower discusses how the U.S. responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Militarily, it pushed the U.S. into officially entering World War II, but Dower is just as interested in cultural responses, particularly efforts to stigmatize all U.S. residents of Japanese descent as unpatriotic or even traitorous.

A prime example of this is the film December 7th, created by John Ford, legendary director of classics such as Stagecoach and The Grapes of Wrath. The first version of the film was 82 minutes long. In it, an idealistic figure representing the U.S. talks with “C,” a figure meant to represent his conscience. Uncle Sam naively believes the racial and ethnic diversity of Hawaii isn’t a problem, but C helps him see that the large Japanese American population is a threat, even when they appear to be loyal, patriotic, assimilated Americans. Japanese-language telephone books and newspapers are ominously shown as evidence of their lack of true American-ness. Start at about 8:40:

The message is unequivocal: Japanese Americans are untrustworthy, and any actions or behaviors that seems to indicate that a Japanese American is loyal to the U.S. provides potential evidence of just how deceitful they are — they cover their treachery with an appearance of patriotism. At around 18:25, Uncle Sam tries to defend freedom of religion, but C patiently explains the problem with this view. C says he’s not saying all Japanese Americans are disloyal, but that he’s “just presenting the facts,” and can’t be responsible for separating the loyal from the disloyal.

Ford cut the film down to 34 minutes before releasing it. This shortened version of December 7th won the 1943 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject:

The attack scene from December 7th is often assumed to be actual documentary footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but Dower points out that it was almost entirely staged by Ford, since there was almost no existing film of the surprise attack available.

Dower also discusses the animated Disney film Victory through Air Power. The film was based on the book Victory through Air Power, by Alexander Seversky. Seversky’s book justifies bombing non-combatant targets as a way to demoralize the enemy and disrupt supply lines and communication. Civilians would no longer be seen as inherently off-limits for military operations. The film served as propaganda for this view, which increasingly took hold in the U.S. military, eventually justifying dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

You can find the entire film on Youtube, but the most relevant segment is at the end; the widespread bombing of (noticeably resident-free) Japanese cities is presented as key to a glorious victory by the U.S.:

These films served to justify military strategies (internment camps and bombing non-military targets) that could have faced stiff resistance by drawing on popular fears in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. In both cases, they widened the circle of legitimate potential targets of war-related government actions to not just Japanese soldiers and government officials but to the entire civilian population of Japan, as well as anyone with Japanese ancestry living in the U.S.

The College Board has released data from an initiative with the aim of better understanding the educational pathways of men of color.  Their site includes testimonials from many of these men, in addition to the data below.  And they included Native American men, a group almost always left out of quantitative data analysis because they are such a small percent of total Americans (in a profound and tragic irony).  Here’s the data on what each group of men are doing after high school.

About 1/3 of African American and Hispanic men are enrolling in some sort of college, another 34 and 47%, respectively, face unemployment.  A significant proportion go straight into work.  The 5% incarceration rate for Hispanics, and the 10% rate for Blacks, is a sad testimony to the over-policing of poor, urban neighborhoods, racial profiling, and emphasis on prosecuting the crimes of the poor.

Native American men are significantly less likely than Black men to go to college or vocational school.  They are most likely to straight into a job or be unemployed.  While not all all Native American men live on reservations — not by a long shot, those that do are more likely to be unemployed because of the dismal economic profiles of many of these regions.

Asian men are more likely to enter postsecondary education than either Native American or Black men, but the 61% is balanced by a good 30% ending up unemployed.  This reflects the diversity of the Asian community.  Some Asian groups do very well in the U.S. — e.g., Japanese and Asian Indians — others are still struggling — e.g., Hmong and the Vietnamese.

The charts below compare men and women in each group.  Each, with the exception of Native Americans, reveals the feminization of postsecondary education and the relative advantage women see in the market (mostly because we’ve got a strong service economy that hires women disproportionately).

Hat tip to Sociology Lens.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a New York Times slideshow of the contents of “MREs” from different countries.   MREs stands for “Meals Ready to Eat”; they are combat rations for soldiers. The rations are each some combination of comfort food, nutrition, and necessity.  And the different contents across countries reveal some interesting similarities and differences.

All MREs include some sort of meat, but the type and form of the meat vary, from meatballs to paté.  Meanwhile, almost all of the MREs include candy; it’s probably cheap, in the big scheme of things, to throw a few skittles, m&ms, or squares of chocolate, but what a treat it must be.  Likewise, the fruit-flavored beverages and tea must be a taste of home.  As for practicality, countries vary in whether they provide moist towelettes, toothpicks, tooth brushes.   Most offer matches; the U.S. includes toilet paper.

That said, the content of rations are also strikingly consistent.  I’ve love to see a flow chart tracing the development of MREs.  Were the logics for these rations developed in isolation?  Or were some countries influential over others?

These are my uneducated observations.  Feel free to offer more informed thoughts in the comments.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Comedians exercise a curious privilege, which allows them to peddle controversial conclusions and uncomfortable insights without suffering the usual scorn and admonishment that comes with challenging systems of power or bringing indelicate knowledge about the world to the surface. For instance, the suggestion that Americans are deeply divided by race and class usually causes people to fidget, yet Chris Rock was greeted with laughter and applause when he unabashedly criticized the racialized wealth gap in the United States. Similarly, Louis C.K. received a rousing applause when he discussed his privilege as a white male, and Hari Kondabolu made an entire room burst into laughter by exposing the nonsensical logic underlying stereotypes aimed at Mexican immigrants.

But comedy is just as likely to reinforce stereotypes as it is to criticize them. Consider Jeff Dunham’s act featuring his popular dummy, “Achmed the Dead Terrorist.” In the clip below, from a 2007 performance, Dunham draws upon a number of stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims, many of which have been around since well before the attacks on September 11th, 2001:

Dunham is not deploying social criticism, but is instead uncritically drawing on racist representations for laughs. Arabs and Muslims, like the Achmed character, are typically portrayed as religious fanatics. They are often depicted as irrationally angry, even as self-proclaimed terrorists. But if they are dangerous, they are dangerous buffoons and are often too incompetent to pull off their own deadly plots.

Comedians can be understood as articulators of knowledge about the world. They contribute to the persistence of stereotypes at times, but can also articulate convincing arguments against them. This holds for other types of comedic performance as well. Political cartoons, comedy sketches, and even situation comedies all peddle indelicate knowledge about the racialized Other. For instance, in “Ali-Baba Bound,” a Looney Tunes cartoon from 1940, Porky Pig runs up against Ali-Baba and his “Dirty Sleeves.” The humor is constructed around a basic scaffolding of the Arab as dirty and sneaky. They are too primitive to competently use rockets and must strap explosives to their heads:

The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor the following year ignited a discursive explosion surrounding the Japanese, those living in America and abroad; for a time Arabs and Muslims occupied a relatively small sliver of American concern. It is striking how eerily similar representations of Japanese persons were to those of Arabs and Muslims. However, fed by photographic evidence of the destruction of Pearl Harbor and the tangible realities associated with the American war machine, dominant representations of the treacherous Japanese Other went further and faster. Each representation of the “Jap” became more and more fanciful, each illustration seemingly emboldened by the last to push the caricature even further.

Celebrated children’s author Dr. Seuss published a cartoon only weeks before the United States would forcibly relocate 120,000 ethnic Japanese persons living in the United States to internment camps. The cartoon depicts a buck-toothed, fifth column of Japanese Americans lining up from Washington to California for their very own box of TNT. A man scales the rooftop of the explosives depot “waiting for the signal from home.”

Or consider a Looney Tunes cartoon from the period, “Tokio Jokio,” which similarly presents Japanese people with buck teeth and buffoonish behavior:

Whereas the Seuss cartoon presents extant fears about a treacherous Japanese enemy living among us, the Looney Tunes cartoon lampoons them as bumbling idiots. In the Seuss cartoon, their tribal-like loyalties to the Emperor mean they are capable of doing just about anything, but in the Looney Tunes cartoon they are too incompetent to prevent their own Fire Prevention Headquarters from burning to the ground. Such seemingly contradictory representations permeated the American imagination of the time, alternately stoking anxieties while assuring Americans of their national and even racial superiority.

These racist representations aimed at the Japanese were not buried by the detonation of two atomic bombs over Japanese cities; they have proven to be free-floating and transferable to our emergent enemies. Today, Arabs and Muslims are routinely depicted in comedy as incompetent. They are again the bumbling idiots, simultaneously too stupid to successfully perpetrate an attack and just stupid enough to commit truly heinous crimes. The imagined fifth column has become the terrorist sleeper cell. In 1942 we feared Japanese Americans were blindly loyal to “their” Emperor. Today we are bombarded with ideas about the tribal loyalties of American Muslims. So powerful are these loyalties, it is often suggested, Muslims would happily kill themselves to bring about the demise of Western civilization. The fanatical Middle Eastern suicide bomber is the new banzai charger and Japanese Kamikazi pilot.

A joke making the rounds of the internet goes something like this: “A friend of mine has started a new business. He’s manufacturing land mines that look like prayer mats. It’s doing well. He says prophets are going through the roof.” This joke, Dunham’s comedy sketch, and the Looney Tunes cartoons all mark historical moments when the racialized Other became so thoroughly demonized and devalued in the public consciousness, our undifferentiated “enemies” became so feared for their treachery and immorality, that it became possible to make light of hypothetical and real violence perpetrated against them. One might speculate that it is strangely intoxicating to spot the boogieman tripping on his shoelaces, embarrassing himself, or dying by his own venom. The Achmed character’s tired threat, “I kill you!” is funny, perhaps, because his voice cracks like a thirteen-year-old boy, and we are entertained by the irony that someone so evil could appear so weak.

This comedy, which uncritically trades in the negative stereotypes aimed at Arabs and Muslims and is able to make an audience laugh at references to suicide bombing, is only possible because Arabs and Muslims have been successfully demonized and devalued. Comedians write jokes to get laughs, but they also operate from a space which grants them temporary license to openly discuss controversial ideas. Comedians contribute to the discourse, just as readily they respond to it, and their sets are just as capable of exposing hidden discrimination as reinforcing it.

Lester Andrist is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park, specializing in the role of social capital and personal networks in finding jobs in India and Taiwan and cultural representations of groups in indefinite detention. He is a co-editor of the website The Sociological Cinema, where a longer version of this post first appeared.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

We have posted in the past about pre-World War II uses of the swastika as a symbol of good luck, a meaning that the Nazis’ appropriation of the swastika makes nearly inconceivable today. Matthieu S., who teaches anthropology at Vanier College in Montreal, sent in another example, a scan of a postcard he owns that was printed in the 1920s. The postcard, meant for a dad’s birthday, also includes pink-tinted flowers — evidence of a time when pink was considered a perfectly appropriate color for men and boys:

World War II and the atrocities of the Nazi party obviously significantly changed interpretations of both the formerly-benign swastika and the color pink. Pink wasn’t abandoned altogether, as the swastika was, but the Nazi’s use of pink to label gay and lesbian prisoners led pink to be stigmatized as effeminate and, thus, an inappropriate color for men…and over time it instead became the epitome of symbols of femininity.

We’ve posted previously about the ways in which World War II posters aimed at U.S. soldiers warned against “venereal disease” (what we now know as sexually transmitted infections) by personifying them as dangerous, diseased women.  Molly W. and Jessica H. have shown us to a new source of propaganda posters, so now seems as good a time to revisit the phenomenon.  In our previous post, I articulated the problem as follows:

Remember, venereal disease is NOT a woman. It’s bacteria or virus that passes between women and men. Women do not give it to men. Women and men pass it to each other. When venereal disease is personified as a woman, it makes women the diseased, guilty party and men the vulnerable, innocent party.

This first poster is an excellent example.  In it, the woman is synonymous with death:

In other posters, women are simply seen as the diseased party.  Concern that a soldier might pass disease to “pick ups” and “prostitutes” is unspoken.  This is funny, given that the reason for this propaganda was sky-high rates of VD among soldiers.




So “pick ups” and “prostitutes” were seen as vectors of disease.  They were the guilty party.  In contrast, wives are portrayed as innocent.  Another example of the dividing of women into virgins and whores:


Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Trigger warning for those sensitive to war, suicide, domestic violence, or people suffering from war-related ptsd.

Generations of U.S. children have played with the iconic little green army men.  Along with other war toys, they contribute to the socialization of some young boys into the idea that war is an exciting and heroic adventure.

(source)

An artist at the Dorothy Collective decided to reconfigure the little green army men so that they would tell the less glamorous stories.  Inspired by an article about the suffering of a Colorado Springs-based battalion, she created these little green army men:

They’re a heart-wrenching commentary about the grown up realities of war and the socialization of children into the fantasy.  Thanks to Hope H. for the tip.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Recently at Feministing, Maya Dusenbery wrote about an ad from Germany’s International Human Rights campaign that, as she put it, is “a lesson in how not to advocate for women’s rights.”

The translation of the text is “Oppressed women are easily overlooked. Please support us in the fight for their rights.”

As Dusenbery writes,

It seems the folks who created this ad not only have a hard time seeing agency but actually went out of their way to erase it as thoroughly as possible and then stomp on it some more. And then equated women who wear the burqa with bags of trash. Literally.

I completely agree, and would like to add some broader context.  This is not at all surprising, given the recent of attempts in the West to obscure the agency of Muslim women in juxtaposition to their white, Western saviors. One of the more blatant examples of this was the discourse of the United States government that it was going to war in Afghanistan in part to save Afghan women from the Taliban. Laura Shepherd argued in an excellent 2006 article in The International Feminist Journal of Politics (which I’vecited before) that the US discursively constructed Afghan women as the “Helpless Victim” that was submissive and lacking agency, under the oppressive control of the “Irrational Barbarian.” This discourse, was used, of course, to posit the United States (specifically, its military) as the saviors who could rectify the situation for these women. Much as the agency of the women in the German PSA was erased, this narrative denied the agency of Afghan women, who, as Shepherd writes, are afforded “only pity and a certain voyeuristic attraction” (p. 20).

Of course, this specific discourse hasn’t ended. As this TIME Magazine cover from last year shows, it continues to serve as a means of justifying the US occupation of Afghanistan.

(Cover to the August 9, 2010 edition of TIME)

This discourse assumes, obviously, that the US presence in Afghanistan is a clear benefit for women in the country, a position at least some women’s organizations in Afghanistan contest. Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing had an excellent post on this issue last summer.

I should also mention France’s recently-instituted ban on the full-faced veil, which Dusenbery argues – citing Jos Truitt – is a similar erasure of agency. I agree with her, and again would add that this fits in with this general (Orientalist) discourse about Muslim women, their uncivilized oppressors, and their White saviors.

John McMahon is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he also participates in the Women’s Studies Certificate Program.  He is interested in post-structuralism, issues relating to men and feminism, gendered practices in international relations, gender and political theory, and questions of American state identity.  John blogs at Facile Gestures, where this post originally appeared.

See also our post in which we criticize a set of public service ads that compared women the genital cutting to blow up sex dolls.