Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beth Bailey's "America’s Army"

Beth Bailey is Professor of History at Temple University. A social/cultural historian of the 20th century United States, her research has focused on the history of gender and sexuality and on war and society/military institutions in US history.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, America's Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force, and reported the following:
Is it absolutely necessary to call it a “test”? I fear that page 99 of America’s Army may have earned a borderline grade: it doesn’t capture the book as a whole, outline a key argument, or show off any of my favorite passages. It’s mainly a transition page. I wind up a section on the 1973 debate over whether or not the army should simply resign itself to the workings of the labor market, which at that point meant filling its ranks with a huge number of “Cat IV” soldiers (a category roughly equivalent to an IQ between 82 and 91). And then I introduce a new character: Bo Callaway, Nixon’s Secretary of the Army.

On the other hand, page 99 begins with one of the multitude of wackily wonderful comments that politicians and government officials offered when called upon to discuss the new all-volunteer force; language matters in cultural history, and I had a lot of fascinatingly odd comments and analogies to work with. And because I believe that the past is shaped by individual actions and decisions as well as by larger social forces, I spent time on my characters, trying to show that each person came to this story already shaped by a range of experiences and emotions. I’ll confess, as well, that I’m fond of this page for reasons that have nothing to do with my readers. Like Callaway, I’m from Georgia, and my family used to vacation at Callaway Gardens. And I very clearly remember writing this page; it was during the summer of 2008 and I was sitting on the landing of the house my husband and I had rented in Penestanan, Bali, looking out over the rice fields.

I’ll share the full page below, but first a bit of set-up. America’s Army is the story of the nation’s all-volunteer force, from the draft protests and policy proposals of the 1960s through the Iraq war. It is also a history of America in the post-Vietnam era. One of my key arguments is that the army, of necessity, confronted the legacies of the social movements and struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s. This chapter, “Race, ‘Quality,’ and the Hollow Army,” is about how the army struggled over the role of race in the all-volunteer force.
[market]place most easily supplied. So despite DoD disapproval--“How many Viet Cong riflemen had Ph.D.s?” was the exact and slightly contemptuous phrasing--the Army began giving recruiters specific “sub-objectives” for skilled MOSs and denying them credit for recruits who scored in the bottom half of Category IV.

To many of the most fervent supporters of the AVF in the Nixon administration, this action seemed a clear sign of resistance. Many of them had never believed the Army was really on board with the move to a volunteer force. Westmoreland, despite his firm public commitment to the AVF when he was chief of staff of the army, had expressed serious concerns in a private letter to Nixon as he left the position, and General Abrams, his successor, was a traditionalist who had little use for the term “Modern Volunteer Army” and pretty much despised the phrase “Today’s Army Wants to Join You.” But not even the most suspicious had been able to point to direct evidence of “sabotage”–until now. Even Army analysts admitted that it would be harder to meet recruiting objectives if standards were higher. Did Army officials think, some began to ask, that a quick and decisive failure would deliver the larger victory?

In May 1973, as induction authority moved into its last weeks, Nixon appointed a new secretary of the army. Howard H. Callaway, known to everyone as “Bo,” was an interesting choice. Graduated from West Point in 1949, he “knew how to salute” even though he’d not chosen a military career. He was a Republican from Georgia back when they were fewer and further between, a man who’d joined the Goldwater bandwagon in 1964 and won election as Georgia’s first Republican congressional representative since Reconstruction. In 1966, the self-proclaimed conservative had run against Democrat Lester Maddox for the governorship of Georgia. Lester Maddox was an unreconstructed racist who had never graduated high school. He was best known for brandishing an axe handle in defense of his right to choose who to serve–and not to serve–in the Pickrick Cafeteria, his Atlanta restaurant. Callaway, in contrast, came from a wealthy family that Georgians knew best as the owners of Callaway Gardens, a vacation resort not far from FDR’s Warm Springs. Though Callaway won the plurality of the popular vote he did not claim a majority, and the almost completely Democratic state legislature voted Maddox in. Many of Georgia’s better-educated citizens, appalled at the vulgarity of the new governor, proposed amending the state constitution to require
Read an excerpt from America’s Army, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue