Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Andrew J. Huebner's "Love and Death in the Great War"

Andrew J. Huebner is associate professor of history at the University of Alabama. He is the author of The Warrior Image: Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era.

Huebner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Love and Death in the Great War, and reported the following:
Love and Death in the Great War weaves together two overlapping stories: one reinterprets American public and official culture during the First World War, the other tracks the experiences of a small number of individual American participants and their families. I argue that the state and its allies sold the war as a defense of home, the white family, and traditional gender roles, a justification that shared space with (or actually served as an articulation of) the loftier political and ideological ambitions usually associated with Woodrow Wilson’s intervention. I then trace the purchase of such ideas among regular people, looking at how their experiences did or didn’t harmonize with the widespread story of a war fought for family. In neither of those realms, private experience nor public culture, I argue, did that story survive the war without disruption.

On page 99, I’m just getting into one of those disruptions. Borrowing from the historian Nancy Bristow and others, I write about the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA), one of the agencies central to the First World War moral program. Just as the authors of prescriptive or patriotic literature were reassuring the public that doughboys would be paragons of masculine character, military officials were dealing with the reality that some of them weren’t. This was a key promise of wartime redemptive thinking—that military service stabilized rather than undermined male virtue, which for many arbiters of respectability meant sexual restraint. As soldiers had long done, American trainees sought out sex and alcohol, and home front families knew it and worried about it. So beginning with the CTCA, and from the training camps all the way to France, American leaders including Gen. John Pershing labored to safeguard the morality of the doughboy through wholesome diversion, prophylactic treatment, and the threat of punishment. Of course the brass wanted a robust force “fit to fight,” but the leadership also knew it would have a public relations disaster on its hands if the war story of moral doughboys broke down.
Learn more about Love and Death in the Great War at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue