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Making love and war

Popular discourses in (and on) the US military often pivot around stark binaries: civilian/soldier; man/woman; gay/straight; war/peace; love/hate. Of the many categories in play as we study how gender, sex, and sexuality operate in the US armed forces, love is perhaps the most unexpected. The introductory readings explore love in the military from diverse perspectives, inviting us to think in particular about the relationship between homosociality ("brotherly love") and heteronormativity (mandatory heterosexuality) in US military settings.

As you're doing the readings, think about how you'd answer the questions below. Also, bear in mind that the authors approach the topic from distinct professional and disciplinary backgrounds. Pay attention to how they've gone about gathering evidence and making their case. (Digby's a philosophy professor; MacLeish is an academic anthropologist; and Broyles a journalist.)

Indicative seminar questions:

  • Are you surprised to find that 'love' looms so large in the lives and language of soldiers and the US military? Why or why not?
  • What variety of things does love mean in military contexts? And what does love do in/for the US military?
  • How does love relate to sex in these readings?
  • Do homosociality and heteronormativity co-exist harmoniously or in tension with one another in the military?
  • Do you find Broyles's essay problematic or persuasive? (Or a bit of both?) How/why?

Required readings:

Tom Digby, Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance (2014), ch.1, 'Battle of the Sexes: Why Is Heterosexual Love So Hard?,' pp.1-30, e-book

Kenneth T. MacLeish, Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community (2015), ch. 4, 'Vicissitudes of Love,' pp.134-78, e-book [NB: This is an ethnographic study of an army community based at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, where MacLeish conducted field research in 2007-8. At the time, this base was the single biggest point of deployment for US forces being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.]

William Broyles, Jr., 'Why Men Love War,' Esquire, May 23, 2014 [first published 1984]

Supplementary reading:

NB: Readings marked *** are especially useful overviews to help get up to speed on issues of gender and sexuality in the US military

Aaron Belkin, Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Facade of American Empire (2012)

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Women and War (1995)

Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott, Gendering War Talk (1993)

Cynthia Enloe, Does Khaki Become You?: The Militarization of Women's Lives (1983)

Cynthia Enloe, Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives (2000) e-book

Joshua Goldstein, War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa (2001)

Melissa S. Herbert, Camouflage Isn't Only for Combat: Gender, Sexuality and Women in the Military (1998) e-book

***Donna B. Knaff, 'Homos, Whores, Rapists and the Clap: American Military Sexuality Since the Revolutionary War,' in Kara Vuic (ed.), Rutledge History of Gender, War and the US Military (2017) e-book

Lois Ann Lorentzen and Jennifer Turpin (eds), The Women and War Reader (1998)

***Martha E. McSally, 'Defending America in Mixed Company: Gender in the U.S. Armed Forces,' Daedalus, 140, 3 (Summer 2011): 148-63 [JSTOR]

Simona Sharoni et al, Handbook on Gender and War (2016) e-book

Laura Sjoberg, Gender, War and Conflict (2014)

Laura Sjoberg and Sandra Via, Gender, War and Militarism: Feminist Perspectives (2010) e-book

***Kara Dixon Vuic, 'Gender, the Military and War,' in David Kieran and Edwin Martini (eds), At War: The Military and American Culture in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (2018) e-book