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Married in and to the military: 'war brides' v. 'army wives'

The US military has been historically conflicted over the institution of marriage, and over the place of wives in the armed forces. On the one hand, it has feared that wives might distract soldiers' attention from duty and from loyalty to a single chain of command. Yet, on the other, the services have often welcomed the unpaid emotional and practical work that appropriately supportive wives could contribute to the 'army family', and as ambassadors of the 'American way of life' overseas. In this seminar, we consider how the military has attempted to shape the marital choices of male soldiers and the contours of 'wifedom.'

Primary source research assignment:

Historian Susan Zeiger argues that the 'war bride' paradigm-- and, in tandem, the practice of soldiers marrying foreign women met during overseas service-- fell into decline in the Vietnam era. To test this proposition for yourself, part of your seminar preparation this week involves looking at contemporary press articles using ProQuest historical newspapers. (Limit your search to the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.) Searching for the terms 'soldier' and 'war bride' (or other proxies that you can think of, like 'military' and 'marriage'), see what you find for the period 1943-48 and again for the period 1965-73. (You can narrow this search by adding other terms like 'Germany', 'Japan' and 'Vietnam', or restrict the date range if you want a more focused set of results.) What do you find in terms of both the volume of coverage and the way in which 'war brides' are discussed? Please print out-- or be ready to share electronically in class-- a couple of stories that you found especially revealing of contemporary attitudes.

If you've never used the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database, you might take a look at this 3-minute video guideLink opens in a new window I made:

Indicative seminar questions:

  • what makes marriage such a vexed question for the armed forces?
  • why have the armed forces not entirely trusted male soldiers to choose appropriate spouses, and how has this mistrust manifested itself? Where do issues of race-- and racism-- figure in the martial-marital matrix?
  • the phrase 'war bride' seemingly conjures something rather different than the phrase 'army wife.' What do you understand by these categories, and what do you think each term connotes in public discourse?
  • did the 'war bride' become obsolescent in the 1970s and, if so, why?

Required reading:

Betty Kinzer and Marion Leach, What Every Army Wife Should KnowLink opens in a new window (Stackpole Books,1966), ch.2, pp.28-39

Susan Zeiger, Entangling Alliances (2010) e-book; EITHER ch. 4, ‘“Good Mothers”: GI Brides after World War II,’ pp.127-62; OR ch.6, 'The Demise of the War Bride,' pp.203-35 [pick whichever period interests you more-- the immediate aftermath of WWII or the Vietnam era]

Cynthia Enloe, Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives (2000), e-book, ch.5, ‘If a Woman Is “Married to the Military,” Who Is the Husband?'

Supplementary reading:

Betty Sowers Alt and Bonnie Domrose Stone, Campfollowing: A History of the Military Wife (1991)

Donna Alvah, Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families and the Cold War, 1946-1965 (2007) e-book

Nicole Dombrowski, Women and War in the Twentieth Century: Enlisted With or Without Consent (2005) e-book

Rebecca Forgash, ‘Negotiating Marriage: Cultural Citizenship and the Reproduction of American Empire in Okinawa,’ Ethnology, 48: 3 (Summer 2009): 215-37

Rebecca Forgash, Intimacy across the Fencelines: Sex, Marriage, and the U.S. Military in Okinawa (2020) e-book

Martha Gravois, ‘Military Families in Germany, 1946-1986: Why They Came and Why They Stay,’ Parameters, 16: 4 (Winter 1986):

Denise M. Horn, ‘Boots and Bedsheets: Constructing the Military Support System in a Time of War’ in Sjoberg, Laura and Sandra Via (eds), Gender, War and Militarism: Feminist Perspectives (2010) e-book

Richard B. Johns, 'The Right to Marry: Infringement by the Armed Forces,' Family Law Quarterly 10, 4 (1977): 357-87

Kenneth T. MacLeish, Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community (2013) e-book

Jennifer Mittelstadt, The Rise of the Military Welfare State (2015)

Mary V Stremlow, A History of the Women Marines, 1946-1977, e-book, ch.13

Laurie Lee Weinstein and Christie C. White, Wives and Warriors: Women and the Military in the United States and Canada (1997) e-book

Ji-Yeon Yuh, Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America (2002) e-book