The prominence of the military during World War Two and the early Cold War gave great national importance to the nation’s enlisted men. The Selective Service draft began in 1940 in response to war abroad, and didn’t end until 1973. Throughout this time, hundreds of thousands of young men’s lives were altered by conscription, many of whom had their futures (and reputations) determined by the federal inspection of their physical and mental well-being. Warfare and conscription put the male body in the spotlight, as the body was the tool through which democracy, freedom, and the American Way fought for survival. The federal government wielded great power on men’s lives through the selective service, and their ability to control mens futures based on their role in society and the subjective judgement of their physical and mental fitness. The results of the Selective Service inspections launched a national conversation about the physical and mental well-being of the nation’s men. Christina Jarvis argued that these screenings served to classify, categorize, and sexualize men’s bodies, and turned bodies into symbols of both American strength and sacrifice.[^] In linking the welfare of the nation to the health of its men, soldiers received ascendancy through military masculinity and the security and military triumph associated with it.
Masculinity remained an object of focus in the Postwar Era, but was broadened and reshaped by the new role that men took in society. Rather than defending the nation with force, as they had during wartime, American soldiers represented potential force. The United States military’s pragmatic emphasis on masculinity and the male body during WWII turned to a war of words, threats, and imagery centered upon the American defensive arsenal. Although physical force was again highlighted and utilized during the Korean War, the power of American men in the postwar era predominantly came from the threat of aggression and the ingenuity of their defense weaponry. The wartime nation now had an even larger dependence upon its men through the military. The discourse of a “hard line” toward Communism and aggressive diplomacy were dominant foreign policy objectives, and the strength and abilities of the American military were understood as essential to containing aggressors.
American soldiers came to represent the nation through this age of wars, both hot and cold, and thus military masculinity became the prism through which many understood manhood. Although the breadth and depth of American militarism was rapidly expanding, the alignment of gender, masculinity, warfare, and nationalism was not exclusive to the WWII and Postwar Era. Militarism has long been understood as an extension of the male body, and when nations rely upon their militaries to defend themselves, a strong link builds between the military, soldiers, and the nation.[^][^] Belkin argued that this occurs:
…When the normativity of the soldier, military, state, and empire are lined up such that the cleansing of the troops purifies the other entities simultaneously. … Accordingly, constructions of the soldier’s toughness, masculinity, dominance, heterosexuality, and stoicism can conjure images of military strength, state, legitimacy, and imperial righteousness, while depictions of the soldier’s flaws can implicate notions of military weakness and state and imperial illegitimacy.[^]
Gendered ideals of militarism, both implicitly and explicitly communicated, connected nationalism with a masculinized definition of citizenship. The supremacy of the idealized male citizen, imbued with the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity, reify and substantiate the ideals that compose it. This process made the military-industrial complex and the changing relationship of the military and the American citizens less problematic in the minds of many, and harnessed the power of hegemonic masculinity to add pressure on citizens to support the military’s goals. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny wrote, in their introduction to a collection of essays on nationalism, “If politics is the ground upon which the category of the nation was first proposed, culture was the terrain where it was elaborated.”[^] The hegemonic male as ideal citizen was largely created through the structures of the draft and political system, but was further articulated through the creation of imagery and cultural messages. The US military, along with private media’s depictions of men in the military, created an idealized male that embodied all of the qualities of the hegemonic male, and made it a national hero, giving further meaning and importance to men who imbue those qualities. By doing so, these qualities tightened their hold on definitions of manhood and gender relations inside and outside of the military. Tamar Mayer wrote in the introduction to her collection of essays, Gender Ironies of Nationalism: “Nationalism becomes the language through which sexual control and repression (specifically, but not exclusively, of women and homosexuals) is justified, and masculine prowess is expressed and exercised.”[^] If these binaries are supported through the government and other respected institutions in the name of security and national well-being, they gain strength. Furthermore, these militarized constructions of citizenship, the models from which individuals learn to be good Americans and fulfill their specified roles, were ubiquitous from federal as well as private cultural productions.
In War and Gender, political scientist Joshua Goldstein examined cultures over a wide range of space and time, finding, with few exceptions, that manhood and warrior culture were tied together and have been defined in much the same way.[^] Qualities such as stoicism, aggression, and courage have long been seen as essential to the success of military forces, and have thus been instilled as part of superior manhood. Stephen Wicks wrote, “‘The warrior, foremost among male archetypes…has been the epitome of masculinity in many societies.’ A man learns to ‘deny all that is ‘feminine’ and soft in himself’”[^] Goldstein found that the act of military service forced men to “enact rites of passage (practice) into artificial manhood (ideal).”
Aaron Belkin focused on this process throughout twentieth century America in his book, Bring Me Men. Belkin argued that gender (and especially masculinity) were essential to US imperialism and military culture in the US beginning at the very end of the nineteenth century. Military masculinity, by assigning ideally masculine traits to enlisted men, provided the means to smooth over conflicts and hypocrisies implicit in service.[^] By appealing to ideal images of masculine power and control, the military created an unproblematized image of military service and warfare, winning the hearts and minds of Americans, and encouraging men to willfully and enthusiastically participate.
According to Belkin, a significant shift took place around the turn of the twentieth century, when militarism spread through society, and this type of military masculinity became a model of normative citizenship for men to emulate.[^] “Even though soldiers and veterans achieved heroic status before the late-nineteenth century, civilian men who had never served in uniform did not, in general, lay claim to power or authority by appealing to military values or ideas, and proving one’s manliness did not require demonstrating an affirmative relationship with the military. After the Spanish-American War, civilians and men in uniform would claim significant authority by aligning themselves with military institutions and ideas.”[^] This rise coincided with the growth of the American military empire, and the corpus of heavily gendered texts stands as evidence for the need to imbue this expansive standing military with culturally accepted and honored notions of hegemonic masculinity.
Not only did this military masculinity imbue soldiers with a superior sense of manhood, but also discursively separated the masculinity of soldiers from non-soldiers. Belkin described the creation of a Foucauldian docile population through terming the non-normative as deviant.[^] This stigmatized the non-normative men by labeling them with a 4-F rating or a Blue Discharge, making it apparent that they were deemed to have an insufficient body or mind, homosexual, or otherwise unworthy of being a part of the military. These 4-F ratings and Blue Discharges served as a mark on people’s records that would prompt questions about them from the population, and lead others to question their manhood. Through this process of marking normativity, Belkin argued, military masculinity began to have more authority over normalized behavior and attitudes, and military service was seen ”…less as one among many normative masculinities than as the paradigmatic embodiment of normativity.”[^]
Because the military, as an institution, was rapidly growing throughout the time of my focus and was granted a great deal of power and authority within society, its policies and decisions had an immense domestic impact on the American people. This meant that military proclamations on proper gender roles and sufficient masculinity carried great weight. By placing a strong national spotlight on the masculine qualities of its men — specifically its young men who served in the armed forces — the nation was engaging in a conversation about what proper manhood was and how it strengthened and served the nation. Throughout the era, there was an implication that enlisted men and veterans had steeled themselves through military training and service, as was illustrated through many of the recruiting materials of the time period. Furthermore, the additional functions of the military, both in weeding out men who were not mentally or physically capable and then training those who were, the military could serve as an institution through which men’s masculinity could be proven simply through their inclusion. By both directly and discursively linking the state of the nation with the state of manhood, manhood and the qualities that compose it, were granted more power and prestige.