UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Over there : Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present : [book review] Green, Michael Cullen May 22, 2012

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata


52387-S25.pdf [ 55.74kB ]
JSON: 52387-1.0045114.json
JSON-LD: 52387-1.0045114-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 52387-1.0045114-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 52387-1.0045114-rdf.json
Turtle: 52387-1.0045114-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 52387-1.0045114-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 52387-1.0045114-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

Book Reviews  OVER THERE: Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present. Edited by Maria Höhn and Seungsook Moon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. xviii, 453 pp. (Tables, figures, maps, B&W photos.) US$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-4827-6. Since 1945 the United States has maintained history’s largest military empire, presiding over a vast network of overseas military bases. American personnel are currently deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. Yet only in the past decade or so have historians and other scholars in the United States begun exploring the everyday social, political and economic effects of these bases, which, to those living on or near them, have stood at the centre of the American military empire, rather than defining its outer limits. Historian Maria Höhn and sociologist Seungsook Moon, co-editors of this important new collection, have brought together some of the most current scholarship on the postwar American base system, with an emphasis on South Korea, Japan and West Germany, where the majority of America’s overseas bases and troops have been concentrated. They seek to provide a comparative and multidisciplinary exploration of “recurring patterns … in the social costs of maintaining the empire, paying special attention to the hybrid spaces in and around U.S. military bases” (4), without losing sight of “the complexities of the encounters between American soldiers and local civilians” (3). On the whole, they have succeeded quite admirably. The editors, both of whom grew up in countries with a substantial American military presence, have authored half of the collection’s chapters, with the remaining essays written by scholars from a range of disciplines, among them anthropology, religious studies and women’s and gender studies. The volume is organized into four parts, the first of which contains three very good essays examining how and why the American military sought to regulate sexual and romantic relations between its personnel and local women in Asia and Europe during the Cold War, when hundreds of thousands of soldiers, members of their families, and civilian employees were stationed overseas each year. Part 2 contains three essays of uneven quality focusing on how American and foreign women have navigated the social spaces created by this military empire abroad and at home (one essay examines the views of women employed in the defense industry in upstate New York). Part 3, “Talking Back to the Empire,” highlights local challenges to hierarchical social relations on and around American bases, including an essay on the neglected topic of foreign troops that have served alongside American forces, in this case Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers. The volume’s final part explores the social disorder and interpersonal violence that have been and continue to be facts of everyday life for those living with the military empire, one maintained  201  Pacific Affairs: Volume 85, No. 1 - March 2012  in the name of global order and stability. A pithy conclusion by the coeditors nicely rounds out the collection, while sketching a program for future research. The volume is, of course, not without flaws. Due presumably to the multidisciplinary authorship, the editors and publisher opted for a hybrid system of citation, with each contribution containing both endnotes (oddly placed at the end of each chapter) and in-text parenthetical references, which can make for frustrating reading for those interested in the source material. More problematic is the approach the authors take to American military personnel. Strangely for a collection with the subtitle “Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present,” American servicemen and servicewomen—the boots-onthe-ground labourers of this imperial project, described by the editors at one point as “agents of the empire” (402)—remain a shadowy presence throughout. They are rarely given voice and, when they do make an appearance on the page, are often reduced to caricature. By this reviewer’s count, the entire volume quotes a mere half dozen soldiers and veterans (mostly in a chapter by Jeff Bennett), while the views of only a handful more are simply paraphrased or summarized. The selectively top-down approach to American military personnel leads to obvious difficulties. Historian Michiko Takeuchi writes in her chapter on prostitution in occupied Japan that “GIs did not care whether the Geisha Girls were real geishas or not, because their enthusiasm for Geisha Girls represented the American male masters’ colonial fantasy of fetishized, exoticized little brown women. … Their attitude toward Japanese women … represented the characteristic colonial attitude because native Japanese women were regarded as ‘little more than available sexual objects’” (99-100). In a subsequent chapter, Seungsook Moon describes American military policies toward camptown prostitution in South Korea as a successful way “to keep male soldiers docile and useful” (350). (One wonders if she would find the use of such terms to describe other social groups acceptable.) As a result of these policies, “individual GIs believe they are entitled to have a good time … because they do the strenuous and traumatizing work of maintaining and expanding the U.S. military empire,” an attitude that further “expose[s] an insidious Orientalist view among these GIs of Asian women as submissive” (357). These sweeping claims may or may not accurately reflect the beliefs and attitudes of most GIs in occupied Japan and contemporary South Korea—I suspect they largely did and do—but the evidence in these instances and elsewhere cannot be weighed since none is provided. Giving greater attention to the voices of American personnel overseas would afford a much richer understanding of the workings and social costs and consequences of American military empire. (A notable and welcome exception to the volume’s general approach in  202  Book Reviews  this regard is provided by veteran and anthropologist Bennet, in a lively and provocative chapter on Abu Ghraib.) Despite these shortcomings, this is a tremendously valuable book, brimming with new information and unique insights. All students of the global American military presence from World War II through the present will want to consult its essays. One hopes the authors will continue and expand upon their work in this burgeoning and interdisciplinaryfriendly field, and inspire others to follow their lead. The Aspen Institute, Washington, DC, USA  MICHAEL CULLEN GREEN  CHANGING POWER RELATIONS IN NORTHEAST ASIA: Implications for Relations Between Japan and South Korea. European Institute of Japanese Studies East Asian Economics and Business Series, v. 11. Edited by Marie Söderberg. London and New York: Routledge, 2011. xvi, 188 pp. (Tables, graphs, figures.) US$125.00, cloth. ISBN 978-041558-747-1. The relationship between Japan and South Korea is a product of premodern interaction, colonial dominance, the 1950s Korean War and modernization. Ten essays address historical antecedents and the complex interactions of two successful late modernizers. Editor Marie Söderberg notes that developments in the surrounding region have always affected Korea-Japan relations, and the rise of China to secondlargest global economy may be distracting the US from attending to its Northeast Asian clients. Continued North Korean belligerence and nuclear weapons provide another source of anxiety in the region. To provide a theoretical framework for the essays, Victor D. Cha’s approach is used. Anticipated convergence from similar friends and interests has not led to steady improvement of relations, although the authors are not in full agreement. A mix of local politics and historical antagonism has perhaps inhibited realization of a stronger community. Kan Kimura notes disputes between Japan and South Korea are based almost as much on perceptions as on historical fact, so dispute-resolution is necessarily complicated. Two case studies are examined, with President Roh Moo-Hyun’s efforts to educate the Japanese public in “historical facts” resulting in an escalation of disputes. Cheol Hee Park examines the burden of history for the relationship, and describes the growing interaction and increasingly positive perceptions on both sides of the Korea Straits. While they were considered natural allies during the Cold War and were both under the US defense umbrella, media-driven coverage of conflicts tended to exaggerate antagonism. Despite this background, he sees fundamental  203  


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items