The Metropolitan Military: The Influence of Military Expansion on Post-World War II Metropolitan America

AHA Session 95
Friday, January 3, 2014: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Carol Lynn McKibben, Stanford University
Carol Lynn McKibben, Stanford University

Session Abstract

Since the Second World War, the need to house a standing military necessitated expansion in nearly every aspect of the armed services. Moreover, legislation like the 1956 Interstate Highways Act, justified by its goal of making the US more defensible, enabled western metropolitan growth that spurred population and financial flows to the region.  However, though many metropolitan areas, notably those in the Sunbelt, benefitted from increased military expenditures, conflicts regarding the military’s vision of the future and that of municipal leaders, elected officials, and residents often demonstrated differing municipal visions.   These debates proved critical in shaping places like San Diego, San Francisco, and San Antonio creating both opportunity and peril for minorities, illustrating race and class tinged debates regarding expansion, and documenting the complex relationship between the military and civilians in postwar America.

     Ryan Reft explores the privatization of San Diego’s Lanham Act wartime housing complex Linda Vista in the mid-1950s.  When built, Linda Vista stood as the largest public housing project in the world and became home to thousands of war worker and service families who, despite hostility from native San Diegans, established a new community marked by greater ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity than much of the city. Service wives played a critical role in shifting the complex from progressive leftism to a proto-New Right fortress; Linda Vista helped to consolidate San Diego’s larger shift toward conservatism.  Its Cold War era privatization resulted in new working class and middle class homeowners, created a small space for black homeowners, and enabled some service families to secure a decent home, but its elimination as public housing penalized low income and other service families.

     Laura Hernandez Ehrisman documents the postwar oral history of San Antonio’s military installations through the experiences of local defense workers and service personnel.  Though the military enabled many Latino families to earn higher wages and compete, in a debatably less discriminatory labor market, racism persisted and environmental degradation brought by military expansion directly affected workers. Over the past two decades the legacy of military employment has become synonymous with cancer and other maladies. Hernandez-Ehrisman, pointing to scholars like Catherine Lutz and Carol Lynn McKibben, highlights the critical tensions existing between social mobility and environmental justice/racism and the military’s role in this paradigm. 

      Following the work of Roger Lotchin and Ann Markusen, Hugo Evans examines the conflict between late twentieth century military installations and the San Francisco Bay Bay Area (Bay Area).  Evans reveals how much municipalities have come to encroach upon and in the case of the Bay Area eliminate the military’s presence as an economic engine in the region.  Further, skyrocketing real estate prices and an expensive labor market made the operating bases in expanding cities cost prohibitive.  Homeowners and local agencies continually put environmental issues above national security, making the functioning of installations difficult. Finally, though many like Charles Moskos praise the military for its efforts to desegregate and diminish racism within its ranks, the closure of Bay Area military bases disproportionately impacted minority communities.

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