Sex, Hygiene, and Public Health: Medicalizing American Militarism Abroad

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:00 AM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta)
Khary O. Polk, Amherst College
Immunity and contagion are broad themes that mark the movement of African American soldiers across time and space. In this paper, I will examine three instances in which these themes punctuate the discourse of African American military service abroad: during the Spanish-American-Cuban War and related Philippine War of Independence, where black soldiers’ contact with Filipino nationals breached boundaries of race, nation, and language; in France during the First World War, where white American officers attempted to eliminate interracial sexual contact from occurring between black troops and French women through the punitive use of anti-venereal drugs; and finally in the global theater of World War II, where U.S. military doctors employed a new class of medicines known as sulfa drugs to regulate the sexual movement of African American soldiers around the world. In each of these moments, the bodies of African American soldiers have been the raw material fueling U.S. imperial goals toward a global technological supremacy, enabled through successive regimes of medical experimentation. I show how the medical apparatus of the U.S. military—a vital arbiter of the overlapping taxonomies of race, class, gender, and citizenship in America—played a central role in the sexual, biological, and political regulation of African American soldiers abroad.

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