Gender Troubling the Postwar: Military-Service Activism before Mccarthy, Mattachine, and Montgomery

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:20 AM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta)
Tejasvi Nagaraja, New York University
World War II’s military mobilizations re-defined the terms and terrain for U.S.-based social justice activism. Advocates who had found openings and momentum over the 1930s were compelled to reorient their agendas to the dynamics of the wartime homefront. In addition, new activist groups formed in the 1940s, shaped by the whirlwinds of militarily-unleashed migrations and the changing homefront landscape. In my broader research, I reconstruct overlapping networks of organizing by soldiers, veterans, their loved ones and advocates across the mid- to late-1940s. I examine how activists envisioned and contested the emerging post-war order, foreign and domestic. In this paper, I center the first full year of the unsettled ‘post-war’, 1946; roughly considering the period between the war’s end in 1945 through the national security legislation of 1947. I examine the new activism of groups like the left-liberal American Veterans Committee, the proto-homophile Veterans Benevolent Association, and the ‘army-wife’ Bring Back Daddy clubs; as well as the then-decade-old National Council of Negro Women. Informed by sexuality, gender and social-movement history methodologies, I highlight intersecting dynamics and ask parallel questions about these organizations. Each set of activists tried to influence the character of the post-war order at this conjunctural moment, through work with servicemembers and by deploying a claim to represent them or their families. I highlight an eclectic array of gendered visions and globalized values among these diverse activists, that vied as alternatives and can now be read as shadow history -- to the emerging Cold War confluence of mutually-agreeable chauvinisms, embodied a few years later by McCarthyism’s onset. I inquire, to what extent these activists’ ideas and commitments were interested or able to contest the imperious hegemony claimed by groups like the American Legion, over true Americans and authentic veterans, normal women and real men.