GI-Ville: Base Politics and Local Politics in Cold War Germany and Beyond

AHA Session 75
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Jon Middaugh, Washington State Univ., Pullman
Maria Hoehn, Vassar College
Jon Middaugh, Naval History and Heritage Command
Adam R. Seipp, Texas A&M University
Emily Swafford, American Historical Association

Session Abstract

Title: GI-Ville: Base Politics and Local Politics in Cold War West Germany and Beyond

This roundtable will consist of historians whose work attempts to situate the vast network of American military bases that developed after 1945 into the framework of local, national, and international history.  The scholars represented here ask different questions and examine different evidence, but by working together can enhance our understanding of the phenomenon of "base politics" in the modern world.

Somewhat surprisingly, historians have not been in the forefront of the study of bases and base communities.  Particularly in the era after September 11, 2001 and the re-projection of American power into the post-Cold War World, social scientists have taken the lead in examining the sometimes contentious politics of foreign basing.  The lessons of the Cold War have seemed particularly applicable during the 15 years.  America's global basing strategy then and now hinges on dynamic interactivity between the United States, host governments, American military personnel, and host populations.  In other words, base politics are simultaneously global and local.

Presenters on this roundtable will focus on the construction, reception, and subsequent transformation of American base communities overseas. Their discussion looks initially at the Cold War period and offers a focus on West Germany, but it also gives attention to post-1990 examples and to non-European locales.  Emily Swafford will look at the arrival of American dependent families in newly sovereign West Germany. Her focus explores the disjuncture between the Pentagon's perception of the role that these families would play and the day-to-day reality of their lives. Adam Seipp will pay particular attention to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the German-American relationship on the ground deteriorated in a wave of protests and terror attacks. He will also touch on continuities and differences between this period and those that preceded it.

The next two presenters illuminate a broad range of perspectives across time and space. Maria Höhn's comments will emphasize how researchers must consider, among other things, the political regime and rural-urban dynamics of the host nation.  Experiences on and around base also varied depending on the serviceman’s branch (Army, Air Force, etc.), race, length of deployment, and more. Finally, Jon Middaugh will assess how developments in Cold War Germany compare with the experiences of servicemen and communities interacting further afield and in recent years. His input will include analysis of the base and local politics in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia.

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