Sex, Gender, Intimacy, and Race and Lingering Questions of Justice in World War II’s Southwest Pacific Theater

AHA Session 60
Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Daniel Immerwahr, Northwestern University
Daniel Immerwahr, Northwestern University

Session Abstract

Histories of race relations in the settler colonial polities, the United States and Australia, share a number of common features including enacting regimes of legislative violence, racial segregation, surveillance, control, and suppression of the other, that are also profoundly gendered, as they aspired to assert themselves as white men’s nations. The outbreak of World War 2 marked a pivotal turn in black and Indigenous peoples’ struggles for social justice and racial equality in both these countries, although uneven and circumstantial. In the US, the entry of unprecedented numbers of African Americans into military service enhanced opportunities for politicization and mobility. For many, service was predicated on what the Black Press termed the Triple V campaign which advocated victory at home for civil rights and equality, together with victory abroad for the their colonized sisters and brothers, alongside victory in the war effort. Similarly, substantial numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men as well as a surprising number of women joined Australian regiments seeking opportunities outside the bounds of government surveillance. Added to this, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 1 million US troops, including almost 10,000 segregated African Americans, were stationed in Australia over the war’s duration and after. Indigenous Australian women and African American servicemen were frequently drawn together on the home front in the face of shared yet distinct experiences of prejudice and marginalisation under settler-colonialism. And African American GI’s enjoyed a respect among civilian populations in Australia and the Southwest Pacific, not widely experienced at home or within the military itself. In the cauldron of war an array of intimate relations formed, many romantic and enduring, others coercive, and children were often born as a consequence. Such histories of war remain deeply silenced and under explored. Our panel brings together new research from scholars of race relations and Indigenous history from the United States and Australia to explore multiple facets of the way sex, intimacy, marriage and gender intersected with race and national identity and shaped questions of social and military justice across a range of lived situations in World War 2’s Pacific Theatre. Karen Hughes shows marriage and the family to be a major site for agitation in the aftermath of war as mixed-race couples attempted to challenge US and Australian immigration restrictions that prevented them living in one another’s country and raising a family together. Using the un-investigated 1944 execution of six black American servicemen by the U.S. Army in New Guinea as a case study, Nancy Shoemaker reveals how the silence and secrecy surrounding race and rape that factored into military executions, lingers today among historians. She notes how this secrecy upheld white, male officers' elite status within the military, allowing them control over the sexuality of women and enlisted men. Drawing upon oral histories and records of Aboriginal ex-service women in WW2, Allison Cadzow considers how the women self-represent their service and how the possibilities for expressing their identity as Aboriginal women and their histories have shifted remarkably over time.
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