American soldiers reside on more than nine hundred bases around the world, an archipelago of empire that remains invisible to their countrymen back home. Susan L. Carruthers shows that the idea of foreign occupation was anathema to Americans until World War II ended and they unexpectedly found themselves occupying areas of Germany, Japan, and other countries. The United States had mounted almost two dozen foreign occupations since 1815, but the term occupation was still an “ugly word, not one Americans feel comfortable with,” according to one American commandant (pp. 4, 3). But troops quickly grew accustomed to the word and the idea as the soldiers spread through defeated nations, ruling by day and getting soused by night, succoring one pitiful war-torn town and ignoring the pleas of another, bartering here and looting there, and always—always—searching out women, in some cases to rape but in most cases to bed down with for a dollar or two (p. 283). In other words “the greatest generation” moved quickly “from V-E to VD” (the title of chapter 4). Not so much in Japan, however, where the government maintained some seventy thousand women in relatively hygienic “comfort stations” for occupation troops (p. 138). Oddly, little scholarship exists on American planning for and implementation of foreign occupations, given that the United States did much more occupational preparatory work during World War II than is generally recognized. Carruthers closely examines the School of Military Government that opened in May 1942 at the University of Virginia, eventually fielding thousands of graduates (p. 15). Like that university, the students were “uniformly white” and “overwhelmingly WASP,” taught not just by military instructors but also by Ivy League professors (p. 18). The author highlights racism and ethnic bias not just at this school but throughout the occupations: Sicilians were just as given to “filth” and “sloth” as were Okinawans, Koreans, and—especially for Gen. George S. Patton—Jews (p. 40). It is deeply disheartening that some of the same Americans who opened up Nazi death camps remained rank anti-Semites, as evidenced by the thousands of personal letters that Carruthers found in archives across the country. L. Paul Bremer, commander of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, wrote that Americans are uncomfortable with this “ugly word” occupation and want it over with as soon as possible. Strange, then, that spanning more than two generations the United States has not extricated itself from Japan, Germany, or South Korea, where tens of thousands of troops remain in each country. Carruthers effectively juxtaposes the catastrophe of the Iraq invasion with the “good war,” “the good occupations,” and “the greatest generation” (each term used ironically throughout the book), showing how initial planning went awry as commanders stumbled to their tasks and foot soldiers and generals were infected with ethnic bias (whether Sicilians or Koreans, they were “gooks”), yet all confronted insurmountable problems (starving and displaced millions) and somehow soldiered through to help create durable democracies in Japan and Germany (and a durable war in Korea) (p. 92). The Good Occupation will remain the standard work on this subject for many years. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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