Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Women, Race, and Children in 20th Century South Pacific Wars
Abstract: The panel focuses on experiences of women during WWII in the Southwest Pacific Theater and Vietnam War and analyzes these women's wartime experiences to understand the impact of war on their lives using new documents and new interpretations. They represent three countries, South Vietnam, Australia, and the United States, two wars, and a range of experiences as POWs, nurses, doctors, combat support and combat service support servicewomen, cryptographers, and civilians. In Australia, indigenous female (Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific) interacted with African American male troops with the result of interracial family formations and the subsequent postwar difficulties on these Mothers and children who were not always accepted by either the Australian and American Societies. Their hidden history has surfaced under the project Children born of War: Australia and the war in the Pacific. Two decades later, n 1965, the Women's Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) was formed in South Vietnam aided by the American Women's Army Corps. Wartime opportunities for women in WAFC and other defense services indicated a transformation occurring in South Vietnamese society. A war-era booklet published by the Vietnam Council on Foreign Relations entitled South Vietnam's Women in Uniform explained that wartime opportunities for women in WAFC and other defense services indicated a transformation occurring in South Vietnamese society. "Traditionally, the role of the Asian woman is a passive one," wrote Mrs. Phuong Thi Hanh in South Vietnam's Women in Uniform , "Kept in the background, girls are raised to be feminine and dependent, to stay at home caring for husband and family. Twenty years ago, the idea of a female soldier was even more far-fetched than that of a woman doctor or lawyer. But years of war have brought women into a man's world, partly by necessity, partly by choice."
Paper Order Grieves, Campbell, Stur.
D'Ann Campbell, US Air Force Academy & Culver Stockton College
Participant's Paper Title: American Servicewomen in the Southwest Pacific Theater During WWII
Participant's Paper Abstract: American Women in the Southwest Pacific Theater during WWII

American men and women who served in the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II generally have been more reluctant and have taken longer to share their experiences with friends and family. It was such a different environment for these soldiers, sailors, doctors and nurses both from back home and from what other military men and women were experiencing in the European Theatre.
However, in the past few years participants and scholars have started to piece together these experiences and assess what WWII meant to them at the time and in their future lives. We now know a great deal about the Army and Navy Nurses who served as POWs throughout most of the war who were captured and became part of the Bataan Death March and POW camps.. We have interviews, autobiographies and biographies. The WACs are covered in a chapter of Mattie Treadwell's large volume but archives and interviews done by this author supplement and complement this valuable resource. This author also can compare answers on a questionnaire given to over 400 servicewomen which covers a range of experiences and attitudes. Finally, we also have material available on women who served as cryptographers and censors and Army nurses who were not POWs.
This paper will analyze and compare the experiences of the women who served in the Southwest Pacific Theater with each other and with servicewomen stationed elsewhere.
Gregory Daddis, Chapman University
Courtney Short, US Army Forces Command Headquarters
Victoria Grieves, University of Sydney
Participant's Paper Title: Children Born of War: Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality when the USA was in Australia 1941-1945
Participant's Paper Abstract: December 1941 saw the first of over one million American troops arrive in Australia, a predominantly white populated country of some 7.5 million people. This marked the beginning of the so-called 'friendly occupation' during the Pacific War, when the modern day ANZUS alliance was forged. Importantly, the presence of US troops on the Australian mainland saw two racially segregating regimes co-exist in a climate of preparedness for war, creating new intimacies, romance, tensions and violence. Among the US troops in Australia were approximately 9000 African American soldiers who did the heavy lifting, often stationed in Australia for the duration of the war. Over some four to five years they developed close, intimate relationships with Australians.
When the last of the American troops departed thousands of babies had been born, including an inestimable number of children of colour. Those born to white mothers and fathers who married were able to travel to the USA with their warbride mothers and their stories documented and recognised.
African American military personnel applications to marry were, as a rule, not approved. Thus the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific mothers and the families they developed with Americans have been a hidden history until the project Children born of War: Australia and the war in the Pacific 1941 - 1945 brought many of them together.
This paper documents the immense impact of the imperatives of white nations - race segregation and gender hierarchies overlaid by the brutality of bourgeois respectability - on mixed race children and their mothers. A series of case examples keenly illustrate the profound effects of stigma and shame that cut across generations. It emphasises the strength and tenacity of the mothers and the children who have endured this secret history of oppression and who now seek recognition and redress.
Heather Stur, University of Southern Mississippi
Participant's Paper Title: South Vietnamese Women and the Vietnam War
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the Vietnam War, officials in the Republic of Vietnam's Ministry of Defense realized that they had to pay attention to the needs of soldiers' families. Responsibility to home and family was one of the main reasons for ARVN desertion. So when the armed forces established the Women's Armed Forces Corps on January 1, 1965, it included welfare services as an MOS. By 1967, the number of WAFCs had reached 2,700. The WAFC was modeled after the U.S. Women's Army Corps, another example of deepening U.S. military intervention.
We still know very little about the war's impact on Vietnamese women, especially those who supported South Vietnam. The southern women who have made it into the story are legends such as Madame Nhu, NLF leader Nguyen Thi Dinh, and Le Thi Hong Gam. But the war touched the lives of millions of other southern women whose stories have not become part of the war's mythology. They include ARVN wives and the WAFC personnel who ministered to them. As war often does, the Vietnam War shaped southern women's lives where the home front and battlefront blurred and in the ways in which gender influenced women's military service.
The opportunities available to women through WAFC reflected the patriarchal gender structure that ordered Vietnamese families and society. WAFC personnel served to free men for combat and to provide support for troops' dependents. WAFC's social welfare division ministered to ARVN families by placing servicewomen near family camps to provide child care, basic health care, pharmaceutical services, and other social services support to troops' dependents. That they were in the army but doing "women's work" illustrates one of the ways in which the Vietnam War expanded gender roles without completely transforming them. See Phuong Thi Hanh, South Vietnam's Women in Uniform, Vietnam Council on Foreign Relations.

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