Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Transforming Physical Landscapes in Modern War
Abstract: At various points throughout the twentieth century, the security infrastructure envisioned by government planners adapted rapidly to the reality of warfare. We consider how planning breakdowns resulted in improvised solutions that put a stamp on physical landscapes strongly associated with civilian life. Only over time did bureaucratic and physical structures develop permanence. This process depended on an evaluation of the durability of the new demand. Before redesigning policy and acquiring land, planners considered whether the rapidly learned lessons would be applicable in future conflict. If yes, the decentralized and hastily repurposed structures assembled at moments of crisis became a more heavily concentrated and specialized network. This new landscape often lost many of its associations with civilian life. As case studies, we look at the development of British prisoner of war camps during World War I; the South Vietnamese strategic hamlet program as a physical space for the creation of a national ideology; the development of the American glider pilot training program and its associated training bases during World War II; and Allen Dulles' use of a new headquarters at Langley to fortify civilian intelligence capabilities in the DC landscape. These examples allow us to see the impacts of a growing bureaucracy of warfare in both rural and urban contexts. These case studies lead us to pose several questions: How does the evolution from stop-gap measures to more permanent solutions reveal thinking about the future of warfare? What priorities do the physical layouts of new hubs in a war effort reflect? What impacts do these physical manifestations of a nation at war have on surrounding communities?
Hayley Fenton, Ohio State University
Participant's Paper Title: Langley: Cementing Intelligence onto the Map of Washington DC
Participant's Paper Abstract: The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) site at Langley, Virginia, offers a lens on the priorities of the Cold War intelligence community and the entrenchment of intelligence in American politics and culture. As the United States developed a civilian intelligence capacity during World War II, leadership improvised much of the physical infrastructure. Country clubs became training camps and downtown office buildings were repurposed to house the administration of the Office of Strategic Services. Even after the National Security Act of 1947 made the CIA a permanent part of the peacetime government structure, the agency's physical dimensions retained their cobbled-together feel. As Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles initiated construction of a new headquarters at Langley, Virginia. This structure testified to the increased professionalization of the Agency and its place in the Cold War's political landscape, overlaid onto a map of Washington DC. Confronting the Soviet menace weighted the arguments that Dulles made in contentious bureaucratic battles with city planners and in response to opposition from local residents. The completed headquarters also became a political site for mediating between the legislative and executive branches, the intelligence community, and the public. From its beginnings, Langley was a window for the American public to understand the scope and importance of Cold War intelligence efforts; press coverage of the new headquarters provided some of the only available information about CIA employment and budget figures. More recently, the headquarters building at Langley has become culturally synonymous with the CIA. The building features prominently in popular representations of American intelligence. Langley responded to the Cold War, but it also entrenched the intelligence community in preparation of shifting security priorities.
Richard Lovering, United States Military Academy
Participant's Paper Title: Diem and Mounier in the Mekong Delta: Personalism and the Strategic Hamlet Program
Participant's Paper Abstract: From 1961 through 1963, the South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem pursued a counterinsurgency policy structured around the construction of strategic hamlets. The Diem government fought against multiple factions contesting the regime's efforts to exert control over the relatively new state of the Republic of Vietnam. Of these factions, the communists proved the most intractable. Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, believed that one of the communists' strengths was the appeal of their political philosophy. Diem and Nhu were skeptical of communism as well as the democratic capitalism espoused by their American allies. In place of both, the brothers Ngo sought to impose upon the South Vietnamese people their "Personalist Revolution." This revolution was based on the tenants of Personalism, a little understood philosophy drawn from the ideas of the French philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier. The strategic hamlet program would be the Ngo brothers' conduit for pursuing their Personalist Revolution and spreading its ideas to the South Vietnamese people. This paper argues that rather than being American puppets, Diem and his family were nationalists who actively sought to establish a sovereign nation that, while reliant on foreign aid, was independent in action. The construction of strategic hamlets became not just a counterinsurgency program but, in effect, a physical manifestation of Diem's efforts to inspire his people towards a middle way, between the pull of the geopolitical giants that were Communism and Capitalism in the 1950s and 60s. Ultimately, President Diem's ability to convince his American allies to fund his efforts to spread a new national ideology demonstrated South Vietnamese agency in the midst of the fighting in Southeast Asia.
Devon Collins, United States Military Academy
Participant's Paper Title: Blueprints for Captivity: Planning versus Reality in British Prisoner of War Camps in World War I
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the First World War, the British government directly oversaw the internment of some 350,000 Germans while also advocating on behalf of nearly 190,000 British soldiers. Having never experienced this scale of responsibility for prisoners of war (POWs), the British government developed temporary physical, as well as organizational structures, to cope with this new dynamic. This paper will explore how the formation of and response to POW camps across northern France, the British Isles, and even in ship hulls reflected how the British government and military conceived of POWs. While the Foreign and War Offices were quick to erect substantial organizational structures to cope administratively with prisoners, the departments were less concerned with the physical structures required to intern these men. By early 1915, the Foreign Office sought to provide substantial structures for British prisoners by pressuring the German government through neutral state inspectors and the International Red Cross. Conversely, the War Office focused its early efforts on achieving victory through a quick, decisive war. Physically constructing POW camps would indicate a permanence in the war effort the War Office was unwilling to concede. Instead, the German POWs were interned in small temporary lodgings, with the War Office even preferring to shift warden duties to the French military to mitigate cost of transporting prisoners to Britain. It took years of diplomatic haranguing, negative reports from neutral inspectors, a dramatic increase in the number of prisoners, as well as public outcries for the War Office to construct permanent quarters for German prisoners. By examining the construction of POW camps, this paper will provide another lens to assess the level of British compliance in the recently signed articles of the Hague Convention and adherence to international law.
Christian Garner, United States Military Academy
Participant's Paper Title: Cotton, Tumbleweeds, and Gliders: American Glider Pilot Training and its Impact on Lamesa, Texas, during World War II
Participant's Paper Abstract: Rapidly initiated at the national, regional, and local levels, the American glider pilot training program came about due to a perceived military need after successful German operations at the outset of World War II. Although the national program successfully produced the required number of pilots to facilitate combat operations, numerous changes and improvisations came to characterize the program. Like other American military initiatives in the twentieth century, the War Department applied massive amounts of effort, dollars, and time to a program that proved to be short-lived in duration due to the subsequent, rapid advancement of technology. In an effort to hastily build and prepare a glider pilot force, the physical landscape of the United States transformed as training bases quickly sprouted up on once barren land. The small, Texas town of Lamesa exemplified this change as a result of the program, and subsequently suffered the brunt of subsequent, American military technology development. Having successfully lobbied and secured a glider pilot training base, the citizens of the town saw their hard-fought efforts fall swiftly by the wayside in the wake of shifting national defense priorities. An airfield and training base rapidly built in the midst of cactus and tumbleweeds bustled with instructors, trainees, and aircraft, only to be deserted just as quickly. As generations continue to pass and memories gradually fade, it is important to document and understand the tumultuous relationship between the national defense infrastructure, gliders, and a local community. Physical, economic, and social changes occurred in Lamesa, Texas, but not to the scale envisioned or originally promised.
Andrew Wiest, University of Southern Mississippi
Bryan Gibby, US Military Academy

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