85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
Landscapes of War and Peace
April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky
Title: Young Scholars Panel - Protecting Men and Morals During World War II
John Terino, Air Command and Staff College
J. Davis Winkie, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Participant's Paper Title: Movies Without Mercy: USMC Combat Morality in WWII Combat Films, 1942-1954
Participant's Paper Abstract: Many historians have characterized the first years of American WWII combat films depicting the Marine Corps as flag-waving, conservative celebrations of America's victory. They traditionally look to Sands of Iwo Jima as the era's defining film, and one scholar even describes postwar films as presenting a "conservative, romantic" view of the war. However, I examine the Corps' on-screen combat morality -- the overall degree to which combatants adhere to norms governing combat, social or legal -- in six feature-length combat films produced about the USMC in the 40s and early 50s and ultimately argue that they do not neatly conform to a "conservative, romantic" outlook. In order to do so, I begin with the real world problem of combat morality in the Pacific theater and the factors which encouraged American atrocities. A common thread in this historiography is race hate's role in enabling atrocities, though the literature is split on its primacy in relation to other contributing factors such as enemy conduct. With that foundation, I then turn to wartime Marine Corps combat films. Here I find cinematic echoes of both racial hatred and appalling enemy conduct, but the cycle of atrocities is not complete. There are virtually no depictions of American combat immorality. This I attribute to the era's patriotic fervor and structural constraints on film content in wartime Hollywood. Two postwar USMC combat films, Halls of Montezuma and Beachhead, both of which scholars have frequently neglected, begin to re-examine American combat morality through scenes with Japanese prisoners. I further argue that these scenes exploring the cathartic allure and utility of killing POWs should be considered more extreme and introspective than they appear, because the military and the PCA still wielded significant content influence over Hollywood. Thus, the films are moral interventions in what perhaps was not a "conservative, romantic" era.
Victoria McGowan, University of Calgary
Participant's Paper Title: The "Suicide Corner": Canadian Armour in the Bocage, June to September 1944
Participant's Paper Abstract: The actual effectiveness of Canadian armour in the Normandy Campaign is a topic of intense debate. Much of the existing literature discusses the armour only in comparison to German units and as a victim of superior German tactics. However, very little work has looked at how terrain and natural boundaries impacted armour effectiveness. I believe this an oversight, considering that the bocage, a specific type of terrain made up of dense hedgerows, stone walls, valleys, and hills, had a significant impact on the ability of both armoured and infantry units to maintain mobile warfare, the preferred strategy at the time. My proposed paper discusses how the bocage terrain in Normandy significantly affected the evolution of both armoured strategy and armoured tactics in France in 1944. In my project I will specifically explore both heavy and light armoured units in order to show that the bocage affected all armoured strategy. I will discuss the bocage as a physical obstacle and as a defensive strategic position for German troops in order to demonstrate how it greatly increased the defensive ability of a rapidly weakening German army. I argue that the bocage had a far more significant impact on Canadian armour usage during the Normandy Campaign than the previously overstated superiority of German tactics. This project uses war diaries, after-action reports, and armour and infantry signals reports to show that the bocage impacted strategy across the armoured front. In conclusion, this project, by closely examining the terrain encountered by both heavy and light armour, reveals the little recognized impact of bocage on close quarters armoured and infantry fighting in the 1944 Normandy Campaign.
Tyler Webb, The Ohio State University
Participant's Paper Title: The Battling Buckeyes of the 37th Infantry Division
Participant's Paper Abstract: The 37th Infantry Division that was forged during the fires of World War I was again called upon by its nation after December 7th, 1941. These men not only fought for the United States, but also for Ohio. The 37th Infantry Division's original constituents were Ohio National Guard units, leading to its nickname, "the Buckeye Division." The soldiers' bond to Ohio was an integral part of the division spirit, as the division history recalls "it was generally assumed that Ohio men belonged to the 37th Division and that the 37th Division belonged to Ohio." The Buckeye soldiers carried their banner across the Pacific for nearly four years, fighting against the Imperial Japanese Army on various islands starting with defense preparations in Fiji, where approximately 40 percent of the division consisted of Ohioans. Their battles included the invasions of New Georgia, Bougainville, and the Philippines. The 37th proved to be an effective fighting force under the leadership of their exceptional commander, Major General Robert S. Beightler, from Marysville, Ohio. His leadership was best exemplified by the fact that he was only one of two National Guard division commanders not relieved of command throughout the war. This thesis investigates the leadership of Beightler, the role of the 37th in its battles, and furthers analysis of the lesser known battles on New Georgia and Bougainville. This study also provides insight into the once tense relationship between the Regular Army and the National Guard. However, perhaps the most important result of this research will be a better appreciation of the heroes who were the Battling Buckeyes.
Thomas Bruscino, Army War College