Hip to Serve: Citizen Soldiers and New Meanings of Militarism in the All-Volunteer Era

Thursday, March 30, 2023, 12:45 PM - 2:15 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Military; Postwar; Social and Cultural


As the United States approaches the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF), an infinitesimal proportion of the public—less than one half of one percent—serves in uniform. Most American citizens have no direct relationship to the armed forces, and demographers have noted that service is becoming more and more a family tradition. These patterns persist despite the recent ending of twenty years of war and have led many to decry what they see as a growing divide between the military and civilians. Indeed, even as historians have highlighted the ways that militarism has saturated every aspect of American culture and society, military service remains largely invisible in the public mind. Despite ubiquitous public efforts to “thank” veterans for their service at everything from sporting events to hardware stores and small-town parades, most Americans give little serious thought to the meanings of military service in a volunteer force. This panel looks to the birth of the AVF to understand how the ending of the draft fundamentally changed the meanings of military service in the post-Vietnam War era. Shaul Mitelpunkt argues that M*A*S*H (both the film and the television series) eased Americans’ transition to the AVF. By both critiquing and affirming earlier notions of the necessity and value of conscripted service, M*A*S*H allowed Americans to end the draft while simultaneously romanticizing it and consigning it to nostalgia. While Hawkeye’s humorous exploits and resistance to military brass made Americans laugh, many servicemembers found little humor in their own daily efforts to reform the military. As Amy Rutenberg finds, the transition to the volunteer force fundamentally changed how citizen-soldiers understood their relationship with the military, what rights they had, and what the military owed them in return. Emboldened by service members’ voluntary status, activists—both civilian and in-service—argued that soldiers had the right to the same freedoms enjoyed by civilians, including freedom of speech and assembly and freedom from racism and sexism. As the volunteer force brought women into the services in greater numbers and more roles than ever before, women also grappled with what their service meant. Yet, even as the AVF more fully enmeshed women into the military and expanded the meanings of their service, Kara Dixon Vuic argues that their exclusion from Selective Service registration always separated them as citizens. Together, these papers draw new attention to a critical moment of transition in the meanings of military service and offer context to questions that Americans have yet to settle. The military’s transition from a conscripted to a volunteer force prompted many changes in personnel policies, recruitment tactics, servicemembers’ understandings of the nature and meaning of their work, and cultural depictions of martial service. This panel connects these changes to broader questions about the nature of late-twentieth-century American militarism, the relationship between military service and citizenship, and the interplay between military and civilian values. As historians of American war and society, the panelists demonstrate the inseparability of martial and civic values, even in a volunteer force.

Papers Presented

Excluded or Exempt? Gender and Citizen-Soldiers in the Post-Vietnam War Era

In the early 1970s, as the US military wound down its efforts in Vietnam, its leaders looked to an uncertain future. They rightly expected that the end of conscription and the return to a volunteer military would necessitate considerable changes in the force’s recruitment and utilization of men and women and, relatedly, its understandings of gender. The AVF’s dramatic increase in the number of servicewomen and expansion of their roles raised questions about the gendered meanings of martial service among a volunteer force of citizen-soldiers. Without a compulsory obligation for men to fight, military service could no longer be characterized as an exclusively masculine duty, and so what, if anything, differentiated the service of men and women? In an era fraught with rapid gender change and entrenched resistance, these questions resonated far beyond the armed forces. Concurrent debates about the Equal Rights Amendment and President Carter’s revival of Selective Service registration in 1980 highlighted the relationship between women’s military service and all women’s legal standing. This paper will examine how those debates played out in Congress, in the Supreme Court, and among the American public, bringing together an odd collection of political bedfellows both to support and oppose the compulsory martial service of women. Ultimately, these debates led to the last remaining sexual discrimination in American jurisprudence, one that frames the lives of all women and men today—the requirement that men, but not women, register for Selective Service.

Presented By
Kara Dixon Vuic, Texas Christian Univ.

What Now? The GI Movement and Military Counseling in the Wake of the Vietnam War

Starting with David Cortright in 1975, scholars have documented the tremendous political, policy, and social impact of the activism of American GIs and veterans in ending the draft and US involvement in the Vietnam War, even as popular narratives of the antiwar movement mostly erased that impact. But what happened to this mass movement after the war and the draft ended? As activists acknowledged at the time, the era of the all-volunteer force (AVF) created a situation whereby the majority of discontented GIs were no longer struggling to get OUT of service. Instead, they were struggling to stay IN service. This paper will examine how activists working in the military sphere retooled after 1973 as they sought out new purpose in the era of the AVF. It will argue that in shifting toward military law counseling, civilian and active-duty activists helped thousands of men and women gain conscientious objector status, upgrade their discharges, and challenge the institutional racism and sexism that ran rampant on bases and ships around the world. They vociferously argued that soldiers were citizens first, and therefore had the rights to free speech, expression, and even to unionize. These challenges helped force the US government and military to contend with a different meaning of citizen-soldier than had existed under the draft.

Presented By
Amy J. Rutenberg, Iowa State University

Hawkeye’s Smile: M*A*S*H and the Lure of Hip Militarism at the End of the Draft

In 1970, as government and military officials worked towards ending conscription and transitioning to the All-Volunteer Force, Americans flooded cinemas to watch a military satire set in the Korean War. This paper examines the cinematic politics surrounding the 1970 film M*A*S*H (directed by Air Force veteran Robert Altman) and the long-running CBS television M*A*S*H series that followed it (1972-1983). Relying on the private papers of the producers, production notes, and public reception, the paper argues that M*A*S*H, which is often remembered for its biting satire, also communicated sentimental liberal militarism that is familiar from the heyday of the citizen-soldier ethos. By tracing the significant imprints 1940s and 1950s official messaging about the military left in M*A*S*H, the paper shows that fantasies about hip militarism regained renewed popularity exactly at the time when the threat of the draft was receding from American life. Indeed, enjoying M*A*S*H became a wake of sorts: a way of consigning the military to the American past, and, through fond sentimentality and idolization, contributing to popular alienation from military labor. If during the draft era fantasies about hip militarism aimed to encourage Americans to accept the principal validity of conscription, the political logics of military hip in the transition to the AVF era worked to do the opposite: to help middle class Americans see their newly established divorce from military service as unproblematic.

Presented By
Shaul Mitelpunkt, University of York

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Christian G. Appy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Christian G. Appy is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he has received the Chancellor’s Medal, the Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award. He is the author of three books about the Vietnam War: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Viking, 2015), Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides (Viking, 2003), and Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam (University of North Carolina Press, 1993). For twenty years he edited a book series for the University of Massachusetts Press called “Culture, Politics, and the Cold War” which published more that thirty volumes, including Appy’s edited collection of essays, Cold War Constructions: The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966. He is currently working on a book about Daniel Ellsberg.

Presenter: Shaul Mitelpunkt, University of York
Shaul Mitelpunkt is a senior lecturer (Associate Professor) in U.S. History at the University of York, UK. His first book, Israel in the American Mind: The Cultural Politics of U.S.-Israeli Relations, 1958-1988, appeared within the series Cambridge Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations in 2018. Shaul's articles have appeared in Gender & History, The Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, and Diplomatic History among other outlets. He is currently working on a book project tentatively titled 'At Ease? How Ending the Draft Remade American Life'.

Presenter: Amy J. Rutenberg, Iowa State University
Amy Rutenberg is an Associate Professor of History at Iowa State University. She is the author of _Rough Draft: Cold War Military Manpower Policy and the Origins of Vietnam-Era Draft Resistance_ (Cornell UP, 2019), and she is working on a book tentatively titled _In the Service of Peace: Peace Activism and Military Service in the Post-Vietnam War Era. She also coordinates the secondary social studies education program at ISU.

Presenter: Kara Dixon Vuic, Texas Christian Univ.
Kara Dixon Vuic is the LCpl. Benjamin W. Schmidt Professor of War, Conflict, and Society in Twentieth-Century America at Texas Christian University. She is the author of The Girls Next Door: Bringing the Home Front to the Front Lines (Harvard University Press, 2019), which won the Tonous and Warda Johns Family Book Award from the American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch. Her first book, Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), won the Lavinia L. Dock Book Award from the American Association for the History of Nursing, was named a Book of the Year in History and Public Policy by the American Journal of Nursing, and was a finalist for the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award.

She also edited The Routledge Handbook on Gender, War, and the U.S. Military (2017) and is co-editor (with Richard Fogarty) of the University of Nebraska Press’s book series “Studies in War, Society, and the Military.” She co-edited the forthcoming collection Managing Sex in the U.S. Military (University of Nebraska Press, 2022) and is writing a new book called “Drafting Women.”