American Policymakers: Veterans, the U.S. Military, Congress, and the Creation of Transformative Policies

Endorsed by SHFG

Friday, March 31, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Military; Politics; Social and Cultural


Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution outlines many of Congress’s responsibilities, including its duty “to . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” Thus, American military history and American political history will always have an inherent connection. Obviously, declaring war is not Congress’s only responsibility when it comes to providing for the nation’s defense and welfare. Indeed, the federal government also enacts important policies and legislation that affect the physical and mental health of service members, the readiness and moral standing of the American military, and the workforce and human resources of the armed forces. Jorden Pitt’s paper examines the passage of the National Mental Health Act of 1946 and how federal policy now addressed the nation’s problems concerning mental health. While the act was intended for the benefit of all Americans, the recent end of World War II and returning veterans played critical roles in the formation and passage of the legislation, which created the National Institute of Mental Health and earmarked millions of dollars for the research of psychological illnesses. This paper argues that veterans had various reasons to support this legislation, but one of their most important and enduring contributions was their effort to destigmatize mental illness—a fight that continues today. Amber Batura’s presentation is an exploratory study of the federal government’s attempts to limit sexual explicitness in the American military. Her paper focuses on the Military Honor and Decency Act and its various iterations. On one hand, Congress designed this act to prevent sexually explicit material in the military because of the country’s fear that such material promoted corruption and affected military preparedness. On the other hand, Congress hoped that the act would encourage professionalism and readiness in personal lives and in the military. These acts, however, are significant because they stirred up many public debates that reflected multiple aspects of American society, ranging from questions of gender issues to matters concerning the military’s image. David Kieran’s presentation delves into how presidential and congressional policies affected the workforce and human resources of the United States Army after the American War in Vietnam. In a period when Ronald Reagan wanted to ostensibly cut government spending, Army officers lobbied the federal government to exclude the Army from the hiring freeze. The Army wanted to hire 30,000 employees to better maintain a fighting force. Kieran concludes that the Army’s lobbying congressional policies reimagined civilians’ roles in the military. The civilian workforce became an important tool for the Army in its post-Vietnam rehabilitation. With Jennifer Keene serving as chair and commentator, this panel, then, will examine the intersections between military and political history and the federal government’s implementation of rarely discussed federal policies in order to provide for the welfare of the military and nation. Together, these papers will help scholars learn how Veterans, the American armed forces, and Congress influence and create policies that transformed the military and American society at large.

Papers Presented

Mending the "Broken Spirits": Veteran Activism and the National Mental Health Act of 1946

After World War II, the United States Federal Government passed the National Mental Health Act of 1946—the country’s first significant foray into the realm of psychological health as it established the National Institute of Mental Health and earmarked millions of dollars for the research of mental illness. While the act was intended to aid civilians and military servicemembers alike, veterans played crucial roles in the passage of this legislation. During the congressional debates, one congressperson declared that “the most terribly tragic figures” were not those veterans returning home from the war with physical injuries but those “with their spirits broken.” Returning veterans themselves also felt this way as evidenced by their influential lobbying and testimonies during the congressional hearings. This paper examines why veterans lobbied for this significant act, arguing that veterans, with their many reasons, played a crucial role in getting this act passed. Relying on congressional records from the hearings and debates, this paper shows that veterans lobbied because they wanted to discover new methods for the prevention and treatment of psychological illnesses. Moreover, testimonies from congressional records demonstrate that veterans “with their spirits broken” in the Second World War played a pivotal role in the effort to destigmatize mental illness—a fight that continues today. This presentation shows, then, that the veterans who helped pass the National Mental Health Act of 1946 provide us with the historical lenses through which scholars can examine the beginnings of the mental health movement in the twentieth century.

Presented By
Jorden David Pitt, Texas Christian University

“The Military has Decided to Fight the Devil Instead:” The Military Honor and Decency Act, Public Debate, and Military Professionalism

In 1996, the Military Honor and Decency Act passed Congress as an attachment to the National Defense Authorization Act, sparking public debate and controversy. The act was designed to prevent sexually explicit material from being sold or distributed on military bases in order to promote military honor and professionalism and prevent the corruption of defense readiness, according to proponents. The act was found unconstitutional for violating military servicemember’s first amendment rights, but was eventually upheld on appeal. Since 1996, there have been other iterations and public debates linking the control of sexually explicit material with military readiness, professionalism, and good honor and character. This paper explores the debate that centered around the Military Honor and Decency Act and its iterations. Public debate around the passage often claimed that exposure to sexually explicit material was damaging servicemembers on a personal, spiritual, and professional level, while those opposed to the legislation cited first amendment protection. Legislators, military and government members, and private citizens alike weighed-in on the controversy, often tying desired (or undesired) behavior to the practice of consuming sexual material. By exploring this policy and public debate, this paper sheds light on how ideas about gender, sexuality, and sex inform American’s understanding of accepted and desired military behavior and the military’s image, linking discussions of policy, the military, and gender together.

Presented By
Amber Batura, Air Command and Staff College

“Very Beneficial To The Units and the Individual Soldier:” The Army’s Reimagining of Its Civilian Workforce After Vietnam

Shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected in part on a promise to cut government spending, Army Chief of Staff Edward “Shy” Meyer requested that Reagan’s plan to freeze federal hiring exclude the Army, which sought to hire 30,000 civilians. Within a year, commanders reported that their ability to turn tasks over to civilians and return troops to the jobs for which they had been trained was yielding significant benefits: soldiers were happier and more willing to reenlist, and units were more prepared to fight. Nonetheless, leaders worried about potential cutbacks. “Loss of civilian authorizations,” General Fritz Kroesen wrote to Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel Maxwell R. Thurman, “would cause forward deployed forces to reverse readiness progress and create tremendous loss of credibility.” This paper examines how the Army reimagined the role that civilians would play in the post-Vietnam force. In a climate of fiscal austerity, leaders lobbied congressional and administration officials, arguing that hiring civilians was a necessity. They also reimagined how civilians should be trained and recognized, creating both “a set of civilian awards that mirror the Army military awards” and a Civilian Staff College. Analyzing these efforts, this paper looks beyond the recruitment of quality troops and the acquisition of new equipment to show that growing and maintaining the civilian workforce emerged as a critical facet of the Army’s post-Vietnam rehabilitation. In doing so, it invites deeper consideration of the processes of organizational change in one of the most significant institutions in U.S. culture.

Presented By
David Kieran, Columbus State University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Jennifer Diane Keene, Chapman University
Jennifer D. Keene, Ph.D. is a professor of history and dean of the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University. Dr. Keene received her Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, after completing her B.A. and M.A. at George Washington University. She is a specialist in war and society studies, and has written extensively on World War I. She served as an historical advisor to the World War I Centennial Commission, and as an historical consultant for numerous exhibits and films, including the PBS documentary mini-series, The Great War. Her books include Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America (2001), World War I: The American Soldier Experience (2011), and The United States and the First World War, 2nd ed. (2022). She is also a general editor for the “1914-1918-online,” peer-reviewed online encyclopedia,, a major digital humanities project. A past-president of the Society for Military History, Dr. Keene recently received the Edward Simmons Award for long and distinguished service to the society.

Presenter: Amber Batura, Air Command and Staff College
Dr. Amber B. Batura is an Assistant Professor of Military and Security Studies in the Department of Leader and Research Development at Air Command and Staff (ACSC) College in Montgomery, AL. Prior to joining ACSC in March 2021, she was an Instructor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. She also taught online courses for Texas Tech Costa Rica and the University of Texas Permian Basin. Dr. Batura graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas in 2009, a Master of Arts (2012), and a Ph.D. (2018) in History from Texas Tech University. Her specialization looks at the intersection between war and culture and war and society, with a special focus on gender and the military. She has published articles in The New York Times, the Journal of American-East Asian Relations, and has contributed to edited volumes on the Vietnam War. She is currently working on a manuscript on the importance of Playboy magazine to soldiers in the Vietnam War.

Presenter: David Kieran, Columbus State University
David Kieran is Associate Professor and Chair of History and coordinator of the American Studies Concentration at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA. He is the author of Signature Wounds: The Untold Story of the Military’s Mental Health Crisis (New York University Press, 2019 and Forever Vietnam: How a Divisive War Changed American Public Memory, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2014. He is also the editor of The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror (Rutgers University Press, 2015); the co-editor, with Edwin A. Martini, of At War: The Military and American Culture in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Rutgers University Press, 2018); and with Rebecca A. Adelman Remote Warfare: New Cultures of Violence (University of Minnesota Press, 2020). He is currently writing a history of organizational change in the U.S. Army after Vietnam, tentatively entitled The Army’s Search for Itself: Maxwell R. Thurman and the Army’s Post Vietnam Metamorphosis and a history of the debate over amnesty for Vietnam War resisters, tentatively entitled Moral Aftermath: The Amnesty Debate and the End of the Vietnam War.

Presenter: Jorden David Pitt, Texas Christian University
Jorden Pitt is currently a PhD candidate at Texas Christian University. He received his master’s degree from Kansas State University and his bachelor’s from the University of Wyoming. His current research focuses on psychological illness among military flyers and how those issues provide scholars with a lens to view the inherent connection between mental health and conventional gender roles in American society. He has presented his work at regional, national, and international conferences, including the annual conferences of the Organization of American Historians, the Society for Military History, and the Royal Air Force Museum in London. Furthermore, he presented at the Inaugural Emerging Scholars Symposium: D-Day, which was organized through the National Archives and the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Libraries.