Black Yanks in America's Pacific: Race and the Making of a Military Empire, 1945-1953

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This dissertation examines the participation of tens of thousands of African-American servicemen in the occupation of Japan and the Korean war. It poses three questions: how were black servicemen incorporated into a postwar military empire; how did they help shape their nation's expanding Asian protectorate; and how did they understand their role in it? I employ historian Thomas Holt's concept of the "everyday"--where macro-level phenomena are lived and interpreted--for a study of international military history. Black citizens recognized the socioeconomic advantages of a burgeoning warfare-welfare state whose armed forces provided employment opportunities to disadvantaged citizens. American policies in Japan, which promoted personal consumption by soldiers while demanding varying degrees of American-Japanese segregation, encouraged proprietary attitudes toward the nation and its people. American tactics in Korea, as well as soldiers' belief they were fighting for an ungrateful and feckless population, produced a disdain for Koreans, allies and enemies alike. The war's lingering effects, moreover, sustained African Americans' socioeconomic dependence upon militarization and the projection of American power. One of the central ironies of this story is that many black Americans enjoyed greater citizenship privileges when serving abroad in an authoritarian institution dedicated to the use of force. The employment of black men in a trans-Pacific military empire hindered notions of Afro-Asian solidarity and enhanced black identification with America's regional ambitions. A generation of African Americans abroad and at home entered a new phase of racial formation, one that encouraged black citizens to share many of the same racialized attitudes toward Asian peoples held by their white counterparts, to think of themselves first and foremost as Americans (and distinctly not as members of broader communities defined as "colored" or "non-white"), and to identify with their government's foreign policy objectives in Asia (if not its every strategic decision). Armed service in Japan and Korea thus encouraged black citizens to reassess their identities and priorities in a militarized, global context at the dawn of the Cold War.

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  • 09/07/2018
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