SDHF Newsletter No.322 Taking Leave, Taking Liberty: American Troops on the World War II Home Front
Taking Leave, Taking Liberty: American Troops on the World War II Home Front
University of Chicago Press, 2020.
Reviewed by Tadashi Hama
During World War II, there were a lot of US military personnel based in the homeland: out of 16 million American soldiers, “many of these troops never went abroad.” Author Arron Hiltner estimates that “65-75 percent of all soldiers were stationed domestically” and suggests that “as few as 10 percent … actually saw combat.”
What did these rear echelon troops do? Drink to excess, fight amongst themselves, civilians and civilian police, rape and occasionally murder. Hiltner ascribes acts of violence and drunkenness to a masculine ego activated when one dons a US military uniform and a sense of immunity conferred by the uniform. For black American troops, however, Hiltner assures us that their drunkenness and violence were due to “white racism.” Rather than allow a cliché to substitute for an explanation, one could instead review rates of crime of white and black civilians in the 1940s and also examine socioeconomic status, upbringing and level of self-control as contributing to black criminality at the time. However, it is much easier to ascribe inequality to “racism” rather than painstakingly root through history.
As to US military utilization of prostitutes, Hiltner notes that Norfolk, Virginia city officials allowed prostitutes do business within a designated area. Prostitutes paid city taxes and were regularly examined for venereal diseases. However, the Navy pressured the city to close the area due to an “outbreak” of venereal disease among naval personnel, forcing prostitution and crime to spread throughout Norfolk.
Hiltner surprisingly ignored Honolulu, a key Pacific American military base during WWII. While prostitution was not legal, prostitutes were fingerprinted and registered to work as prostitutes. From the prostitute’s $3 fee, the brothel owner received $1. There was probably a wider role of the US military and local governments in the regulation of prostitution in the US during World War II, with the aim of controlling crime and disease transmission—very similar to Japan’s use of comfort station. Perhaps Hiltner will follow up with such a book in the near future.
MOTEKI Hiromichi, Acting Chairman
for KASE Hideaki, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact