Heather Marie Stur’s Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era is a highly original and pioneering book, joining the recent work of Meredith Lair, Seth Jacobs, Kara Dixon Vuic, Andrew Huebner and others in making plain the permeability of boundaries between the American home front and the war zone. We have been long overdue for an ambitious account of gender and the Vietnam War, particularly one that pays attention not only to American women, but to Vietnamese women and GIs, too. Stur reminds us of the powerful hold that the John Wayne-style of American masculinity had on the whole nation during the Cold War, and that it of course extended to the combat zone; but more than that, Stur does well to demonstrate the challenge to – and breakdown of – that myth under the strain of day-to-day life in Vietnam.
The subtlety and ambition of Stur’s analysis draws overwhelming praise from the reviewers writing for this roundtable. On the whole, they like Stur’s use of a wide range of sources, her accessible prose, and her “compelling,” “insightful,” and “innovative” analysis. In general, they praise Stur’s skillful recovery of the ways in which, in Meredith Lair’s words, “Americans in the war zone embraced various ideas about gender that framed and justified the violence of the war itself,” and did much to determine the experiences of both American and Vietnamese women. In Stur’s examination of the Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO), for example, “Donut Dollies” brought the complicated tensions of gender and race dynamics from the home front – where those dynamics were working themselves out in sometimes dramatic fashion – to the battle front. And as Kara Dixon Vuic notes in her review, the process worked in the other direction, too, when combat zone sensibilities challenged home front mores – as when women “who expected to serve cool drinks and engage in small talk” ran up against expectations of “soldiers who assumed the women had come to offer another kind of service.”
Read more on H-Diplo (pdf) : Roundtable-XV-7
Personal Website of the author : heatherstur