Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965

Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965

Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965

Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965

Synopsis

As thousands of wives and children joined American servicemen stationed at overseas bases in the years following World War II, the military family represented a friendlier, more humane side of the United States' campaign for dominance in the Cold War. Wives in particular were encouraged to use their feminine influence to forge ties with residents of occupied and host nations. In this untold story of Cold War diplomacy, Donna Alvah describes how these "unofficial ambassadors" spread the United States' perception of itself and its image of world order in the communities where husbands and fathers were stationed, cultivating relationships with both local people and other military families in private homes, churches, schools, women's clubs, shops, and other places.

Unofficial Ambassadors reminds us that, in addition to soldiers and world leaders, ordinary people make vital contributions to a nation's military engagements. Alvah broadens the scope of the history of the Cold War by analyzing how ideas about gender, family, race, and culture shaped the U. S. military presence abroad.

Excerpt

In the mid-1970s, life on the island of Okinawa was exciting for an American middle-schooler in an Army family. I made close friends among the other kids in the family housing area. For many of us, living in Okinawa was an adventure, although some kids lamented that their families had not been sent to more enchanting places like Germany or England instead. But we tried to make the most of our three years on the island. Within the housing area, beyond the baseball field for American families, we sometimes played in what we called “the boonies,” trekking through heavy foliage and underneath the webs of huge spiders to visit an Okinawan tomb, mysteriously empty. Other times we ventured beyond the chain link fence surrounding the base housing to walk along a stretch of highway lined with Okinawan shops, where we bought Japanese candy, Hello Kitty paraphernalia long before it came into vogue in the United States, bootlegged cassette tapes, food for my mynah bird (also acquired from an Okinawan pet shop), and souvenirs. We thought we detected subtle disapproval in the faces of some Okinawan shopkeepers toward us Americans, and speculated that this must have had something to do with Japan losing the war to the United States, and maybe the atomic bomb; or perhaps they were just concerned about children bumping into fragile wares or shoplifting. At the Department of Defense middle school for military dependents there were several kids from Japanese-American families (and many others from marriages between American servicemen and women they'd met in host countries), but most did not have relatives in Okinawa. Most of the Okinawans we encountered on- and off-base—the school bus drivers, the maids and seamstresses who came to American homes, the waitresses and shopkeepers—were quietly polite to us. The only hostility that I recall was Okinawan schoolboys on the side of the road throwing rocks at our green military school bus as it passed them. I didn't know why and didn't think too much about it, and figured that it must have something to do with the memory of World War II. I knew that the war had destroyed much of the island, but I knew nothing of the history and politics of U.S. bases on the island.

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