Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century

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A look at Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg, that poses the question,'Are we all military dependents?'

Fayetteville has earned the nicknames of Fatalville and Fayettenam. Unusual and not-sounusual features of the town include gross income inequalities, an extraordinarily high incidence of venereal disease, miles and miles of strip malls, and a history of racial violence. Through interviews with residents and historical research, Catherine Lutz immerses herself in the life of the town to discover how it has supported the military for over a century. From secret training operations that use civilians as mock enemies and allies to the satellite economy of the town, Lutz's history of Fayetteville reveals the burdens that military preparedness creates for all of us.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Any reader will find [Lutz's] conclusions . . . provocative. —Publishers Weekly

"Rich in storytelling, history, and political commentary, with implications far beyond Fayetteville." —Michael Sherry, author of In the Shadow of War

"In no small part, Homefront chronicles Fayetteville through the trials and triumphs of the downtrodden, the underdogs and the disfranchised." —Greg Barnes, Fayetteville Observer

'First rate.' —Louis B. Cei, Richmond Times Dispatch

"Penetrating." —Ann Jarmusch, San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego Union Tribune
Lutz weaves penetrating political commentary...throughout the book, which discusses the effect military bases have on the communities they occupy and, to a lesser extent, vice versa....Her narrative is comfortably authoritative, reflecting the six years she spent listening, observing, researching.
Fayetteville Free Weekly
Some people have condemned it, sight unread, as another unfair smear of the city. Others, basing their views on media reports, pronounce they won't read it because the author was obviously biased against the military...Ironically, Lutz hoped to avoid just such a response. That's why she spent six years researching and writing the book in the first place. Her purpose was to do a thorough, complete and scientific scrutiny of Fayetteville as a sociological system, not a shallow, flippant news brief.
Publishers Weekly
Arguing that "a government's power grows in the bloody medium of war," Lutz (Unnatural Emotions), an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sets up Fayetteville, N.C., as a microcosmic, historical case study. The town is host to Fort Bragg, where the U.S. Army's crack 18th Airborne corps, a combat-ready unit, is stationed. Lutz begins her story with the founding of Fort Bragg in 1916 and the dismantling of Fayetteville's socially complex, multiracial farming community. This eventually led to complicated economic arrangements in which civilians were dependent upon the base for work, with little other economic advantage to the community. (Loss of sales tax, for instance, for goods bought at the tax-exempt PX amounted to $12 million in 2001.) Racial and gender inequalities that the base fostered during WWII as well as the role it played in supporting drug trade and prostitution during the Vietnam war are examined. Moving into the more recent past, Lutz's analysis of the effect of a war-preparedness economy and mentality upon civilians, basic norms and infrastructures is impressive. Drawing from a wealth of interviews with residents, whom she quotes extensively, Lutz backs up and contextualizes pronouncements on the poor state of the schools, public transportation and the environment. While Lutz writes from an overtly progressive position, any reader will find her conclusions ("the distinction between civilian and military [in post-Cold War base towns] has worn down, rather than intensified") provocative. (Nov. 21) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Anthropologist Lutz (Univ. of North Carolina) analyzes the effects of Fort Bragg on its host city, concluding that the US Army can cause plenty of damage domestically, as well as abroad. The fortunes of Fayetteville, North Carolina, had been less than rosy when its town fathers welcomed the Army into the city in 1918. Even then, newly developed long-distance weapons required wide-open spaces that could be used for artillery ranges, and Fayetteville, declining in population and hungry for federal largesse, fit the bill. But the camp radically changed the city's character, bringing soldiers from around the country into a sleepy southern town. And during WWII, camp population went from 5,400 to 159,000, with the soldiers bringing all the social problems of the country they served. Racial tensions grew, and segregated black soldiers consigned to noncombat duty were constantly blamed for the brawls that sprang up at the congested base. During Vietnam, antiwar activists, including soldiers and veterans, ruffled local conservative feathers. Most disliked by civilians, whatever the era, is the honky-tonk district that entertains the soldiers. It's the center of local crime, its gin joints and brothels giving the town its nicknames of "Fatalville" and "Fayettnam." Lutz clearly isn't sympathetic toward the military, but she does back up her arguments with interviews and hard research. The base has actually harmed the region's economy, she writes, rendering it victim not of business cycles but of war cycles. She notes also that what the base needs from the town creates mainly just service-oriented jobs that pay low wages. The mental toll on town life is also documented. During the Cold War, troopsstaged simulated battles, running through the region hunting out concealed mock-Communists. These exercises, argues Lutz, created a bunker mentality that reinforced the town's sense of dependence on the base. An excellent study with an unusual take on the heart of the military-industrial complex.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807055090
  • Publisher: Beacon Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 5.95 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine A. Lutz is professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of Unnatural Emotions and coauthor, with Jane L. Collins, of Reading National Geographic. Lutz is winner of the Anthony Leeds Prize (2002) and of the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Honorable Mention (2002).

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Boosters, Social Crisis, and a Military Solution (1918-1938)

It was the fall of 1916, and three men on a mission could be seen driving north on the road from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C. A large poster mounted on the car's rear and flying streamers trumpeted their city's advantages as the location for a proposed federal armor plate factory. Though this trio failed in their efforts, the chamber of commerce that sent them persevered and ultimately landed even bigger fish. Two years later, the government announced appropriations for a large military post near Fayetteville: Chamber emissaries then in the capital, the city's newspaper reported, were "overjoyed with the turn of events and there was much backslapping and hand-shaking when [local U.S.] Representative Godwin brought the glad tidings. Tonight they held a jollification dinner at the Congress Hall Hotel."

    Local boosters like these and decisionmakers in Washington were to turn many hundreds of American places into military landscapes over the next century. And like many local newspapers, the Fayetteville press was an ally, celebrating the men as "hustling, live wires," and their work as a bold contribution to the collective good. Then and in the future, they would be seen as community visionaries rather than salesmen, and the installation they brought as a wealth generator, essentially no different than a textile mill. And however important the boosters' role, their spotlighting would leave in shadow views of the military other than that of invited guest.

    In stories about the events that brought Fort Bragg to the city, moreover, larger social forces have been lost to view. The push to join World War I and to build a large peacetime army had come from a "preparedness movement" among wealthy elites. The battle they saw coming was not in Europe alone: They felt threatened by the militant claims of labor and the differences of race and immigrant cultures, newly bustling in American cities. Arguing for a military solution to problems of class conflict and declining American character, many were the same business elites whose enterprises required a more docile labor force at home and new markets overseas. A larger military would help create the former and open the latter. Also occluded was the role of emerging industrial warfare in reshaping American cities. It offered immense profits through manufacture of its new tools, and some, such as artillery that could toss shells over much longer distances, were sending the army on a determined search for larger tracts of land. And little noted were the antimilitarist activists whose sentiments—that war was "repulsive, uncivilized, immoral and futile"—were widely shared throughout the country.

    Banished from the Washington hotel celebration were local feelings as well, such as fears many had that the camp would dissolve life as they knew it. Those anxieties made brief appearance in the newspaper on a day in 1917 when hopes for a military facility—raised and felled several times—had been dashed yet again. The paper groused,

Who wants to waste time and good money trying to grab an elusive military camp with a greased tail when there are so many fine business opportunities to be developed? ... A large proportion of the people of Fayetteville are down in the mouth because a big machine gun school of training was not located here, but the pure in heart can rest contented and with a feeling of security: their sons and their daughters and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts will not be demoralized and corrupted by wicked, depraved young soldiers roaming the streets like roaring lions, seeking whom they may devour.

    Also absent throughout the public discussions were the voices of Fayetteville's white and black mill workers who would help pay for incentives the city offered the army. And the black sharecroppers and city residents who had already fled in the Great Migration north and for whom the changes came too late to matter in any case. Or the black, Native American, and Scots farmers about to be relieved of their land, their neighbors, and their churches. These perspectives were also absent from many histories later told, as the victors of domestic battles, like the foreign, have seized the right to pen the collective past.

    So we must begin elsewhere than the boosters' hotel party to learn how homes in Fayetteville—and in every American town and city—have been transformed into home fronts. National myths lead us to imagine each war as overseas, all of them thrust upon the United States, and patriotism as the only motive for taking part. Regional stereotypes, in turn, might lead us to envision pre-army encampment Fayetteville as a quiet Southern place or a traditional turn-of-century American town of plowshares and tradespeople—a placid swimming hole into which a hefty military installation was tossed. But there was no simple peace for the soldiers of Camp Bragg to march into in 1918. For like America itself, Fayetteville had already made war and been made by it.


The first was waged within Native American communities, the second—on a scale that dwarfed the first—by European colonists who claimed the New World as their own. The realities of violent conflict among the Native American groups who first lived in the Southeast about 12,000 years ago, as now understood by archaeologists, contradict the two most commonly imagined Native American pasts. One stereotype is of a gentle people, eating roots and berries and knowing nothing of conflict; the other, of ignoble savages at constant tribal war with other groups, a premodern Somalia or Yugoslavia. Both images are built on the common belief that human history is essentially the story of the replacement of the primitive by the modern, with civilization seen as either suppressing the violent brute within us or putting melancholy distance between us and a simpler, less grasping way of life.

    In this region, however, the evidence is not helpfully slotted into either vision of antiquity. Living without apparent violent conflict by hunting, fishing, and gathering in small dispersed sites, the first people of North Carolina eventually turned to agriculture. By 1200, the surplus this produced had allowed the groups to be reorganized in many places into larger, ranked societies and permanent villages. It also seems to have precipitated wars with evidence in the palisades built around some villages by about 1400. Violence exploded, however, with European contact in the seventeenth century, as Native American slaves (sold to Europeans in the Caribbean and the rest of the colonies) and pelts brought trade in guns and other goods. Local village life became more turbulent as people moved to serve the English deerskin trade coming out of Virginia and as smallpox and other sickness spread along British trade routes through Native American groups. The epidemic disease and warfare that broke out throughout the New World, in fact, often occurred at some distance from actual colonial settlements, as germs, weapons, and conflict over trade goods sometimes migrated ahead of the colonists.

    In the early eighteenth century, disease was pushing an already sparse population out of the Sandhills area that now houses Fort Bragg when a set of three wars devastated native communities. Prompted by colonial conflicts over land, grazing, and trading rights, the Tuscarora War led to the death, exile, or domination of all of the colony's native peoples east of the Appalachians by 1715. This opened the Fayetteville area to European settlement, which increased rapidly in midcentury. The wars, however, led some of the survivors to align with the Catawba, to form the grouping now known as the Lumbee, and to communicate more effectively among themselves, the better to survive the challenges of the next century. These people who had fled into the swampy area just thirty miles south of Fayetteville now constitute the largest, if legally unrecognized, Native American community east of the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. Like many other areas of America today, it can be reimagined as a landscape of war refugees.

    So, too, does the local story of the American Revolution violate the notion that a town's original families established a simple lineage of patriots. Many of the Highland Scotch farmers who moved there after the Tuscarora War were loyal to the British crown, and overall, county residents were about evenly divided in their allegiances during the war. Oddly, the Scots ability to claim premier citizenship for themselves in the city through the ensuing decades was not harmed by this untoward initial relationship to the nation. But their status hinged not on revolutionary contributions but their hold on land and local political power.

    When the war ended, nation building centered on "Indian-fighting," which was one of the main ostensible purposes of militias established around the South. Despite the much earlier subjection of Native Americans in the area, the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry (FILI) was formed in 1793 as the new federal government generated fear that Spain was "exciting the Southern Indians to war against the country," as well as in the immediate wake of the beginning of the revolution of Haitian slaves in 1791. Historians commonly describe the early U.S. Army as a constabulary defined by its appointed job of "Indian hunting" rather than defense of national borders. Consistent with this, the Army enforced presidential orders in the late 1830s to evict the Cherokee from their North Carolina land. Fully a quarter of the group died on its forced march to Oklahoma.

    Some historical accounts set this violence to the side and present the next one hundred years as the area's era of glory. Fayetteville was, in fact, one of the South's most prominent places through the 1830s. Running from the town down to Wilmington and the Atlantic, the Cape Fear River nourished Fayetteville's fortunes as a trade center for more than a century. At the end point of the river's navigable waters, the city commanded a middleman location between the state's only significant ocean port and farmland to the west and as far north as Virginia. As many people lamented to me, Fayetteville was almost the permanent capital of the state—perhaps echoing their sense of other, more recent opportunities lost: Interstate 95 sited a few miles too far east of town, legislative largesse passed to the city of Charlotte. Even with Raleigh made the capital, however, Fayetteville was second in size only to Wilmington and New Bern by 1860. Its Market House and town hall, still standing today at the center of downtown, were a glory of Moorish arches, clock, and belfry. Fertile farmlands, growing first cotton and later tobacco, ran along the river, and the area was a prominent center for the naval stores industry in the several decades leading up to the Civil War. Fayetteville's early investment in public schooling for whites and blacks, begun in the nineteenth century, was said to be a model for other North Carolina communities.

    But if "the Indian question" could be set out of mind because now out of sight, slavery and its aftermath were more insistent. Their brutality, too, demonstrated that the problem of violence in the United States throughout its history has been the problem of race, each made in the crucible of the other. In Fayetteville's county, Cumberland, the eastern section was a relatively heavy slave-holding area, like other sections of coastal plain North and South Carolina. One descendant of slave owners from this agriculturally rich area, William Fields, became one of the area's most ardent chroniclers. As I set out to meet him, I headed to the rural limits of town on the opposite side of the city from Fort Bragg, where the post's influence on growth has been slight. Riding down his furrowed, unmarked drive, I wound through Spanish moss- and vine-dripping woods to a large, ramshackle house, its boards askew and once-tended garden spilling over stone borders. Despite appearances of a place out of time, the man who greeted me at the door was a vibrant, chain-smoking eighty-year-old working artist who had lived in Rome and New York City. We sat down to talk at a table sprouting exuberant towers of genealogical and historical research papers, with sooty portraits of his two great-great-grandfathers overlooking us from the high-ceilinged walls. In those papers he could trace the deed that put his family on this same land in 1779 and the documents claiming his ancestor's ownership of 104 human beings.

    Mr. Fields had been raised by a nanny who was a child to his great-grandmother's slaves, and she had told him many stories about their entangled ancestors, including his black cousins. Some of them, set against the silences and terms of his "official" family biography, led him to a somewhat unusual ability to identify where existing accounts of the local past had hidden the work that went into them to make violence look like order. "My grandmother was born in 1854," he told me, "so she was ten years old when the Civil War came along. When she was five they gave her this little girl as her personal slave. The first thing that my grandmother did to demonstrate her authority was to order the child to put her foot up on a chopping block and she took a hatchet and chopped off her big toe.... My grandmother told me that, yes. I think she regretted it somewhat later, but ... she already was learning the ropes of how to subjugate people."

    The violence slave owners meted out to control their labor force came back in haunted fear of retribution. So it was that the FILI, like other Southern militias, explicitly stood ready to repress potential slave revolts, alarms of which "punctuated the antebellum years." Real and imagined, these insurrections and the response to them were in essence part of a long-standing race war throughout the Americas. And so it was, too, that several federal and state arsenals were built in Fayetteville in those years.

    Nonetheless, free people of color held a special status in Fayetteville over and above those elsewhere in the state. They continued to vote, by local statute, when the rest of the state's free blacks were disenfranchised in 1834, and they totaled between 5 and 10 percent of the town's population by 1840. They remained second-class citizens, however, required to wear identification badges and forbidden, among other things, to smoke or carry a cane in public. That their situation was far less than tolerable is indicated by the large number of people (including Langston Hughes's grandmother) who left for the North in this period and by the fact that a son of Fayetteville, Lewis Sheridan Leary, joined and was killed in the insurrectionary raid on the Harper's Ferry arsenal in 1859.

    In those years, a white Carolinian could argue that "the nature of our institution of domestic slavery and its exposure of us to hostile machinations, both at home and abroad, render it doubly incumbent on us and our whole sisterhood of Southern States to cherish a military spirit and to diffuse military science among our people." During the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of the FILI, a local dignitary orated on a militia's value and against "larger bodies of regular [or] hired soldiery" on grounds that the militias "have ranks filled with those who have all at stake in the welfare of the community."

    The FILI still exists, the second oldest continuously operating militia in the United States. While it sent men to the wars of two centuries, and while counting veterans of World War II and the Gulf War among its members, the contemporary FILI has been drained of its status as a fighting force and of these elements of its history. Today, it appears more as the colorful, vaguely heritage-authenticating frontispiece of city parades than as a legacy of the problems of land and labor that Native Americans, Africans, and poor whites had presented the city fathers. Its headquarters, shown to me by one generous member, is downtown in a crenellated building of deep red brick. As we entered through locked iron grilles and bolted doors, it was as if into a combination museum and men's social club. We passed through small exhibits of old militia uniforms, Civil War sabers, and group photographs of former members. Other photos showed the militiamen with their wives in elbow-length gloves and gowns in the 1950s and 1960s. And like the mounted antlers or petrified bass trophies that line some men's spaces of other eras, we passed displays of war loot members had brought home in their duffel bags from a variety of overseas campaigns. On one pedestal sat a large bust of Hitler, liberated from Berlin by an FILI member. And over the dark wood bar where members gather for drinks was a gigantic pinup-style pencil drawing of a lounging, sparsely dressed woman taken from a German POW in World War II Europe.

    The defense of slavery was the FILI's moment, however. As the Civil War approached, the FILI and white residents of the city were more concerned with "the enemy within" than the Yankee without. The federal arsenal's presence in the city provoked more disquiet about its potential use by local slaves than by the North. Some began to ask themselves around Christmastime, "when the negroes were generally supposed to be taken with annual longings to `rise,' [whether] the munitions of war should prove a temptation too strong for them to resist? ... The scent of war was in the air. The negroes might take the infection." Taken over by the Confederacy in 1861, the arsenal employed many local women, young boys, free blacks, and slaves in making cartridges and other equipment for the war. Union soldiers destroyed it in 1865, when Fayetteville's great misfortune was to be one of the few North Carolina cities in the path of General William Sherman's march. Sherman also torched the offices of the local newspaper (which had the second largest circulation of any paper in the South) and the half dozen mills that had made the county the main site of the textile industry in the state. He destroyed railroad property, shops, tanneries, and other factories as well, and dropped a social hurricane of twenty thousand to thirty thousand refugees and camp followers in Fayetteville.

    Over the next decades, Fayetteville's people struggled to recover from the war. Many farmed the land as tenants, as whites continued to own prewar plantation lands. New textile plants set up shop in the county, with mill owners paying low wages to a mainly white female and child labor force. This economic activity helped Cumberland County grow at the same rate as the rest of the state. Democracy made some headway, with blacks voting and gaining office (if in disproportionately small numbers). But the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization that operated through North Carolina soon after the war, led by the old Democratic political elite, tried to reverse these gains. By the mid-1870s, the white-dominated Democratic Party took over the reins of town government and held them for the next two decades.

    As the century opened, Fayetteville, like the United States as a whole, was in the throes of many social and economic changes, sometimes of crisis proportions. Prices for cotton were cripplingly low. Depression had been followed by the devastating boll weevil. The area's once-strong turpentine and naval stores industry had been decimated along with its source, the longleaf pine, while the timber industry more generally was being rapidly depleted. Likely connected to the deforestation, silt clogged the city's link to the Atlantic, the Cape Fear River. City population growth lagged the state as a whole in the 1910s as such places as Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro thrived on new rail connections that Fayetteville did not get and industrialized more rapidly. Despite an influx of new mills, the city, once third in size in the state, had fallen behind thirteen other North Carolina towns by 1910, a stinging fact if growth is equated with progress.

    As the new economy stumbled haltingly forward, racial violence lent it a guiding hand. Confronted by a political coalition of black Republicans and white Populists that had gained power statewide and in this county in the 1890s, the conservative elites of the Democratic Party organized a new white supremacy campaign intended to drive a permanent wedge between black and white voters and workers. Fayetteville played an important role in this movement that brought what amounted to a coup d'etat and racial massacre to the nearby city of Wilmington, the disenfranchisement of blacks throughout the state, and the one-party rule by the Democrats for the next seven decades. State Democratic Chairman Furnifold Simmons's 1898 call for the restoration of North Carolina as "a white man's state" was vigorously answered in Fayetteville, where a White Supremacy Club was established.

    In 1898, the city hosted Ben Tillman, the South Carolina demagogue of the supremacy movement, with a major rally that turned out a crowd of as many as ten thousand citizens. Tillman arrived at the railroad station with a cornet band and the Cape Fear militia and proceeded through downtown with the city's mayor, county chairman, and newspaper publisher. Banners flew around a four-horse-drawn decorated float ridden by young women in white dresses: twenty-two in all, one for each county precinct. Protecting the honor of these and like maidens was the pretext for the fearsome capstone to the parade, three hundred crimson-shirted men on horseback. These "Red Shirts" would later ride throughout eastern Carolina, as one contemporary account noted, "a yelling file of horsemen, galloping wildly. They were men who meant violence if fear was not enough." Thousands of people attended, their "vehicles filling all the streets and thoroughfares ... evidence that the white people of upper Cape Fear had left the plow, the machine shops, the kitchen, nay, the very neighborhood school-room." Also attending were bankers, wealthy farmers, and the editor of the Fayetteville Observer, who heralded Tillman as the "liberator of South Carolina." In his speech, Tillman called for the murder of any African American who insulted the white women of North Carolina and thunderously called for the overturn of "negro rule."

    This supremacy movement helped effectively evict blacks from the voting booth via a 1900 state constitutional amendment. More horribly, the campaign lent further legitimacy to the idea that white women were everywhere in constant danger of rape at the hands of black men and that any means of "defense" were righteous. As historian Leon Litwack has chillingly described, it fueled the ongoing "climate of hysteria [that] would reap a grim harvest" of torture, castration, and lynching. This violence, as well as abuse via the police and court system, was to serve far into the new century. It provided the stick behind Jim Crow-era laws mandating segregation in transportation, mental institutions, prisons, tax records, and the militia. And it supported the idea of an inferior people whose wages could be brought low alongside their status and helped thwart their alliance with working-class white people. Many came to see the South's military tradition—and the prevalence of other, less legitimated violence—as a feature of the region's timeless culture. But this violence was nourished first and foremost in attempts to create and preserve a strictly hierarchical racial order. And it was understood at the time as a form of war, if overwhelming force was in the hands of one party.


Excerpted from Homefront by Catherine Lutz. Copyright © 2001 by Catherine Lutz. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Making War at Home 1
Ch. 1 Encampment: Boosters, Social Crisis, and a Military Solution (1918-1938) 11
Ch. 2 Hostess to the "Good War" (1939-1947) 45
Ch. 3 Simulating War at Home: Counterinsurgencies, Foreign and Domestic (1948-1963) 87
Ch. 4 Carnival, Carnage, and Quakers: The Vietnam War on Hay Street (1964-1973) 131
Ch. 5 Many Reserve Armies: The Faces of Military Dependency (1974-2000) 171
Ch. 6 Military Restructuring, Civilian Camouflage, and Hot Peace (1989-2000) 214
Epilogue 234
Notes 239
Acknowledgments 306
Index 308
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