Over the past twenty years, the cultural and social history of the Great War has undergone a profound revitalization and given rise to new areas of research, such as the history of the body and of violence, the relationships between the front lines and the home front, the “cultures of war,“ and religious feeling. At the heart of this approach is an interest in intimacy, or the private life of soldiers and their relationships with their loved ones, an area that has been explored thanks to a new focus on personal archives: letters, diaries, photographs. Taking wartime France as its example, this article analyzes the contributions of this new history of World War I and assesses its methodological issues. The Great War can thus be seen in its full measure, not only as the first conflict conducted on a global scale, but also as a true anthropological turning point, one that caused tremendous upheaval for those who lived through it: new kinds of violence on the battlefields, new mourning rituals, unfamiliar difficulties in reconnecting with private life in the aftermath of the war.
New Perspectives in the Cultural History of World War I
The Metaphysics of Police Vigilantism in India
This article describes and explains “police vigilantism” as a mode of authoritative extralegal coercion performed by public police officials conceived as doing their duty to realize justice in the world. Based on ethnographic observations, interviews, and content analysis of news and entertainment media as well as official government reports, this essay examines a specific form of police vigilantism in contemporary India known as “encounter killings”. Demonstrating that encounter killings are widely constituted as a form of ritual purification and social defense by self-sacrificing police, it theorizes a metaphysics of police vigilantism in India that combines generalized experiences of insecurity with shared cosmologies of just war. Comparing this metaphysics with justifications of state violence in other Global South contexts, this study sheds light on how such violence may be legitimated through the conceptual inextricability of law and war as embodied in a uniquely constituted human figure: the police vigilante.
Transport and Infrastructure in the East African Campaign of World War I
This article describes the little-known history of military labor and transport during the East African campaign of World War I. Based on sources from German, Belgian, and British archives and publications, it considers the issue of military transport and supply in the thick of war. Traditional histories of World War I tend to be those of battles, but what follows is a history of roads and footpaths. More than a million Africans served as porters for the troops. Many paid with their lives. The organization of military labor was a huge task for the colonial and military bureaucracies for which they were hardly prepared. However, the need to organize military transport eventually initiated a process of modernization of the colonial state in the Belgian Congo and British East Africa. This process was not without backlash or failure. The Germans lost their well-developed military transport infrastructure during the Allied offensive of 1916. The British and Belgians went to war with the question of transport unresolved. They were unable to recruit enough Africans for military labor, a situation made worse by failures in the supplies by porters of food and medical care. One of the main factors that contributed to the success of German forces was the Allies' failure in the “war of legs.”
Decolonizing the Jewish “Family” during the Algerian War
Almost all of Algeria's estimated 140,000 Jews had immigrated to France by the end of the Algerian War in 1962, many of them to the Paris region. Their arrival was a source of ambivalent hope for metropolitan Jewish religious and community leaders. This article demonstrates that the period of decolonization was one in which metropolitan Jewish leaders tried to simultaneously celebrate and efface Algerian Jewish difference. This struggle took place in local religious sites, where French and Algerian Jews were accustomed to a variety of liturgies, melodies, and behaviors. The tensions that erupted when Algerian Jews asserted their right to religious particularism should be read as evidence of the paradoxes of decolonization. While a near-century of colonial citizenship had made many Algerian Jews “French,” decolonization and migration to the metropole made them Arab in the eyes of many metropolitan Jews.
The Case of Yugoslavia
The Cold War era has been mainly represented as a period of gender conservatism in feminist literature, and communist women in Eastern and Western Europe have been often described as manipulated or deprived of agency due to their lack of autonomy from Communist Party politics. On the basis of archival sources and autobiographies, this article explores the Cold War activities of a women's organization founded in Yugoslavia during the Second World War: the Antifašistički Front Žena (Antifascist Women's Front, or AFŽ). The article describes the activities of the AFŽ from its creation until its dissolution in 1953, focusing on its campaigns for women's political, economic, and social rights in the postwar and early Cold War period. By engaging with the pioneering work of Zagreb feminist historian Lydia Sklevicky and with new archival sources, the article aims to shed light on women's political and social agency in Cold War times.
Anthropology and the alternative truth of America's 'War on Terror' in the Sahara
This article, based on almost eight years of continuous anthropological research amongst the Tuareg people of the Sahara and Sahel, suggests that the launch by the US and its main regional ally, Algeria, in 2002–2003 of a ‘new’, ‘second’, or ‘Saharan’ Front in the ‘War on Terror’ was largely a fabrication on the part of the US and Algerian military intelligence services. The ‘official truth’, embodied in an estimated 3,000 articles and reports of one sort or another, is largely disinformation. The article summarizes how and why this deception was effected and examines briefly its implications for both the region and its people as well as the future of US international relations and especially its global pursuance of an increasingly suspect ‘War on Terror’.
Nafissa Sid Cara and the Politics of Emancipation during the Algerian War
During the Algerian War, Nafissa Sid Cara came to public prominence in two roles. As a secretary of state, Sid Cara oversaw the reform of Muslim marriage and divorce laws pursued by Charles de Gaulle’s administration as part of its integration campaign to unite France and Algeria. As president of the Mouvement de solidarité féminine, she sought to “emancipate” Algerian women so they could enjoy the rights France offered. Though the politics of the Algerian War circumscribed both roles, Sid Cara’s work with Algerian women did not remain limited by colonial rule. As Algeria approached independence, Sid Cara rearticulated the language of women’s rights as an apolitical and universal good, regardless of the future of the French colonial state, though she—and the language of women’s rights— remained bound to the former metropole.
Visual Technology, Virtual Reality, and the Experience of War
Jose N. Vasquez
This article addresses the question of how visual technology—night vision, thermal imaging, and virtual reality—has changed the experience of war for both combatants and non-combatants. Video and still images are analyzed to draw out some of the phenomenological aspects of how technology mitigates the perception of combat and its resultant casualties. I argue that while visual technology makes the experience of war more intimate, it also generates psychological distance between the viewer and the viewed. Weapons equipped with visual technology facilitate war crimes by dehumanizing the individuals being targeted and filtering the carnage these weapons produce.
Laurie Kain Hart
This article examines how territory, the built environment, and the entropy of material things through time transmit and modulate legacies of ethno-national and global conflicts. Taking the Greek Civil War as a ‘critical event’, framed by its antecedents and its sequelae, I consider how overlapping histories of war at the international tri-state border of northwest Greek Macedonia and in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina shape dwelling, the control of space, and historical memory. The analysis explores how catastrophic events become materially embedded, how events age in place, and what role changing infrastructure plays in the commutation or preservation of injuries suffered in violent, especially internecine, conflict.
Illegitimacy, Murder, and War Veterans in England, 1918–1923
Ginger S. Frost
Historians usually analyze changing gender constructions in the criminal courts after World War I through cases involving men and women. Using a different analytical lens this article explores two well-publicized murder trials involving war veterans and illegitimate children, one of a soldier who murdered his wife’s daughter from an adulterous affair and one who killed his own son. Although notions of masculinity had changed, the police, courts, and Home Office used traditional factors to assess punishments, including the degree of provocation, the behavior of the women involved, and the issue of deterrence. The press, however, was more sympathetic to the veterans, regarding them as victims of circumstances, much like women who committed infanticide. This new presentation did not succeed with the Home Office, especially as the war moved further into the past. By 1925, men’s war service had less influence on punishment than Victorian ideas of gender and criminal responsibility.