Category Archives: Current Events

Pride Month at the American Library: ‘Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II’ by Allan Bérubé

The American military has come a long way since the days of dishonorable discharges of gay service members and the discriminatory policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. In early June, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III spoke at an event celebrating Pride Month at the Pentagon. Secretary Austin praised those LGBTQ+ service members who ‘fought for our country even when our country wouldn’t fight for them. Even as some were forced to hide who they were… or to hang up their uniforms.’ 

In the 1940s, as recruitment and conscription for the war reached record numbers, homosexuality was regarded by the US military as a mental illness, disqualifying gay men and women for service. Prior to and during the war, the commission of ‘homosexual acts’ was considered a crime for which service members could be court-martialed. In the 1980s, the Department of Defense instituted an enlistment ban, which was modified by 1994’s ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, in which ‘service members would not be asked about their sexual orientation, but would be discharged for disclosing it’, according to a Department of Defense-affiliated website for members of the military.

Coming Out Under Fire: the History of Gay Men and Women in World War II, author Alan Bérubé’s account of the gay troops of the ‘Greatest Generation’, was first published in 1990. Bérubé, a community historian, began collecting the accounts that would lead to his book in the 1970s, and the book became an invaluable resource for activists and lawmakers alike. A 20th anniversary edition was published in 2010, still highly relevant to the debates taking place around military exclusion policies.

Coming Out Under Fire is far from a grim account of unrelenting prejudice. Through extensive research in government records, archives, personal collections and interviews, Bérubé looks at the US military’s efforts to screen out, discharge, manage and, finally, recognize and appreciate the contributions of its gay service members. He also relates his interviewees’ moving personal stories of discovery, conflict, loss and love. Many of Bérubé’s subjects found supporters and allies in the brotherhood and sisterhood of the armed forces during the war. In addition to the barriers and challenges they faced, which for some included the double bar of racial discrimination, Bérubé recounts their experiences of the conflict’s toll, along with the victory celebrations and the simple but significant act of survival. 

Years of activism by gay service members, along with their allies, from challenging and reforming the US military’s discriminatory and punitive policies to the courageous and proud statement of refusing to deny their sexual identity while under fire, finally led to the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ in 2011, allowing openly gay men and women to serve; the extension of spousal and family benefits to gay and bisexual service members in 2013; and the 2021 removal of the ban on transgender troops. However, as Secretary Austin said in his speech, there is still more progress to be made, including addressing sexual assault and harassment in the force and creating ‘a safe and supportive workplace for everyone–free from discrimination, harassment, and fear.’ 

–post by Suzanne Solomon

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Filed under American History, Books, Current Events, World War 2

The 2017 Charles Walker Memorial Lecture

By Danielle Prostrollo

Charles Walker, decorated B-24 Liberator pilot for the 445th Bomb Group at Tibbenham, was an active supporter of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library throughout his life. In memory of his life and support, a yearly lecture is organised as a joint effort between the 2nd Air Division Memorial Trust and the Department of American Studies at the University of East Anglia which is titled the Charles Walker Memorial Lecture.

Each year a guest speaker, specialising in different facets of American histories and culture, is invited to Norwich for the annual Charles Walker Memorial Lecture. This year we are anxiously awaiting Professor Susan Castillo Street’s talk titled The Dark Side of Paradise: 21st Century Florida Gothic in Carl Hiaasen and Karen Russell. The money for this annual lecture is lovingly donated in Chuck’s memory by his widow Dr Dede Casad.

The evening will, no doubt, delve into each author’s depictions of modern Florida and those wanting to become more acquainted with the material (or simply refresh their memory) can pick up or reserve a copy of your favourite Hiaasen or Swamplandia by Russell from Norfolk libraries.

Please join us for an afternoon with Professor Castillo Street whether you are a well-read fan of the authors or are simply interested in learning more about American literature. The event is free and no booking is necessary.

Charles Walker Lecture (13-11-17)

 

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Filed under American Culture, Books, Current Events, Memorial Library, Public Events

Book review: Hope in the Dark

By Danielle Prostrollo

hope in the dark

Rebecca Solnit is perhaps most famous for her book Men Explain Things to Me which birthed the phrase “mansplaining” to describe a man that speaks condescendingly to someone (usually a woman) about a topic he does not necessarily know a great deal about (see: Merriam-Webster’s history of mansplaining). And because of this, I have come to know Solnit as an activist, feminist, and essayists.

Hope in the Dark was written in 2003 shortly after the start of the Iraq war, when the 9/11 attacks were still very fresh and tender in the mind of America, but covers several events from the (relatively) recent past: Zapatistas in Mexico, the Central Park protests for nuclear disarmament, the Berlin Wall. The thread that binds all of these events and essays together is an underlying reason to believe in the human spirit which makes this a great read for anyone fatigued by the news each night and finds themselves in a place of unease.

Our copy is a 2016 edition with a new forward written by Solnit and even just within the first few pages there is fuel for a realistic hope dotted throughout:

“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings” (p. xi-xii).

“Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons” (p. ix).

“Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal…” (p. 4).

To reserve Hope in the Dark and to explore our stock of social action and American history books of an array of topics, visit us in the Memorial Library!

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Politics, Books, Current Events

Upcoming Events!

We have an exciting summer of events coming up at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library; from the UEA Lecture series focusing on the political climate of American current events to events exploring the historical role of Americans in East Anglia there is a talk for everyone.

A few of the historical talks coming up include:

This session will allow you to get up close with American artefacts from WWII – perspex windscreen jewellry for an airman’s sweetheart to silk maps used in the event of emergency landing (or worse!). Come along and have a look at the different items and learn a bit of Norwich history.

 

Recently we have launched our digital archive – a massive project that allows anyone to access the treasure trove of artefacts and memorabilia of the 2nd Air Division Memorial from any computer. This talk will not only show you how to navigate and search for items within the digital archive but also whet your appetite for the kinds of things that can be found – poetry, letters, diaries, photos, and so much more.

 

A bit different from the digital archive, this talk at Hunstanton Library will showcase some of the film footage taken by and of the American airmen during their time in East Anglia. The archival footage is a fascinating way to put yourself in their time and will surely get you thinking about how life has changed in the years that followed!

 

We hope to see you at any (or all!) of the above talks this May. Please refer to the appropriate digital flyer for booking, location, and time details. 

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Filed under American History, Archive Items, Current Events, Local Interest, Memorial Library, Public Events, World War 2