Muscular, fearless, youthful, athletic - the soldier embodies masculine ideals and, since World War II when the nation came of age as a world superpower, has represented the manhood of the United States. In The Male Body at War, Christina Jarvis examines the creation of this national symbol, from military recruitment posters, to Hollywood war films, to the iconic flag-raisers at Iwo Jima. A poignant selection of illustrations brings together comics and advertisements presenting the model male as well as media images and government propaganda intended to impress U.S. citizens and foreign nations with America's strength. The male body was more than a mere symbol, however. During the war, the nation literally invested its survival in the corps of servicemen, and the armed forces set about crafting them into soldiers. Drawing upon medical journals, War Department documents, and government health reports, Jarvis scrutinizes the ways in which physical inspections defined male bodies by fitness and race while training molded those bodies for action. At the same time, she gives servicemen a voice through war memoirs and a survey of over 130 veterans.
Her searching analysis reveals not only how the men mediated popular culture and military regimen to forge an understanding of their own masculinity but how, in the face of dead and wounded comrades, they tempered such body-centered ideals with an emphasis on compassion and tenderness. Theoretically sophisticated and methodologically innovative, The Male Body at War makes a major contribution to the literature on the body as a cultural construction. With its compelling narrative and engaging style, it will appeal to a broad range of readers with interests in gender studies as well as students of American history and culture.