Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

History

Supervisor(s)

Dr. Robert MacDougall, Dr. Joseph Wlodarz

Abstract

When masculinity is predicated on violence and military service is a man’s civic duty, then draft resistance becomes a doubly radical act. Men who refuse to take up arms for their nation threaten, at least potentially, both its political and gender order. This dissertation explores American masculinity during and after the Vietnam War, by analyzing cultural representations of, and responses to, the U.S. Selective Service System. At a time when mainstream Hollywood would not touch the Vietnam War, a generation of independent filmmakers, artists and agitators produced a number of remarkable films and documents dealing with the war, the draft and the meaning of masculinity. How did draft resisters, draft avoiders and men in the New Left generally understand and practice their own manhood? How was their masculinity perceived? And how did masculinity shape the New Left generally?

Historians have hardly ignored the men of the New Left, but their maleness has rarely been the axis of exploration. Examining the masculinity of the male New Left, and understanding masculinity as a historically-constituted process and performance, reveals the inadequacy of the traditional declension narrative used to describe the history of the New Left. The New Left never made an ill-advised turn from “hard” issues of politics and war to “soft” issues of identity and gender. Instead, the New Left was always deeply preoccupied with questions of culture, sexuality and identity. One of its first projects was an attempt to rethink and redefine American masculinity. Pushing back against the gender order of the early Cold War, the male New Left opened space for new masculinities. Yet many of those willing to explore new masculine terrain were not able to renounce violence as a male prerogative or divest themselves of the male privilege secured by that violence. By the 1980s, many members of the male New Left had rejected and recanted their own efforts to expand the meaning of American masculinity. These recanters colluded with more conservative writers to legitimate the public regeneration of a heteronormative, pro-war masculinity, the very definition of American manhood that the New Left had once challenged. This helped to mark all radical politics, particularly those of draft resistance, as unmanly for decades to come.