Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Flophouse Book(s) of the Week

If it weren't for Goodreads I wouldn't be able to keep track of my reading.  I am a fast and furious reader; a lover of bibliographies and reading lists.  As I go through the syllabi for my classes, I am coming across authors and their articles and books and I have to stop and think, "That name sounds familiar. Didn't I already read that?"  And then I have to go to Goodreads to confirm.  If I'm lucky, I will have the book on my e-reader and I can bring it up and look through my notes and highlights to jog my memory as to why I read it in the first place and what I liked (or didn't) about it.

Isn't technology grand?

Alas, it isn't everything.  I'm back in school and those notes and highlights are not enough.  My professors expect not only more critical thinking about my reading but that I retain something of what the authors had to say in active memory.

So what I propose to do is to take the best book(s) I've read eachweek and give you synopsis of the arguments and information contained therein.  This will help me as I do extra reading for my classes and my dissertation, and I'm hoping it will be helpful to you as well.  There may be some titles here you will enjoy.

There are two books I read this week that I found well worth my time.

The Politics of Immigration:  Contradictions of the Liberal State by James Hampshire (2013)

Hampshire is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex (UK) and he has degrees in Modern History and Political Philosophy.

This book looks at immigration policy in modern, rich, liberal democratic countries.  He argues that at the core of the controversies over immigration in places as diverse as the US, France, or Australia are contradictory values and institutions that make it very difficult to come up with acceptable, effective immigration policy.  The immigration "problems" are not, he says, a failure of government, but rather a failure to resolve issues at the very heart of what it means to be a liberal democracy.

Take family reunification migration, for example.  In countries like the US and France, this is how most migrants legally enter those territories.  There have been moves to restrict it (and the recent attacks in San Bernadino in the US have certainly given ammunition to those who want more regulation/restriction of this category of migrants)  but it continues in spite of,  and I don't see anyone in the US or France or any other developed nation seriously arguing that it should be banned completely.

Note that these nations have signed agreements that they will respect Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says that human beings have a right to family life - to be with their families.  Furthermore, it seems really wrong to us that a state could say that a husband and wife or parents and children can't be together.  And yet, states are now nibbling at the edges of this right with new restrictions and requirements.  In 2012 the UK implemented a minimum income requirement for British citizens and legal UK residents who want to bring their spouses or their children into the UK from a non-EEA country.  This has been very controversial.  Since when has the right to a family life become "You have a right to family life IF you have a certain income"?

So there is this fundamental human right enshrined in international and domestic law that most people in liberal democratic countries take for granted.  (Would it even be possible in states like France, the US or New Zealand for the government to set a minimum income for couples who want to marry, live together and have children? Of course not.) But in the context of migration the UK did just that - passed a very illiberal law in a country that considers itself to be a liberal democracy. Not hard to see the contradictions here.

Hampshire has many more examples.  An interesting book and he argues his case lucidly without a lot of academic jargon. Note that this LSE review disagrees with me.  The reviewer liked the book but thought it was not as accessible as it could be to a non-expert.

Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century by Susan Zeiger (2010)

I looked and could not find a lot of information about this author.  But I must say that she wrote a fine book.

To continue the theme of family reunification migration in the previous review, this book is a survey of the different 20th century family reunification policies of the US military and government that were applied to women that soldiers wanted to marry.  Wherever American soldiers were sent (France in WW I, Germany post- World War II, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam) some found spouses who they wanted to bring back to the United States.  Sometimes they could, and sometimes they couldn't.  It depended on so many things like the nature of the conflict or how the US public perceived the women (and their countries/cultures) or the rules the military itself set to hinder soldiers from marrying local women.

It was a real shock to me to read about the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and how some soldiers struggled to bring their French wives to the US - wives that were not always warmly received by Americans.  There were serious questions raised during and after the war about the desirability of Frenchwomen and if they could be assimilated.  One journalist at the time (the 1920's) talked about the "fundamental gulf between Latin and Anglo-Saxon society" - a statement that is positively surreal when read through our 21st century eyes.  Americans in that era were still unsure whether or not an American identity could include, say, Catholics.  And that's something to think about as the debate rages today over the integration/assimilation capacities of newer migrants.  If Americans could over time come to include French Catholics and Eastern European Jews in an American identity, then why wouldn't the same thing happen with migrants arriving today?

As I was reading the book and arrived at the "foreign brides" of more recent conflicts like Iraq or of the soldiers based in Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines, I rather naively said to a former member of the US military sitting across from me in my living room, "Well, they can't really stop men (or women) in the military from marrying someone..." He laughed at me. And he was right to do so. Members of the US military need permission to marry a foreign national, and there are background checks and the like for the spouse. So the military does have a say in whether or not a soldier or a Marine can marry his or her fiancee. I had no idea.

A fascinating book and I liked it so much that I put another title Zeiger wrote on my to-read list:
In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers With the American Expeditionary Force, 1917-1919.  

A reminder, folks, that women have served in the US military for a very long time and that fact raises a question in my mind about "foreign grooms."  Surely these women also met and married foreign nationals while they were serving abroad.  And where, pray tell, is the research on that?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For more on the theme of US military spouses of non-Americans, two books of oral history by Hilary Kaiser: "Veteran Recall: Americans in France Remember the War" (1994), women as well as men veterans, and "French War Brides in America" (first published in French as "Un Amour de G.I.'s"). Both were written in English and mainly concern WWII, and France, but not exclusively.