September 29, 2011

The Face(s) of War

Chiris Keelty - Vietnam  (Photo by Suzanne Opton)

Perhaps the most important decision that citizens of a democratic polity are called upon to make concern whether or not to go to war.  The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of such citizens have no direct or immediate knowledge of war.  And so what we know comes from representations of one sort or another – news reports, novels, film, and, of course, photography.  Such representations are always once removed, and equally complicated by reports of those who have been to war that no representation—however real, however verisimilar—is ever fully adequate to the task of helping one to know what it is like to be “in harm’s war.”

War photography faces the challenge of representation as much or not more than verbal or fictional representations if only because it is saddled with the mistaken assumption that it is somehow wholly objective.  But of course we know that that is not the case.  Notwithstanding the fact that we can conclude that the thing photographed was actually there (and ignoring the opportunities made available by the dark room or photoshop),  photographers choose what to include in the frame and what to exclude.  What angle to shoot from.  What speed to shoot at.  What light to employ.  What to keep in focus and what to obscure.  And so on.  In short, the photographer’s craft is an art.  And at its best, it is an important and powerful public art that helps us to see and be seen as citizens.  And of course, the soldier or warrior is first and foremost a citizen.

Much of what we experience as war photography focuses attention on the manner in which war is fought.  And whether the photographs we see shows soldiers conducting military campaigns, interacting with local children in occupied territories, experiencing the boredom of war that punctuates the time between skirmishes, suffering from wounds or worse, or returning home to the hugs and relief of friends and families, the focus is always on what we might call “the conduct of war.” And because wars are typically fought in the name of collectivities the role of the individual is played down—not erased entirely, but nevertheless minimized, as such photographs tend to underscore the archetypal quality of the scenes displayed.  Individuals tend to stand in for something larger than themselves.  And yet for all of that, one of the genres of war photography continues to be the portrait. 

Soldier: Bruno - 355 Days in Iraq (Photo by Suzanne Opton)

The most common portraits of soldiers tend to be taken prior to battle and usually feature the soldier in full uniform.  This is of course a practice that is as old as the Civil War.  And whether taken by the military itself or by friends and family members, such portraits veil the identity of the individual beneath the uniform and mark the soldier first and foremost as a representative of the state.  In recent years a number of photographers have begun to challenge such work and in a way designed to remind us of the individuals doing the fighting.  Premiere amongst such work is the photography of Suzanne Opton.

In a series of projects beginning as early as 2003 Suzanne Opton has been photographing individual soldiers, emphasizing the artistic conventions of portraiture designed to help us engage and understand the individual qua individual.  And with stunning results. Taken “at home,” rather than on the war front, the soldiers she photographs are all out of uniform.  And thus there is a sense in which their status as “citizen” is accented, rather than their sense as warriors.  And yet they are unmistakably marked by their war experiences.  In one set of images, titled “Many Wars” she photographs veterans in treatment for combat trauma, but what marks the series is that they cut across every American war from World War II to the present.  Shrouded in cloth, and generally distinguished by age and the different wars in which they fought, they are nevertheless shown to be as one, even as they are portrayed as individuals—a paradox that underscores the in/visibility of war as it crosses generations (and more).

Suzanne Opton's Soldier Billboard Project
In one of her most recent works, titled “Soldiers” she photographs veterans returning from Iraq, by asking them to lie on the ground with their faces at rest, almost as if they were preparing to go to sleep.  The pose not only resists the typical conventions of portraiture (showing the individual sitting or standing up straight, shoulders back, emphasizing their strength and agency) but locates them in that liminal state between full and active consciousness and the dream world of sleep. In surely operates as a visual metaphor for the condition of such individuals.  There is also a gesture here to the “two thousand yard stare” that recurs as a convention of war photography, made all the more haunting by the fact that these individuals are out of uniform and thus that much closer to us as citizens on the homefront.   These photographs were part of a provocative and controversial “Billboard” campaign which, in their own way, demonstrate the sense in which the soldier has become more or less invisible in the contemporary landscape.

Whatever one makes of Opton’s work, it is clear that she is challenging us to think about the representation of war, and more, the implications for how we experience and engage such representations as we go about our daily lives.  She will be speaking on campus on Monday, October 10, 2010.  The title of her presentation is “Many Wars: The Difficulty of Home” and it will take place in Fine Arts 015 from 7:00-8:30 p.m.  The public is welcome (and encouraged) to attend.

John Louis Lucaites
Professor, Rhetoric and Public Culture
Department of Communication and Culture
IU College of Arts and Sciences

Professor Lucaites co-hosts the blog, which regularly discusses the visualization of war in contemporary photojournalistic practice.

September 22, 2011

Ashes and Diamonds

Since Ashes and Diamonds is such an iconic film, one which every Pole or fan of Polish culture has seen, I asked friends in both categories to share reminiscences of the first time they saw Popiół i diament (as it’s titled in Poland – for some reason, only one “diamond” in Polish!).

It was “my first unadulterated experience of the Polish spirit,” one recalled. “I was deeply moved by its passion and by the emotional uses of light (or actually shadow) and space.” Wrote another: “Ashes and Diamonds had an almost mystical feel for me – and yet it was also full of unambiguous action. I knew only that the lead actor was supposedly ‘the Polish James Dean’, and Zbigniew Cybulski was everything Dean was, and more. Most of all, I remember that strange feeling when I realized the film’s message: for Poles in 1945 the war was over yet it wasn’t over at all.” Another, recalling his first viewing some 40 years ago, puts Ashes and Diamonds in the company of the greats of European cinema: “Up until my mid-teenage years I had only been exposed to Hollywood films, so seeing Bergman, Wajda, Polanski, and Ophuls in college was a liberating experience. … The quality of the print was not good, but somehow that enhanced the essential grittiness of  the film.  The fact that the story did not end well impressed me.  This was not the first non-Hollywood film for me.”

Well, no worries about the print: we’ll be seeing an excellent print on Sunday. And we’ll also have an expert introduction. Mikołaj Kunicki of the University of Notre Dame is researching the filmmakers of Communist Poland. I asked him about his first reaction to the film, and he had this to say:

“I do not remember when I saw Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds for the first time -- I have seen it and taught on it so many times, but what I do recall is that this movie was always discussed and present in the Polish intelligentsia households. Times have changed, so has the state of film culture. But more than fifty years after its completion, the film continues to amaze viewers, including American college students with little exposure to Polish history and culture. This universally acclaimed reception of an otherwise ‘Polonocentric’ film demonstrates its universal legacy. The plot is still riveting, but above all, what makes this film so fascinating and wonderful to watch are Wajda's iconography with the masterful use of national symbols and metaphors, Jerzy Wójcik's outstanding camera work, and, last but not least, the truly mesmerizing performance of Zbigniew Cybulski.”

All true. See for yourself Sunday at 6:30. And please note that Professor Kunicki will be giving a talk the next day, in the Walnut Room in the IMU, entitled “Men for All Seasons? Polish Artists and the Problem of Collaboration during WWII and after.” Both Wajda and the novelist Jerzy Andrzejewski, on whose book this film was based, have been accused of collaboration with the Communists. Kunicki will examine the phenomenon of collaboration in the Polish artistic community under Nazi and Soviet occupations, its different treatment by the resistance movement and the postwar government, and the very applicability of the concept of collaboration for evaluating actions taken by Polish artists.

Padraic Kenney
Director, Polish Studies Center, Indiana University

Ashes and Diamonds is one of two films sponsored by IU Polish Studies Themester, and IU Cinema. It is being show Sunday, September 25 at 6:30 p.m. at IU Cinema.

September 19, 2011

Leo Tolstoy’s War AND Peace

Sara Stefani's well-worn copy of War and Peace.

Tolstoy obviously didn’t use all caps for the conjunction in the title of his great masterpiece. Although I have read and taught War and Peace several times, I find that I am looking at it somewhat differently this semester. Perhaps not really “differently” – I have always taught my students to see the connections between the “war” scenes and the “peace” scenes – but I think that the Themester goals have made this issue of the connections between war and peace come into clearer, sharper focus. I am currently teaching a course on War and Peace as well as conducting an on-line discussion group of the book, both as part of IU’s Themester program. Since one of the goals of this fall’s Themester is to question the relationship between war and peace, and whether it is even legitimate to separate the two, I find myself coming back to this issue in relation to Tolstoy’s novel. I do think Tolstoy wants us to question whether we can truly separate war from peace. With the Themester goals in mind, however, I am starting to realize how much it is in our human nature and human psychology to do just that – to ignore Tolstoy’s conjunction, to separate war from peace and assign them to different realms of experience.

Tolstoy’s novel opens with a set of “peace” scenes in Part One of Book One and is followed in Part Two by a set of “war” scenes. In my first on-line chat session with the discussion group, one participant made the comment that Part One is all domestic, as if Tolstoy is trying to give his readers a peek into everyone’s “normal” lives before the war drops like a cannonball into their midst. But the war is a palpable presence even from the first lines of the book. Tolstoy doesn’t start us off with a piece of description (“It was a dark and stormy night”), but with the speech of a society hostess who welcomes a guest to her party by proclaiming, “If you won’t say this means war [with Napoleon] … I shall disown you.” War and peace are intertwined from the beginning. Another participant asked the question, “At the time Russia was fighting battles all over the place – so did war become a part of ‘normal’?”

In many ways, this question applies as much to our modern experience as to 18th- and 19th-century Russia. Tolstoy himself was a soldier, and he took part in one of the bloodiest battles of the Crimean War in the 1850s. One of his goals in War and Peace as well as in his earlier “Sevastopol Stories” is to de-romanticize war. His narrator (especially in the “Sevastopol Stories”) lets the reader know quite explicitly that the reality of war does not conform to the idealized image you have of it from books. But in this day and age when we rely less on books for our archetypes than on television, movies, and the Internet, our experience of war may be more immediate, but is it any less romanticized?

One of the participants in the discussion group raised the following point about the male characters in War and Peace: “How much do these men really know about actually being in war? They seem almost to regard it as a game.” Another participant responded with, “Don’t all young men heading into war try to somewhat regard it as a game? How else could you manage to do it?” And another stated, “Men never learn from history. They keep getting pulled in to war even when they know it will not be the glorious experience they envision.” Such comments illustrate the continued relevance of Tolstoy’s novel for us today, teetering as they do on the brink of chronology – are we discussing Tolstoy, or our contemporary experience? 

There are scenes in War and Peace where war and peace converge. The war is no longer just a subject for drawing room conversations. Characters face execution at the hands of a firing squad or are forced to evacuate and abandon their homes – the war literally shows up on their doorstep. But in addition to the intrusion of actual, physical war into the characters’ lives, their personal relationships often seem to be based on the tactics of war. Many seemingly “peaceful” events are fought as if on a battlefield. Marriages are not arranged based on love and companionship, but by one side ambushing another. Romantic and familial relationships are often antagonistic and occasionally violent, and characters ruin (or attempt to ruin) each other using subterfuges that are as strategic as any battle plan. Tolstoy’s novel should make us question our relationships with those around us. Why do we so often treat other people as if they were the enemy and we were at war with them?

Even though War and Peace was written in another time (the 1860s) and another place (Russia), and deals with an enemy who no longer threatens us (Napoleon), it still holds relevance for us today. After all, how much have we really changed since the 1860s? It is a mistake to ignore Tolstoy’s conjunction. We have to see the connections between war and peace. How can we possibly change the former if we don’t change the latter? How can we get rid of war if we can’t get peace right?

Sara Stefani
Assistant Professor, Slavic Languages & Literatures
IU College of Arts and Sciences

September 13, 2011

9/11: 10 Years Later

Ten years on from the collapse of the World Trade Center, there’s no shortage of reflection to be found. The blogosphere, the mass media, and the world community are reflecting not only upon the event itself, but even more so upon the political, social, economic, and cultural consequences that emerged in its wake. I struggle with how to think about these impossibly complicated circumstances in retrospect. Many of my thoughts, however, have been framed and influenced by the Themester panel on “Seeing America Through Foreign Eyes,” and especially by the comments given by Professor Micol Seigel of American Studies and African American & African Diaspora Studies.

If only to try to understand the scope of the event’s ramifications, we can try to make a short list of what we have seen. The instantiation of the “War on Terror.” The beginning of the war in Afghanistan. The passing of the USA PATRIOT Act. The anti-war protests of countless citizens. The hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the execution of Saddam Hussein. The horrors of torture in Abu Ghraib, and the scandals of “enhanced interrogation” at Guantánamo.  The national debates over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” The mass release of damning diplomatic cables through Wikileaks. The killing of Osama Bin Laden. The military exit from Iraq.

Onward, onward. The list is familiar. Everyone is reflecting upon this date, at this time, every blog and newspaper and ceremony in memoriam of this tragedy. But the list is hardly complete. Even if it were, even if this were all we had to analyze and understand, what does one say about it all, in retrospect? Hindsight is hardly 20/20. Our past as muddled as the present was then, and as hazy as the future is now. A decade of history is infinitely full of unanswered questions, unsolved riddles, and unquenched spirits.

Perhaps the future is hazy because the picture of our world in this list is such a narrow one. In the drama that plays out when I reflect upon 9/11, center stage is taken by those events and figures that seem to fit best with the narrative of the “War on Terror.” International players who somehow became involved in the “War on Terror” become central, either as “friends”—as in the case of Israel—or as “foes”—as in the case of Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea. But so much more  has happened in the last decade, so much more that merits reflection and does not fit neatly into this narrative. Where can we place the genocide in Darfur and the independence of South Sudan? Where can we place the ongoing tensions between Serbs and Kosovars? Is it possible to talk about homogenization of cultivars, of Brazilian deforestation, of climate change, when we reflect upon the decade since 9/11? Is it possible to talk about mass incarceration, immigrant detention and deportation, and a widening gap between rich and poor? Is it possible to talk about HIV/AIDS, malaria, cholera, or typhoid? Is it possible to talk about Wikipedia, Twitter, iPhones, and all of the other new technological advances that are extending our minds, day by day?

Why is our narrative of reflection upon the last decade so monolithic? Perhaps our public memory of 9/11, as citizens of the United States, is framed by patriotism, and by her darker face, nationalism. Our memory draws upon that grand old mythico-history we as citizens both espouse and critique. Manifest destiny. The American dream. That shining light on the hill, that exceptional land of the free, that refuge for the tired, poor, huddled masses. We know the images. We know Lady Liberty, that noble eagle, the stars and stripes forever. And we know what it feels like when, sometimes, those images fail to make meaning for us.

This has been an eventful decade, and in reflecting upon it, we must do justice also to the great changes and momentous occasions that did not make the front page, or did not make the paper. The continual transformation of the world as it marches through time occurs in all of its places and facets—as our species continues to find more and more ways to alter the ecology of our planet, even the most remote peoples must face a dynamic world with courage and creativity. The decisions, voluntary or involuntary, to cope with those changes should not escape our eyes, should be attended to by our history.

Ronak Shah

Ronak Shah is a senior double majoring in cognitive science and conflict resolution. He is serving as an intern for the Themester program this fall and organizing an undergraduage workshop on conflict resolution.

"Seeing America Through Foreign Eyes" was a Themester 2011 symposium held as part  part of Indiana University's multi-event program "Remembering 9/11," which continues through Friday.

September 8, 2011

Musical Battles

Ubiquitous in times of war and peace, music was used by poor and rich, simple and powerful people to distract themselves from the horrors and exertions of war, but also to beg God for protection, celebrate military achievements, and enjoy times of peace.

The most literal connection between music and war is probably found several art-music "battle pieces" that symbolically capture the soundscape of the battlefield. One of the earliest examples, La Battaglia, composed by Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517), is filled with the ingredients that must have suggested the  last moments of preparation for a war action to the late 15th-century Florentine citizens for whom it was composed. The effects range from the the emphatic and repeated calls and shouts that evoke the chaos of the moment to the brass calls used in the wartime locations to send signals to different contingents of an army and to escort military leaders with a sounding symbol of their rank. The beginning of the piece is a perfect example of musical (and textual) chaos: "To the battle, quick, to the battle, to the battle, quick, everyone get armed with his cuiras and mail, with his cuiras and mail!"

Another famous piece, La Guerre by Clement Jannequin, first published in 1528, attempts a more systematic representation and enlarges the catalogue of battle sounds. Understandably the sub-genre remained fairly circumscribed but did not really died out, as evident in compositions by Matthias Hermann Werrecore, Andrea Gabrieli, and Adriano Banchieri. Certain crucial gestures are still found in the later Combattimento by Claudio Monteverdi from his Ottavo Libro dei Madrigali (1538), famous for the stile concitato, or in Biber's Battalia of 1673, which transposes some of Monteverdi's effects into a purely instrumental realm. Battle pieces, however, are really pieces about war and peace, the former being a terrible reality but also a powerful metaphor. Thus for instance war was used by poets and musicians to describe the condition of the lover, who has to endure all kinds of discomforts and labors to achieve victory or meet with defeat, continuing the ancient trope militat omnis amans (Ovid, Amores, 1.9). (Monteverdi indeed captures musically the remarkable coexistence of real and metaphoric war cleverly devised by Torquato Tasso in the original text.)

Besides imitated trumpet calls and the sounding equivalent of the fog of war, Isaac's Alla battaglia contains long lists of military officers' names. This may seem odd -- why would listeners want to hear name after name declined in a polyphonic piece? -- but really sheds light on the centrality of music to the rituals surrounding war. Isaac's piece was composed as part of a Florentine carnival celebration, but clearly the text was meant to carry a celebratory tone as well. The celebration of victories helped increase the political and military status, and aristocrat and high-ranking citizens participating to warfare were only too happy to be named in a piece. Music rituals surrounding war were of course not limited to celebratory song or to the wind bands mentioned. They included religious celebrations before and after the battle, often accompanied by music -- the Te Deum was a favorite thanksgiving piece, but many motets and Masses were composed as sounding monuments to saintly intercession and divine protection.

Giovanni Zanovello
Assistant Professor, Musicology
School of Music

The Bloomington Early Music Festival is September 7-11. See website for ticketing information and schedule. Admission is free to IU and Ivy Tech students, and youth under 18.

September 6, 2011

IU Art Museum explores Nazi Germany's "Spoils of War"

 When visiting an art museum, one probably doesn’t think much about the impact of past wars on the paintings hanging on the wall. Yet throughout history, war and art have been inextricably linked. Not only have countless works of art been destroyed or damaged during warfare, but works of art have often been moved great distances and to new owners as a result of looting. The IU Art Museum’s semester-long program in conjunction with Themester 2011 explores the issue of art looting in Nazi Germany.
Through a self-guided gallery tour, visitors can learn about the wartime histories of works in the museum’s permanent collection. Many of the works included in this tour would likely never have found their way to Indiana had World War II not precipitated the movement of these works out of Europe. While for the most part, the works featured in the tour were not looted, some were hidden during the war and others were preemptively shipped to the United States thanks to the foresight of their owners. Two paintings on the tour belonged to refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe who eventually made their way to Indiana University; others reached the museum by more circuitous routes.

Looting has accompanied warfare for many reasons. During antiquity, conquering armies often returned home with sculptures or precious objects from the lands they had invaded. Their loot—known as spolia—was a symbol of victory. A relief on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum depicts Roman soldiers carrying away loot from the Temple of Jerusalem.

An organized looting campaign also accompanied the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century. Napoleon’s forces brought masterpieces of European painting and sculpture to Paris from the lands they conquered. After Napoleon’s defeat, terms of the Treaty of Vienna in 1815 required many of these art works to be restituted to their former owners. In 1907 delegates at the Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land drew up the first international laws banning the looting and unnecessary destruction of art and cultural property during times of war. The treaty explicitly states that “all necessary steps must be taken to spare…buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments [and] hospitals” and additionally, that is “is especially forbidden…to destroy or seize the enemy’s property.” (Section II, Chapter I, Articles 23 and 27).

Nevertheless, Nazi Germany—what we might today call a “rogue nation”—chose to ignore international laws pertaining to human rights and property. In 1938, five years after assuming power in Germany, Hitler commenced a massive looting campaign. The previous year, he had ordered the removal of modern art from Germany’s state-run museums. Many of these modern works—which Hitler termed “degenerate”—ended up in the United States, including a painting and a sculpture on the museum’s tour. Nazi looting particularly targeted Jewish art collectors and gallery owners, not just in Germany, but in all nations occupied by the Nazis. So many art works were displaced that the Allied forces developed a large-scale restitution program at the end of the war. However, after the end of the Cold War, it became apparent that many looted works had, nevertheless, made their way into the art market and thence to museum collections around the world.

Museums are now engaged in research programs to identify examples of looted art in their collections and to work on restituting objects to claimants when necessary. The research of provenance (an object’s ownership history), however, greatly increases our knowledge of art objects, whether a problematic past is discovered or not. It is unlikely that the stories told in the self-guided tour would have been uncovered had it not been for the museum’s provenance research project, yet they add immensely to our appreciation and understanding of these works’ cultural and social roles throughout history.

I hope that visitors who participate in the “Spoils of War” self-guided tour
or attend related events will gain an increased understanding of the role played by art in World War II. Likewise, I hope that this program raises awareness of the continuing problem of looting and the destruction of artistic and cultural heritage in war zones around the world today.

Jenny McComas,
Class of 1949 Curator of Western Art after 1800

September 2, 2011

Haunting "Last Folio" inspires discussion on the role of artifacts

Every time I see Yuri Dojc's haunting photos of the objects left behind in a Slovak Jewish school after the town's Jewish community was deported to concentration camps in 1942, I feel the horror of that moment.  These photos capture the minutia of daily life, the quotidian hustle and bustle of the living, which was so suddenly destroyed.  The photo exhibition,  on display at the Grunwald Gallery of Art until October 1, is also a powerful statement of perseverance and hope.  Despite all attempts to erase any memory of the Jewish community of that town, over sixty years later, the objects are still telling their story—screaming for remembrance.  The exhibit includes as well stunning portraits of Jewish survivors in Slovakia, providing further evidence that life continues beyond war.

At the academic symposium that took place on Thursday, September 1-- the anniversary of the start of World War II--Dojc spoke about his own family and the process of discovery that led him to back to his native Slovakia.  The symposium began with a showing of London-based producer and director Katya Krausova's short documentary film, The Last Folio: The Story of Yuri's Pictures, which chronicles Dojc's photographic expeditions to Slovakia.  The incredible coincidence of finding among the piles of discarded sacred texts, a worn copy of a book stamped with the name of Yuri's own grandfather, shows the interconnections of history.  The film is available for viewing at

The symposium also included a discussion with several IU faculty members who work on related issues.  Ed Linenthal, Professor in the Department of History and editor of the Journal of American History, spoke about the impact of small artifacts in the Smithsonian's Enola Gay exhibition that was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

One artifact, in particular, a Japanese school girl's lunch box, aroused controversy by evoking sympathy for the victims of the bombing that ended that terrible war. Dov-Ber Kerler, the Dr. Alice Field Cohn Chair in Yiddish Studies and Professor of Germanic Studies, spoke about his own work interviewing Yiddish speakers in Eastern Europe, and argued that the focus of such scholarship must be on the living.  Mark Roseman, the Pat M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History, compared commemoration of the Holocaust in Western and Eastern Europe and spoke about the visceral impact that less-developed Holocaust memorial sites, such as the site of Sobibor, can have on visitors.  The symposium concluded with a general discussion of the role of place and artifacts in memorializing war.  

Jeff Veidlinger
Professor, Department of History
Director and Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair, Jewish Studies Program
IU College of Arts and Sciences

Last Folio: A Photographic Journey with Yuri Dojc will be on display in the newly named Grunwald Gallery (formerly SoFA Gallery) through October 1. A discussion with photographer Yuri Dojc and documentary filmmaker Katya Krausova will be held in the gallery at 5:30 p.m., Friday, September  2. An opening reception will follow.

September 1, 2011

Cardinal’s production of All My Sons brings to light the IU home front during WWII

Did you ever wonder what IU students and faculty experienced when America joined the Second World War? How did the university survive when its student body was depleted by the unprecedented mobilization of young men into military training? What did the women do who were left behind? How did faculty respond to the seeming irrelevance of certain areas of study (particularly in the arts and humanities) and the sudden secretiveness required in the research of others (physics, chemistry and engineering, for instance)? What kinds of transformations, both public and domestic, overtook the campus and the wider community? These are some of the questions addressed in Cardinal’s Student Companion to All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s acclaimed drama about an American family caught in the fallout from World War II.

A picture for press purposes of all military branches in training at Indiana University in 1943. From left to right: a WAC, a Soldier, a WAVE, a Sailor, a Marine and a Marine.

Here is a sneak peek at one of the stories the Student Companion tells, about the WAVE Storekeeper School that was established on IU’s campus.

The WAVEs Come to Bloomington

The Storekeeper’s School, which provided special training for Navy women in subjects including bookkeeping, mathematics, typing, accounting, and English composition, opened in the fall of 1942, soon after the creation of the womens’ military corps. The school was one of only three WAVE academies in the nation; its training focus was on procuring and maintaining Navy supplies, though all yeomanettes, as they were sometimes called, were required to undertake significant physical education (more than one recruit describes her aching feet after hours of drill).

As Kate Hevner Mueller, IU’s dean of women, said in her commencement address to the first WAVE class, “Do you realize that you are going to offer the men of this generation the stiffest competition they have ever had? Do you realize how far the world of industry and the world of management, of education, has come to depend on, and we hope to appreciate, the women workers? How the thinking and planning of the post-war world are being pushed forward by individual women and organized groups of women? If you do realize these things, perhaps you ought not do so much talking about it while the men are around. Women have often done their most effective work without man’s being fully aware of their efficiency.”

IU’s WAVEs did not have the luxury of being inconspicuous, however. The American public took notice. A newspaper article from the time conveys the unprecedented nature of this new military unit:

The WAVES… you have read about them. You have seen their pictures in the newspapers. You may even know that those five stirring letters stand for women appointed for volunteer emergency services. But unless you were in this mellow university town yesterday—Navy day—and saw, as we saw, the WAVES—600 strong—marching through the streets of Bloomington to the strains of music that is deeply embedded in the traditions of the United States Navy, you cannot know the record of their matchless performance in almost record time.

You cannot envision section on section of straight young backs, of forward marching feet, of keen, honest American eyes approaching on of the biggest jobs that feminine America has ever had to meet. For the WAVES are not an auxiliary; the WAVES, or women reserves, are part and parcel of the United States Navy.  (Indianapolis Star, October 28, 1943).

Though it may have taken a national emergency to bring women into the Navy, once there, they stuck fast. In 1948, Truman signed the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, which allowed women to serve as permanent, regular members of all branches of the military. The success of the WAVES (Women’s Naval Reserve Corps—the acronym stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), WACS (Women’s Army Corps), SPARS (Coast Guard Women’s Reserve Corps), WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and woman Marines proved the idea of a segregated corps for women obsolete.

More about the Indiana WAVEs (as well as professor James Madison’s poignant account of a Hoosier woman who served and died in the Red Cross) and lots more besides can be found in Cardinal Stage's  36-page Student Companion playbill, available with admission to All My Sons.

Ellen MacKay
Associate Professor,
Deptartment of English
IU College of Arts and Sciences

For ticketing information, see  Individual student tickets, $10. Professors who wish to bring their classes should contact Heidi Harmon, Cardinal’s director of Group Sales, for discounted tickets (; 812-336-7110). 

All audience members are invited to join Cardinal Stage and IU faculty members for two post-performance talkbacks.