Ken MacLeishMaking War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community

Princeton University Press, 2013

by Linda Ho Peché and Kayla Price on November 12, 2013

Ken MacLeish

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Ken MacLeish offers an ethnographic look at daily lives and the true costs borne by soldiers, their families, and communities, in his new book Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community (Princeton University Press, 2013). His intimate exploration of military lives makes salient the numerous and often contradictory ways that war enters into the everyday lives of soldiers and their families in Killeen, Texas. MacLeish begins by defining the site of research–Fort Hood is one of the largest military installations in the world, and many of the 55,000 personnel based there have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then moves to an intense and palpable examination of the embodied experience of being a soldier, making a striking argument that "war persist in the lives, bodies and social worlds it has touched” (4).

Thus, he connects the experiences of the body and the mind, exploring both physical and mental pain and the issues that surround the pursuit of healing. Moreover, he analyzes the complex burdens placed on people’s relationships and the love that binds them in contradictory ways through the ins and outs of military life. The final chapters examine the gap between obligations and exchange in relation to the value of a soldier’s labor, showing how they materialize in different aspects of soldiers’ lives from the “burden of gratitude” to the overdistribution, and hence devaluation, of medals and honors. Interweaving brutally honest narratives with critical theory and anthropological analysis, MacLeish invites us to re-examine the condition of vulnerability pervasive in the words and lives of soldiers and their families in Fort Hood, fleshing out the myriad ways in which military life is always mired in the production of war, at home and abroad.

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