International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

The Political Psychology of Militarization: Memory and Narrative in the case of the Oakland, Califor

lisa rubens, UC Berkeley

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: UC Berkeley
Research Area: Social inequality and social change

For all the preoccupation Americans now have with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the United States is not a country that militarizes easily. This paper traces the effect of militarization on the regular [civilian and military] personnel who worked and lived at the Oakland Army base in California between 1941 and l998. Using more than 50 interviews collected by the Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley  --to document the core functions of the base as well as the social life and work culture on the base --this paper teases out portions of interviews to explore how individuals remember the effects of and construct a narrative about the frenzy of war, which punctuated and disrupted what to them had been a life in a small, stable, insular community.

The Oakland Army Base (OAB), located on the western waterfront of Oakland, California, was born of the rush to arm and supply United States interests in the Pacific in advance of the Second World War. Construction began in mid-1941, but it was commissioned on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with only 25 percent of its facilities completed. The base remained a key component of military operations throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars, and every overseas military conflict through the First Gulf War.

According to, the “Oakland Army Base was home to the largest military port complex in the world during the Vietnam era.” During this war, so vehemently opposed by large sectors of the "outside" community, base workers were particularly forced to crystallize their ideas about the meaning of their work and the role it played in "defending the nation." For base residents, workers and contractors, the base was their livelihood providing the necessities of life (food and shelter), as well as a particular kind of community and culture defined by peace time rather than war time. Interviews explore all facets of work and the cultural life that were evident at the base, including: religion (individual and communal experiences), entertainment (movies, dances, concerts), athletics (baseball, bowling), sociability (clubs, bars, mess halls), personal advancement (academic and skill oriented classes)  foodways (from mess halls to the officer’s club) and civic rituals (national holidays; responding to national issues) and how these were all impacted by militarization.  Issues of race and gender constitute a continuous theme.

Excerpts of video interviews will be shown.