Monday, September 27, 2010

Review of Love, Sex and War by John Cosgrove (Pan, 1985)

Love, Sex and War is a social history of gender and sexual relations during the Second World War.  In a fascinating book, Cosgrove covers an enormous amount of ground, using a broad range of data (including official statistics and declassified reports, interviews, and newspapers) from a number of different countries, principally the UK, US, Germany, Soviet Union, Canada, France, Italy and Australia.  Chapters cover the mass mobilisation of women into uniform, civil defence, factories and farms (and the tussles over morals, home life, child care, equal pay, movement away from home, unionisation, etc), sexual liberalisation, war brides, affairs, illegitimate births, divorce, prostitution, VD rates, sex crimes (all of which soared), patterns of socialising, fraternisation with liberated/conquered populations, homosexuality in the armed forces, black propaganda, sexpionage, cinema and music, demobilisation and women losing their jobs, the moral backlash post war.  Cosgrove does well to draw all of this material together into a reasonably coherent narrative, detailing how such a large scale and total war broke down gender and sexual relations relatively quickly, and despite a moral backlash at the end of the war, sowed the seeds of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.  The text is very readable and engaging, especially when illustrated with interview data.  There are a couple of issues with structuring, both within and between chapters, but overall this is compelling social history and will make fascinating reading for anybody interested in the (r)evolution in gender and sexual relations in the twentieth century and the breakdown of conservative morality.

4.5 stars

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