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The Good Occupation

The Good Occupation

American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace

Susan L. Carruthers

ISBN 9780674545700

Publication date: 11/14/2016

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Waged for a just cause and culminating in total victory, World War II was America’s “good war.” Yet for millions of GIs overseas, the war did not end with Germany and Japan’s surrender. The Good Occupation chronicles America’s transition from wartime combatant to postwar occupier, by exploring the intimate thoughts and feelings of the ordinary servicemen and women who participated—often reluctantly—in the difficult project of rebuilding nations they had so recently worked to destroy.

When the war ended, most of the seven million Americans in uniform longed to return to civilian life. Yet many remained on active duty, becoming the “after-army” tasked with bringing order and justice to societies ravaged by war. Susan Carruthers shows how American soldiers struggled to deal with unprecedented catastrophe among millions of displaced refugees and concentration camp survivors while negotiating the inevitable tensions that arose between victors and the defeated enemy. Drawing on thousands of unpublished letters, diaries, and memoirs, she reveals the stories service personnel told themselves and their loved ones back home in order to make sense of their disorienting and challenging postwar mission.

The picture Carruthers paints is not the one most Americans recognize today. A venture undertaken by soldiers with little appetite for the task has crystallized, in the retelling, into the “good occupation” of national mythology: emblematic of the United States’ role as a bearer of democracy, progress, and prosperity. In real time, however, “winning the peace” proved a perilous business, fraught with temptation and hazard.


  • A disturbing look at the experiences of the ‘after-army’: the American service-people who stayed on active duty after the Second World War, charged with rebuilding the places they had helped to destroy. Frank, often harsh voices from letters, diaries and memoirs serve up ‘inconvenient truths’: the armed forces’ caste system and racism; casual cruelty and venality trumping conscience; ‘fraternisation’ (and prostitution and rape) with ‘blowsy frauleins’ and ‘anxious to please’ Japanese maids.

    —Times Higher Education


  • Susan L. Carruthers is Professor of History at Rutgers University–Newark.

Book Details

  • 400 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press