20th Century United States, Cultural History, Violence, Race and Racism
Office: Harris Hall #242
Kathleen Belew (Ph.D., Yale University, 2011) specializes in the history of the United States after the Vietnam War, examining the war’s long aftermath on the American home front. She teaches courses on 20th Century U.S. History, the Vietnam War, Histories of Violence in the United States, the American Vigilante, and comparative race and racism. Her work has received the support of the Andrew W. Mellon and Jacob K. Javits Foundations, as well as Albert J. Beveridge and John F. Enders support for her transnational research in Mexico and Nicaragua.
Her first book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (under contract, Harvard University Press) tells the story of white power activists who used post-Vietnam War paramilitarism to create a unified movement that extended across the United States, bridged rural and urban divides, and even worked as a performative identity to conscript those who did not serve. Their story explains how overt racism relocated to the fringe in the supposedly colorblind post-Civil Rights Movement era, sometimes veiled by softened language but repeatedly used to recruit from the mainstream. By focusing on the manifold and increasing militarization of American domestic life, both in paramilitary movements and in the militarized civilian policing they confronted, this story reveals a higher human cost of war than has previously been understood. White power activists deployed a circuitry of combat that connected counterinsurgency in Vietnam with mercenary warfare in places like Central America and Southern Africa; they also extended the war’s civilian-targeted violence to the home front in the United States by targeting refugees, communists, and federal agents and infrastructures. White power paramilitarism united disparate Klan, neo-Nazi, skinhead, militia, and other groups, linking the paramilitary 1980s with the militia 1990s. In this story, the war’s violence stretches forward to new battlefields, new generations of combatants, and to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Belew earned her B.A. in Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington in 2005, where she was named Dean’s Medalist in the Humanities. She has also taught at Yale University, Rutgers University, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is at work on two new projects, one focusing on processes of militarization in the domestic United States and the other on ideas of apocalypse in twentieth century America. She is affiliated with the Northwestern American Studies Program.