Playing to Win

Sports and the American Military, 1898-1945

By Wanda Ellen Wakefield

Subjects: Men's Studies
Series: SUNY series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations
Paperback : 9780791433140, 216 pages, April 1997
Hardcover : 9780791433133, 216 pages, April 1997

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Table of contents


1. War and Sports: From the Spanish-American War to 1917

2. World War I and Military Athletics at Home and in the Face of Battle

3. Playing in the Post-War World and Planning for the Future of Military Sport

4. Building Strong Men and New Facilities for Another War

5. Creating the Military Sports Machine: Special Service Officers and World War II

6. Strong Men, Strong Bodies, Off to War, 1941-1945

7. WACs, WAVEs, "Sissies;' and the "Negro Soldier:" Military Sports for the Marginalized

8. Conclusion




Traces the development of U.S. military sports and explains how and why the American armed forces embraced sports as a crucial part of training and entertainment for the men (and ultimately women) in uniform.


This book explains how and why the American armed forces embraced sports as a critical part of training and as entertainment for the men—and, eventually, women—in uniform. The author traces the development of military sports from the Spanish-American War through the end of World War II and shows how they became an integral part of military culture. Wakefield uses the military's sports program to explore issues of power, masculinity, and race as they were expressed and reinforced through athletic competitions and demonstrates how they strengthened hierarchical relationships. She also shows how the armed forces attempted to use sports to further national interests on the diplomatic front and to reduce racial and sexual tension.

In addition, Wakefield argues for the interpenetration of the worlds of sports and war, showing how sports metaphors were used to masculinize the military enterprise and maintain morale. Wartime propelled interest in sports, and sports helped to maintain patriotism and gender identity among the troops. The book makes the case that the size and scope of the military's efforts to draw all soldiers and sailors into sports reflect the extent to which competitive athletics in the twentieth century have come to represent a means for advancing not only war but peace.

Wanda Ellen Wakefield is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University and is a judge with the International Luge Federation (FIL).


"Playing to Win is a thoughtful analysis of the motivations of those who planned and provided the sports progammes and–in less detail–an account of the responses of those who participated in them." — Reviewed by Allen Guttmann, Amherst College, for Culture, Sport, Society

"Wakefield has demonstrated the deep psychological links between sports and war; she has gone beneath the surface world of intersecting metaphors and explored how sports, both as metaphor and activity, have become an integral part of the American military scene. Her work gives historical depth to the demarcation of sports and war as a distinctly male domain, showing how sports serve the interests of war and how war illustrates the themes of sports." — Michael S. Kimmel, coauthor of Men's Lives: Readings in the Sociology of Masculinity

"This is an eminently readable tour of a segment of American cultural history that has hitherto been undiscovered. Wakefield brings military athletics into the light of day, which will please feminist scholars, men's studies practitioners, sociologists of war, and military scholars. This book provides insight into links between masculinity, social hierarchy, values and ideology, and warfare. The inclusion of gender in the analysis of the war problem/phenomenon is new, cutting edge, and a logical addition to the substantial corpus of historical and sociological literature on war. There are revelations in this book, connections between race and gender, for example, that leap out. It draws forth a sensibility—a new sensibility for most readers—that war is a gendered phenomenon." — Don Sabo, coauthor of Sex, Violence, and Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity