The US government may have sexually “teased” soldiers in the First World War in an attempt to get them to fight harder, argues a paper published by Cambridge historian Eric Wycoff Rogers. Yep, it really is as strange as it sounds.
In 1914, war breaks out in Europe. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and Germany invades Luxembourg and Belgium, while Allied nations gather their forces to hold off the assault. The United States remain neutral on the matter, with local soldiers largely uninterested in fighting a war halfway across the world against little threat to their sovereignty.
However, a U-boat attack and whisperings that Germany attempted to persuade Mexico to invade the US prompted a quick reversal, and the nation entered the fray in 1917. While the interests of national and global security were enough to convince politicians to enter the Allied side, soldiers leaving the comfort of their homes to enter one of the bloodiest wars in history were not so easily sold.
“The war didn’t feel relevant to young American men in the way it did to European men,” Rogers, author of the study, said in a statement.
“Particularly after President Wilson’s sudden U-turn on American belligerency, the government had to work hard to convince civilians to support the war, and this was doubly true for soldiers, many of whom were drafted against their will.”
So, the US government devised a plan. According to Rogers, they believed that sexually fulfilled men had too much mental fortitude to be motivated for such a war, and they would instead have to whittle them down through unmet sexual desires to make them fight their best.
They could have tried money or something else first, but sure let's just jump straight to sexual teasing.
To do so, the soldiers would be exposed to carefully controlled stimulation but forced to remain abstinent. Attractive female canteen staff were recruited, civilian women were invited to dance for the soldiers, the soldiers were encouraged to write to women back home, and sexual propaganda flooded their view. Any “promiscuous” women on the force were detained to prevent the men from getting any gratification.
At the center of this bizarre attempt to prevent post-nut clarity was the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA), which originally sought to control the force’s sex lives to prevent health troubles. Rogers’ new study, however, demonstrates it was instead an attempt to have power over the soldiers.
Did it work? Well, the US was a huge help to the Allies, mostly in the form of material supplies to the front line. There were significant casualties, with 116,000 military deaths and 200,000 wounded on the US side, but these paled in comparison to other allied nations. America was only involved in the war for a brief stint, and it is unclear how much their longing for sex really impacted their success – if anything, it likely just made them really, really want to go home.
The study was published in the Journal of the History of Sexuality.