Eliminate the 'females': The New Guinea affair and medical approaches to homosexuality in the Australian army in the Second World War
Sex between men is almost absent from the official record of the armed services and largely disavowed by soldiers.2 Exaggerated denials and silence about the presence of homosexuality is the consequence of its very potential in all-male environments; large concentrations of deracinated young men brought with it the possibility that soldiers with no female company might turn to each other for sex – as Australian army commanders privately acknowledged on rare occasions. But in certain circumstances, and among particular individuals, the expression of homosexuality was much more than fleeting physical mechanics – it involved dense networks of friends and lovers and expressions of identity with like-minded others.3 The cultural beliefs and scientific thinking on these different forms of behaviour and identity, while not mutually exclusive, informed the institutional responses of both the Australian and the US armies in the Second World War. Psychiatry, in particular, would claim authority in its ability to define, distinguish and treat different forms of homosexuality. This chapter explores the Australian army’s response to the discovery in New Guinea, in 1943-44, of a group of almost twenty homosexual soldiers in the front line of Australia’s defence against the Imperial Japanese Army. The official position on the New Guinea revelations reveals the army’s contested ideas and competing policies on same-sex behaviour and identity. Well-established disciplinary models, along with newer scientific philosophies on sexual deviancy, all competed for attention at Land Headquarters (LHQ). The emerging discipline of psychiatry, a relatively new science, warrants special attention here. Ascertaining what exactly homosexuality was, how it could be detected and what the army might do about it, rested largely on scientific thinking around nonnormative sexuality and the practices of acquired and congenital behaviours. Acquired homosexuality, doctors believed, involved a perversion in normal behaviour of otherwise masculine men; its congenital form, often indicated by a range of social and personal characteristics (including effeminacy), was a permanent state of being and one that posed greater threat to the efficacy of the forces, at least to the mind of army command.
The Pacific War: Aftermaths, Remembrance and Culture
Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)