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Oakland Army Base Oral History Project
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Project Themes
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Project ThemesOakland Army Base Overhead

Thematic Focus:
We propose to select interviewees and conduct interviews with an eye to addressing three overarching themes, each of which contain a number of research questions and subthemes:

  1. Core Base Functions: By focusing on “core base functions” we intent to explore the raison d’etre of the OARB: its role as the point on embarkation for supplies, weapons, and troops. We propose to examine the following issues:

    1. Technology and labor: the sixty years from the beginning of the Second World War to the decommissioning of the OARB witnessed vast changes in the use of technology and labor for supplying the military. We will explore the nature of these changes and how they played out on the piers and in the warehouses of the base.

    2. Military objectives and tasks: Work on the base varied greatly from wartime to peacetime, and from one era to the next. We will explore the relationship between the context of worldwide and hemispheric military engagements and the kind of work accomplished on the base.

    3. Military and capital/trade: Presuming there is a close relationship between U.S. military action and the opening (or closing) of foreign markets to U.S. commerce, we will explore the role played by the OARB in the management of this relationship in both larger global matters but also developments closer to home, such as the military command of the Port in WWII and the gradual transfer of base land to the port in the 1990s.

    4. Transportation networks:  As a port of embarkation, the OARB served as a hub, linking two great transportation networks: road and rail on the land and ships at sea. Interviews will explore not only what (and who) traversed those networks, but will examine how those networks changed along with the ramifications of those changes, such as the emergence of intermodal transport.
  1. City within a City: With a varying population that, at times, reached the tens of thousands, the OARB was a city within a city. We propose to explore the internal life of the army base by focusing on:

    1. Community and cultural life: For residents of and contractors working at the OARB, the base provided not only the necessities of life (food and shelter), but also made an effort to sustain community and culture. Interviews will explore all facets of cultural life, including: religion (individual and communal experiences), entertainment (movies, dances, concerts), athletics (baseball, bowling), sociability (clubs, bars, mess halls), and foodways (from MREs to the officer’s dining hall).

    2. Governance and Order: Like any city, the base required a local structure of governance to maintain working order (sewers, water, power), including policing apparatus to keep public order. We will examine the ‘local’ governance structure with an eye to explaining how the various arms of it accomplished their assigned tasks; interviews will examine how base life facilitated order but also incidents when it was undermined.

    3. Housing, health, and well-being: Public health and housing take on new meanings when the site under consideration is a military base, where the federal government is obliged to provide all the basic needs of its residents. Interviews will explore the military-model of housing and health provision. We will also examine the place of families, children, and schooling on the base.

    4. Military and social hierarchies: Hierarchical to its core, military order and function derives from and is integral to its structure. Interviews will explore the ways in which hierarchies of rank were mobilized to serve the mission of the OARB, but also instances in which rank hierarchies were questionedWe also will examine historically variable hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality at the base across all project themes.
  1. Community Impact:  Being a city within a city, the OARB was compelled to interact with surrounding communities, cities, and regions as part of its mission. We propose to explore the impact of the OARB on the surrounding communities, and vice versa, by focusing on the following issues and questions:

    1. City of Oakland and Alameda County governance: Because of state and federal precedence, city bureaucrats and elected officials find the governing of municipalities difficult. This is compounded when a massive federal institution sits immediately adjacent to the city in question. Although many cities compete for new military bases, others lament the difficulties caused by those already present. Located in a large urban area, the OARB was an integral part of the patterns of everyday life and the eruptions of sensational events that make up the history of the San Francisco Bay Area since the beginning of World War II. Interviews will explore the ways in which local government dealt with the OARB and vice versa.

    2. Public order and policing:  One of the most important, and troubling, arenas of base - community interaction came with policing and public order. Interviews will explore how several difference policing forces (Oakland Police Department, Alameda County Sheriff, base MPs, Shore Patrol, Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board) addressed issues related to soldier behavior (e.g. AWOLs, public drunkenness, rape), vice (prostitution, gambling, drugs), etc.

    3. Politics and protest:  As an outpost for both the military and federal government, the OARB was a lightening rod for community pride and protest. Interviews will examine instances in which the surrounding community looked to the base as a national pride (e.g. VJ day, Memorial Days) and as a source of national shame (i.e. during the Vietnam War and the anti-nuclear movement).

    4. Community outreach and crisis mitigation: Beyond the obvious times of stress during protests, the OARB and the surrounding community (particularly of West Oakland) had to maintain a stable working atmosphere. Interviews will explore the mechanisms, protocols, and organizations established to facilitate constant contact between the base and the surrounding communities.

    5. Environment:  Perhaps the most profound and longest-lasting impact the base has had (and will continue to have) on the surrounding communities comes in terms of its environmental impact. Interviews will explore how the OARB impacted the local environment from landfill programs to oil spills to cleanups following decommissioning.

    6. OARB and Port of Oakland relations: Sharing the same waterfront and engaging in the same larger project of producing wealth from the nation, the OARB and the Port of Oakland still were two very different entities who had to work together closely over the entire period of this study. We will explore the larger issues as well as the intricacies of this relationship.


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