January 22, 2012


James T. Sparrow, Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government (New York & Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2011) (From the bookjacket: "Although common wisdom and much scholarship assume that ;bug government' gained its foothold in the United States during the auspices of the new Deal during the Great Depression, in fact it was the Second World War that accomplished this feat. Indeed, as the federal government mobilized for war it grew tenfold, quickly dwarfing the New Deal's welfare programs." "Warfare State shows how the federal government vastly expanded its influence over American society during World War II. Equally important, it looks at how and why Americans adapted to this expansion of authority. Through mass participation in military service, war work, rationing, price control, income taxation, and the war bond program, ordinary Americans learned to live with the warfare state. The accepted these new obligations because the government encouraged all citizens to think of themselves as personally connected to the battle front, linking their every action to the fate of the combat soldier. As they worked for the American Soldier, Americans habituated themselves to the authority of the government. Citizens made their own counterclaims on the state--particularly in the case of industrial workers, women, African Americans, and most o all, the soldiers. Their demands for fuller citizenship offer important insights into the relationship between citizen morale, the uses of patriotism, and the legitimacy of the state in wartime" "World War II forged a new bond between citizens, nation, and the government. Warfare State tells the story of this dramatic transformation in American life." As one reads this, one cannot help but wonder what transformation in the bond between citizens, nation, and government the twenty-first-century War-on-Terror State will bring. "In the Reagan eighties, when rhetorical and programmatic assaults on 'big government' began to dominate national political life, Democratic senator Fritz Hollings liked to tell a parable about the paradox that had taken over national politics by then: 'A veteran returning from Korea went to college to college on the GI Bill; bought his house with an FHA loan; saw his kids born in a VA hospital; started a business with an SBA loan; got electricity from TVA and, later, water from an EPA project. His parents, on Social Security, retired to a farm, got electricity from REA and had their soil tested by USDA. When his father became ill, the family was saved from financial ruin by Medicare and a life was saved with a drug developed through NIH. His kids participated in the school lunch program, learned physics from teachers trained in an NSF program and went to college with guaranteed student loans. He drove to work on the Interstate and moored his boat in a channel dredged by Army engineers. When floods hit, he took Amtrak to Washington to apply for disaster relief, and spent some time in the Smithsonian museums. Then one day he got mad: he wrote his congressman an angry letter. 'Get the government off my back,' he wrote. 'I'm tired of paying for all those programs created for ungrateful people.' " Id. at 358-359. What did the old lady say? "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" We have no shame, and certainly no sense of irony and paradox.).