America in the Great War

America in the Great War : The Rise of the Welfare State

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After such conflicts as World War II, Vietnam, and now the Persian Gulf, the First World War seems a distant, almost ancient event. It conjures up images of trenches, horse-drawn wagons, and old-fashioned wide-brimmed helmets--a conflict closer to the Civil War than to our own time. It hardly seems an American war at all, considering we fought for scarcely over a year in a primarily European struggle. But, as Ronald Schaffer recounts in this fascinating new book, the Great War wrought a dramatic revolution in America, wrenching a diverse, unregulated, nineteenth-century society into the modern age. Ranging from the Oval Office to corporate boardroom, from the farmyard to the battlefield, America in the Great War details a nation reshaped by the demands of total war. Schaffer shows how the Wilson Administration used persuasion, manipulation, direct control, and the cooperation of private industries and organizations to mobilize a freewheeling, individualist country. The result was a war-welfare state, imposing the federal government on almost every aspect of American life. He describes how it spread propaganda, enforced censorship, and stifled dissent. Political radicals, religious pacifists, German-Americans, even average people who voiced honest doubts about the war suffered arrest and imprisonment. The government extended its control over most of the nation's economic life through a series of new agencies--largely filled with managers from private business, who used their new positions to eliminate competition and secure other personal and corporate gains. Schaffer also details the efforts of scholars, scientists, workers, women, African- Americans, and of social, medical, and moral reformers, to use the war to advance their own agendas even as they contributed to the drive for victory. And not the least important is his account of how soldiers reacted to the reality of war--both at the front lines and at the rear--revealing what brought the doughboys to the battlefield, and how they went through not only horror and disillusionment but felt a fervent patriotism as well. Some of the upheavals Schaffer describes were fleeting--as seen in the thousands of women who had to leave their wartime jobs when the boys came home--but others meant permanent change and set precedents for such future programs as the New Deal. By showing how American life would never be the same again after the Armistice, America in the Great War lays a new foundation for understanding both the First World War and twentieth-century more

Product details

  • Hardback | 261 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 25.4mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195049039
  • 9780195049039

About Ronald Schaffer

About the Author: Ronald Schaffer is Professor of History at California State University, Northridge, and is the author of Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War more

Review Text

If WW I was the most decisive event of the 20th century for Europe, its impact on the US was considerably less, but Schaffer (History/California State at Northridge) shows that the war both presaged and contributed to the rise of federal power in the 1930's. Federal power, used at once to stimulate the war effort and to smash dissent, was, Schaffer says, used with unusual vigor if uneven success. Harsh penalties were imposed on those opposing or even questioning the war effort: Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who had received more than 900,000 votes in 1912 as a candidate for President, was given a ten-year sentence for a vaguely antiwar speech. The Wilson Administration also demonstrated how the government could draw on the new powers granted by the Income Tax Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to shape the structure of a war economy. The Food Administration, for example, headed by Herbert Hoover, bought up the entire 1918 sugar crops of the US and Cuba. Yet results were mixed: Despite all efforts, ordnance reached the troops too late, and the early history of the Railroad Administration was a disaster. The war gave immense impetus to both the women's suffrage movement and the cause of prohibition, but, reflecting in part the hostility of Wilson and members of his Cabinet, and despite the service of 400,000 blacks in the Armed Forces during the war, the situation of American blacks was not ameliorated and their sacrifices not rewarded. Though exploring some subjects only superficially in his account, derived largely from secondary sources, and devoting a third of his text to the experiences of soldiers in the trenches, Schaffer still offers an illuminating overview of the impact of WW I on the US. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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