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

TitleAmerica in the Great War : The Rise of the War Welfare State
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsSchaffer, Ronald
Number of Pages244
PublisherOxford University Press
City, CountryNew York
Abstract

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.

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