Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sawyer reviews Sparrow, Warfare State

Last fall we mentionedThe American State: Power Obscured,” a terrific interview of William Novak (University of Michigan) and James Sparrow (University of Chicago), published by Books&Ideas.net ("the English-language mirror website of La Vie des Idées"). The online journal has now published an equally thoughtful review of Sparrow's recently published book, Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government (Oxford University Press, 2011). Here's the first paragraph, from reviewer Stephen W. Sawyer:
Philip Roth hinted at a sustained disquiet in American political history when he invited us to “remember the energy” in 1945. Capturing this atmosphere, he wrote: “playing Sunday morning softball on the Chancellor Avenue field and pickup basketball on the asphalt courts behind the school were all the boys who came back alive, neighbors, cousins, older brothers, their pockets full of separation pay, the GI Bill inviting them to break out in ways they could not have imagined possible before the war.” Indeed, before the war, it was impossible to imagine the national community that had supported the war effort and would be, until the 1970s, at the heart of the American warfare state studied by James Sparrow. For, it was precisely these neighbors, cousins, older brothers and other GI’s that were the co-signers and unrelenting force behind a new “wartime social compact,” a new American Magna Carta. The pockets of pay coming from the state, the asphalt courts of public schools around the country, and the GI Bill described by Roth, may then be understood as a prolonged attempt to “buy back our boys,” make “citizen-soldiers,” and redefine “social citizenship through work” (Warfare State, chapters 4, 5 and 6). Just as the banality and Americanness echoed in all things government issued was captured through the extensions of the state into everyday life in the cultural forms of Sunday morning softball and pickup basketball. The state, Sparrow argues, was even behind the scenes forging a new American self—one that might indeed have “invited them to break out.” 
[Footnotes omitted]. Read on here.

Hat tip: bookforum

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