Monday, February 5, 2007

Ortiz reviews Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation

Suzanne Mettler's new book, Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation (Oxford University Press, 2005) is reviewed on H-Pol by Stephen R. Ortiz, Department of History, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylania. The review begins:
One of the most exciting developments in the recent study of U.S. political history has been the renewal of the dialogue between political scientists and historians. Over the past twenty years, as political historians have increasingly focused on policy formation and implementation rather than the electoral and legislative processes, a growing number of political scientists have emphasized the historical dimensions of institutional development, especially the importance of historical contingency. These trends have led to the growth of a rich body of literature that engages both historians and political scientists, and blurs the disciplinary boundaries almost beyond recognition. U.S. political history--that fusty old don of academia--is now a surprising model of cutting-edge interdisciplinarity. One prominent scholar associated with this phenomenon, Suzanne Mettler, Alumni Associate Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, already has made an important contribution with her work on the gendered structures undergirding New Deal public policy. Luckily for scholars of U.S. social policy, veterans' issues, and post-World War II political culture, Mettler employs her considerable talents in an excellent new study of the of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill.
In Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation, Mettler analyzes the impact of the G.I. Bill both on the veteran population that utilized the legislation's generous social provisions, and on postwar American politics and society. By utilizing extensive archival research and data from a series of surveys and interviews of World War II veterans, she argues that the G.I. Bill made a tremendous difference in the economic and social status of benefit recipients, and more importantly, led to a marked increase in recipients' levels of civic engagement. Mettler maintains that the bill's provisions, and the manner in which they were implemented, left lasting imprints on a cohort of veterans who had not only won the "good war," but who would also have the highest twentieth-century rates of political involvement. She explains, "Those veterans who utilized the [G.I. Bill] provisions became more active citizens in public life in the postwar years than those who did not" (p. 9). In other words, federal policies helped create the "greatest generation," a generation long venerated for its level of civic engagement and political participation. With this interpretive salvo, Mettler explicitly links two subjects of enormous historical and contemporary relevance: the impact of social policy on citizen beneficiaries and the decline of participatory democracy.

For the rest, click here.