The book gave historical accounts about the war that other books negated to included. The thesis that Schaffer tries to prove that the Great War was the start of the American welfare state and the beginning of “big” government. America in the Great War was structured in chronological order of the war, from Americas mobilization to the actual fighting.
What the book did not include is a detail account of the fighting. This was the biggest draw back in a otherwise well thought book. The book begins with the mobilization of the United States industry and man power. The first two chapters dealt with how the Federal Government shaped the view of the war in Americas minds. The methods that the Federal Government used varied from propaganda to coercion.
The point behind the Federal Governments involvement in propaganda was to rally the country to fight the war. The first step in shaping the peoples mind was to get the labor and industry to work together. The Federal Government established committees and teams to persuade the minds of the United States. One of these committees were the Committee on Public Information established in April 13 1917 by order on the President of the United States.
The committee was led by George Creel, former social reformer. He had great power in what the United States saw and heard for the next few years. His first order was to manage American minds without directly using propaganda and censorship. Other nations fighting the war practiced wide spread censorship of all war related material. Creel realized that this would not work in the United States, instead he flooded Americans with news.
The news released to the public was in such large numbers and in such great detail that Americans could not understand all of it. The Committee on Public Information also produced films. The films were designed to rally Americans behind the war effort. The films were nothing else but propaganda, but Creel designed the films to not come across as propaganda. The committee was very successful in hiding the fact that they were engaging in propaganda.
Many Americans believed in the films and supported the war effort, but there were many people who did not. The committee was aware of growing dissent among Americans and took steps to keep that dissent in check. Congress passed many acts that prevented and punished dissent in the Untied States. Three of these acts were the Espionage Act of 1917, the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, and the Sedition Act of 1918. These acts were successful in limiting the amount of discontent towards the war.
The price of this limited discontent was the suspension of rights of American citizens. Thousands of Americans suspected of dissension were arrested and convicted of sedition. Americans were encouraged to tell government officials of any kind of anti-war activities that they know about. The government arrested people and sent them to jail for even hinting about anti-war feelings.
This created fear among Americans towards the Federal Government, but did succeeded in stopping dissension. The next three chapters focused on the mobilization of American industry to fight the war. In the years before the Great War, America was making the work place a safer and better place to work. Labor unions had power to control wages, hours and working conditions. The Great War for the most part suspended the labor movement. The United States needed to fight a war, and American industry was key in winning that war.
The Federal Government became heavily involved in controlling industry. The level of control that the government used was on heard of a few years ago. American labor suffered during the Great War. Advances that labor gained before the war were suspended. Industry could again work its employees longer and in unsafe working conditions.
The workers were paid well during the Great War. The Federal Government paid the industries based on their cost to produce the products. This type of payment encouraged the industries to pay their workers very highly, knowing the government would pay them higher. The war provided the excuse for the government to take control of industry. A good example of this control is in the railroad industry.
Before the war, the railroad industry enjoyed limited government control. As a result different companies had different rail lines and different prices. When America joined the Great War, the Federal Government took complete control of the railroads. The government standardized the industry by setting the size of track , the size of trains and the price paid for shipping. The government also controlled what cargo went where and at what time. The next two chapters are about social reformers and the black experience during the war.
The United States before the war was on a progressive movement, the Great War reinforced the movement. American leaders were concerned that things like alcohol and prostitution would affect there fighting ability. As a result bars and whore houses were closed around U.S. bases. There was great concern when the soldiers were shipped to Europe. People feared that foreign attitudes towards liquor and brothels would affect American soldiers.
Measures were taken to limit American interaction with liquor and women. Brothels and saloons were American soldiers were stationed were closed. The French were asked to only give American soldiers beer and wine, and not hard liquor. Blacks served in the Great War in segregated units. The blacks suffered extreme prejudice in the United States and many Americans thought of them as second class humans.
Many Americans were concerned about European thinking towards blacks, that they were equal to them. This concern resulted in the complete segregation of black soldiers from other American units and Europeans. The blacks saw the war a chance to prove themselves to white America. White America did not want this and set up the blacks to fail in combat. The military only appointed poor leaders to the black units and prevented blacks from rising in rank.
Even through the black units were set up to fail, they proved themselves and fought bravely. This was all but forgotten when the went home. The still faced the same racism when they arrived home. The last chapters were about the actual fighting and the results it had on the soldiers. The fighting in Europe was bloody and had a lasting effect on the American soldiers. The trench fighting turned the battlefield into a meat grinder.
Official desertion rate was low, but the reality was that thousands did not perform there duties. Many soldiers lag behind there units, or simply disappeared. The ones that did fight were subjected to around the clock bombing and non-stop German attacks. This had a lasting effect on the returning troops. American doctors began seeing a new disease among returning veterans, shell shock.
Shell shock was not only found among returning American soldiers, but in soldiers in different countries. The U.S. government began to treat these soldiers after the war. As a result of the experience gained in treating the returning American soldiers, doctors were better prepared to treat Americans returning from the Second World War. Schaffers thesis was that the Great War created an American welfare state. The evidence he presented strongly support his arguments.
He began with the American home front, since this is were most of the reform took place. Schaffer presented examples of how the Federal Government took control of industry and regulated it. Examples were given on how the Federal Government influenced wages and provided public housing for workers. The clearest example of American welfare is in the way is treated returning soldiers.
Army doctors recognized shell shock and tried to treat it. This is the first time the Federal government helped veterans in such a large scale. The treatment of the shell shock veterans would eventually lead to one of the largest welfare programs, the Veterans administration. In addition Schaffer changed my views about the American home front. I was not aware about the extent of propaganda involved shaping the thinking in the United States.
I did not know that the Federal Government suppressed dissent to the level that it employed. Such use of propaganda and suppression in the United States would be impossible and such a government using that would be called a Fascist government. In conclusion, I liked the book due the fact that Schaffer proved his thesis, the Great War gave rise to the American welfare state. I believe that Schaffer proved his thesis with clear and concrete evidence.
I enjoyed how Schaffer shed new light on the Great War. Many historical accounts only deal with the actual fighting and not the behind the scenes action that Schaffer writes about. Schaffers account about women and blacks during the war gave new levels. History has forgotten the contributions that these groups gave to the war.