In This Review

Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government
Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government
By James T. Sparrow
344 pp, Oxford University Press, USA, 2011


Warfare State is one of the most important books on the United States to be published in some time. Sparrow is not the first scholar to argue that it was World War II, rather than the New Deal, that shaped the postwar consensus in support of a stronger, more active federal government. But this clearly written, concise, and yet comprehensive book makes the argument more forcefully and fully than others. The generation that fought World War II -- or that worked for victory on the home front -- lived under a more powerful and more intrusive federal government than any Americans before or since. With enormous force, the war imprinted on the “greatest generation” the importance of the subordination of individual interests to group well-being, of coordinating individual and corporate action under national authority, and of a common national purpose that overrode antagonisms of class and, to an extent, race. As members of that generation fade, so do the assumptions and habits -- good and bad -- they acquired in the war. The multifaceted consequences of this passing include everything from the rise of the Tea Party to the corrosion of ethics on Wall Street. Warfare State is a book that historians and students of contemporary American politics need to master; this is scholarship at its best.