A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along (review)
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A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along. By Thomas Bruscino. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 348. $39.95 cloth)

In A Nation Forged in War, Thomas Bruscino argues that military service in World War II increased religious and ethnic tolerance in American society. His analysis begins in the 1920s, a time period in which the politics of intolerance polarized American communities and drove legislation on immigration restriction and prohibition. Yet in a span of little over thirty years, the nation elected its first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy; Bruscino credits World War II veterans with leading this expansion of tolerance. The book argues that the experience of training, living, and fighting together diminished ethnic [End Page 132] boundaries among American GIs and created the grounds for a more inclusive postwar America.

The first two chapters of the book examine widespread ethnic and religious intolerance in American society from World War I through the early years of the Great Depression. In chapter three, Bruscino shows how beginning with military induction and training, American GIs were compelled to cooperate with each other: "When it came to making soldiers out of the recruits, the army did not particularly care about the men's economic, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. And when it came to making an army out of those soldiers, the army certainly did not care about all of the men's personal anxieties" (p. 72). Chapter four, "Hours of Boredom," continues this analysis by arguing that it was the day-to-day sharing of food, toilets, and quarters that diminished soldiers' differences. In this innovative chapter, Bruscino examines how storytelling and jokes bonded GIs, and the evaluation of cultures outside of the United States established a strong camaraderie between American soldiers. Chapter five examines the bonds of battle and the last two chapters look at veterans' political and social influence in the postwar period.

Through his analysis of the memorialization of the Four Chaplains—a Dutch Reformed minister, a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and Methodist preacher who sacrificed themselves while ensuring the safety of their troops during the sinking of the Dorchester—Bruscino makes a strong case that World War II and its veterans shaped a more tolerant American Judeo-Christian identity. Nonetheless, Bruscino's analysis that World War II cemented a new national identity seems less evidenced and theorized than his claims of expanding religious understanding. America was pluralistic before the war and, although racial and ethnic categories shifted over the period, the general format of a pluralistic nation remained. Servicemen were involved in numerous race riots during the war, such as the Zoot Suit Riots, and yet these events are absent in A Nation Forged. Rather than a new national identity, Bruscino's work seems to point to the development of a color-blind ideology and politics stimulated by wartime [End Page 133] experience. In his pursuit of tolerance, Bruscino's work provides a few paragraphs about the development of a veteran-driven consumer masculinity in the postwar suburbs and yet he fails to develop this as a central product of the war and GI benefits.

A Nation Forged in War is well documented with an impressive amount of oral histories and memoirs brought to bear. At times the volume of material seems burdensome and an often-fragmentary presentation seems to be reflective of Bruscino's reliance on veterans' exit interviews and previously conducted oral histories. In many chapters, evidentiary paragraphs string together quotes from questionnaires and oral histories, with little analysis of these as different types of primary sources. This decontextualization of excerpted material makes unclear the significance of expanding tolerance as central to the experiences of World War II veterans.

Scholars of twentieth-century American history, World War II, and American religion, race, and ethnicity will find A Nation Forged in War valuable for its insights on how World War II and its veterans changed American ethnic and religious relationships. Bruscino's work points to many potentially fruitful paths for future research on the national postwar development.

Matthew A. Ides

Matthew A. Ides teaches U.S. history at Eastern Michigan University...


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