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Following in the tradition of David Kennedy's classic examination of the American home front during the First World War, Over Here (1980), David J. Bettez has set out to analyze the effects of the outbreak of war and America's eventual decision to intervene on a single U.S. state: Kentucky. What follows is an exhaustive account of almost all conceivable aspects on life during wartime in the state as it mobilized for war.
A study like Bettez's is invaluable for its revelations on how much life changed during the war, and how pre-war beliefs on the appropriate role of government intervention in private life never resumed after the war. Though it seems clear that World War I was a useful nationalizing experience, it is equally apparent that this national unity came at a cost, including a greatly enlarged role for government regulation in civilian lives as a result of the war, as well as the overzealous search for "slackers" and enemy agents that frequently led to violence and abuse directed disproportionately at German-Americans. Still, the war effort contributed to the modernization of at least some rural areas in Kentucky, with increased agricultural production, the creation of an extension agent system, and other development programs, including those designed to help poor farmers purchase inexpensive tractors.
The war was probably most immediately transformative for German-Americans, who had to demonstrate their patriotism, mostly by eliminating as many visible traces of their German culture as possible and by making their support for the American war effort explicit. Anti-German sentiment was pervasive in Kentucky. German-Americans were clearly disliked and distrusted by many of [End Page 661] their neighbors, who frequently accused them of being disloyal and inadequately "American." The state legislature even passed a bill, ultimately vetoed by Governor Augustus O. Stanley, which would have banned the teaching of German in state schools and universities.
Coercion was a dominant theme of life on the home front, with legal mandates and intense social pressure to support the war effort and modify daily life (for example, by having meatless, wheatless, and lightless days, in order to stretch the available food and fuel supplies). Along these lines, Bettez sheds light on the formation of organizations like the Citizens' Patriotic League (CPL) and the American Protective League (APL), groups of private citizens that sought to root out sedition, disloyalty, and opposition to the war. The APL even formed secret paramilitary-style organizations that conducted "slacker raids" to round up men who might have been evading the draft, though it seems they rarely discovered any. Like-minded mobs also occasionally formed and attacked those deemed "disloyal," usually German-Americans, forcing them to donate money to the war effort or the Red Cross.
The government itself had to rapidly begin preparing the nation for wartime mobilization. Unsurprisingly, there was a fair amount of political wrangling within the state over where the new military camps required for the war effort would be built, given the lucrative economic opportunities these offered. Once built, reformers used the camps for social programs designed to promote their pet interests, attempting to inculcate draftees with their visions of patriotism and morality. New federal agencies, including the Food Administration and the Fuel Administration, were also created to manage key aspects of American society during the war. They tended to prefer volunteerism rather than statist coercion, but their intrusiveness became obvious when individuals were subjected to "coercive volunteerism," which involved intense peer pressure and threats of investigations and legal charges unless donations and pledges were made (p. 149).
Bettez also offers insight into the conscription process in Kentucky. For the small peacetime U.S. Army, the prospect of having to [End Page 662] raise several million conscripts in a short period of time was a daunting challenge. Local draft boards were created to select the men who would ultimately serve, though the process was far from smooth. Bettez reveals a surprising amount of corruption...