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  • Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen
  • Mark E. Grotelueschen
Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. By Christopher Capozzola. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 352 pp. $35.00 (cloth).

On 5 June 1917, 9.6 million American men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty registered in compliance with the new Selective Service Act at about four thousand locations around the country. This massive occurrence is perhaps the key event in Capozzola's study of the myriad ways the Great War changed the meanings of American citizenship. But the author, an associate professor of history at MIT, goes far beyond the direct military obligations placed on Americans and addresses many other forms of wartime obligation, some voluntary but many others, such as draft registration and eventual conscription, often [End Page 539] much more coercive in their execution. Through discussions of the many ways American society and government, at all levels, dealt with wartime conscription, conscientious objectors, women's volunteerism and political activism, home policing and vigilantism, restrictions on free speech and expression, and treatment of German Americans and enemy aliens, Capozzola attempts to show that the Great War was "a crucial moment in the history of American political culture," and one that not only restructured "the relationship between Americans and state power" but even altered "the basic terms of American citizenship itself" (p. 209).

Capozzola attempts to make his case by focusing on the often contradictory, but sometimes complimentary, concepts of obligation, volunteerism, coercion, and individual rights, and he deftly demonstrates the intersection, interplay, and interaction between them. He demonstrates that it was not just the Selective Service Act that ensured that Americans were "obliged to volunteer in a culture of coercive voluntarism" (p. 8). Rather, he shows how similar forces were at play in women's knitting campaigns and food conservation movements, in conducting slacker raids and Liberty Loan drives, in strike-breaking and anti-vice activities, and in monitoring seditious speech and potential enemy saboteurs. In each of these efforts Capozzola shows the ways that federal, state, and local governments cooperated with numerous voluntary associations (such as the American Protective League, the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense, the American Red Cross, and even the American Library Association) to advance the war effort on the homefront. Despite the growth in the size of government during the war, few of the nation's major stateside mobilization efforts were carried out exclusively, or often even primarily, by government employees. Rather, civilian citizens were either asked or allowed to volunteer as quasi-state-sponsored deputies to register men for the draft, round up slackers, report on seditious newspaper editors and neighbors, and to act as "kitchen soldiers" by signing—and getting their neighbors to sign—pledge cards for Herbert Hoover's food conservation program.

Central to the book's argument is the wartime transition of numerous local and national volunteer organizations' overriding purpose and loyalty from local, regional, and national social concerns to meeting the needs of the state. Volunteerism was not new in 1917–1918 America, but the wartime volunteerism seen during those years was often different in its scope and ultimate purpose. The urgency and immensity of the "war to end all wars" placed new demands on the nation's [End Page 540] citizens and called for a level of official, and perhaps more important, unofficial coercion that was, to Capozzola, unprecedented in American history. And yet, perhaps even more important in the author's eyes is the fact that this wartime coercion led to a reaction by a diverse array of individuals and groups that fought against the coercion by articulating a new understanding of individual rights. Although these resistors generally lost their wartime battles, their efforts eventually led to the "rights-based" (instead of an obligation-based) "vision of citizenship that would play such a prominent role in twentieth century America" (p. 14).

Capozzola's argument is subtle, complex, and so remarkably balanced that many readers may not be thoroughly convinced that the Great War was as much a watershed event as the author...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 539-541
Launched on MUSE
2010-11-06
Open Access
No
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