War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, by Mary L. Dudziak
Initially, it would seem like an easy thing to define what war time is. It is the opposite of peace time, duh. However, the author manages to demonstrate that war time is a decidedly contentious subject and that as long as the term and concept have existed there has been considerable ambiguity in its use. It is considered a truism that in war time rights decrease, but there have been cases where the need to improve one’s reputation in the face of international attention have increased rights and freedoms, as was the case for blacks during the early part of the Cold War. War time and its implications are complicated , and this book explores those complications, especially in the 20th century. The author shows a distinct willingness to look at time from all kinds of perspectives, far more than most people would think of, and she manages to do so in a way that manages to strike this reader as pretty nonpartisan, although not in a way that makes presidents in general look good in American history and a way that demonstrates that in American history it is peace and not war that is the exception based on the military record of campaign badges.
This book is a short one, with under 140 pages of core written material before the book shows an appendix with every single military badge offered by the military. The author begins with an introduction that seeks to frame her discussion properly about war time and to point out that while she believes war time has a variety of effects on civilian life, it clearly has effects. After that the author seeks to define wartime as a concept, looking at the ways that it even affects the Daylight Savings Time we use today. The author then asks what seems to be a straightforward question: namely, when was World War II, but that proves to be more complicated than thought even when looking at America’s involvement in World War II and not, say, Japan’s involvement or Germany’s. Part of this was because of the disconnect between presidential powers and the perceived need for legitimacy in the face of a far more isolationist American public. The author turns to the Cold War and examines what kind of war it was and then uses that as a way of judging the contemporary war on terror and what exactly that means, and how exactly that war is supposed to be temporary enough to assure the restoration of peacetime.
Why does this matter? Well, during wartime, however it is defined, the government seeks additional power and behaves in ways that seek to serve its interests abroad. Also, there can be great disconnects between the way that ordinary people view time as opposed to the way that the military views time. This happens when small wars that are always going on for imperial glory or the expansion of territory demand little in the way of sacrifice on the part of ordinary people who view the situation as “peacetime” while soldiers themselves are subject to high degrees of control by authorities in dangerous combat that is simply not understood or acknowledged by the larger population, which is under the belief that their nation is a peaceful one. This applies powerfully to the United States and also plenty of other countries as well, and is a way that civilians and their militaries are out of phase with each other and simply do not understand the way life is for the other. This author gives plenty of food for thought when it comes to questions of war and peace in 20th century American history.
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