I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, mostly from being in grad school, but also because it’s been something I want to get back into. Anyway, since I’ve been reading more, I’ve decided to post reviews of ones that interest me. In this post, I’ll be reviewing War Time: An Idea, It’s History, It’s Consequences, by Mary Dudziak, who is a Law Professor at Emory.
War Time begins by examining the traditional distinction between war time and peace time, but goes on to demonstrate how they fail to apply to America in the twentieth century. Her central thesis is that far from being normally at peace intermittently punctuated by periods of war, America has been at war for most of recent memory, punctuated only by a few intermittent periods of peace.
Dudziak says that perpetual war began during the Cold War, and has gone on continuously since the war on terror began in 2001. Since the latter is still ongoing, it raises the important question of why and how people accept war time as the new normal. There is a commonly understood difference in the legal realm between the concepts of peace time and war time. Traditionally, the former has been regarded as the norm and the latter as a deviation from the norm. Dudziak argues the view that war time is marked by the rules and the normal order of things changing is shared by lawyers, scholars, and policymakers alike. War time is used to demarcated the beginnings and ends of eras precisely because there is such clear distinction between peace time and war time. The times in between the declaration of war and the signing of an armistice have historically had the hallmarks unique to war time—for example, conscription, economic controls, and the suspension of civil liberties.
Dudziak examines the First and Second World Wars and notes several examples of policies that demonstrate how significant a deviation from peace time war time is. In the First World War, the Federal Government sharply curtailed civil liberties with laws like the Espionage Act, which criminalized any attempt “to cause insubordination… in the military and naval forces of the United States” and was used to convict and imprison people for their speech. Also during World War I, the Federal Government standardized time zones plus Daylight Saving Time were introduced in order to conserve energy.
Following the “return to normalcy,” Daylight Saving Time was repealed, but it would be reintroduced two decades later shortly before the United States intervened in World War II. President Roosevelt said that Americans must prepare for a national emergency confronting the country, and that they would have to commit themselves fully to the war effort. The years leading up to World War II also witnessed the return of civil liberties restrictions in the name of national security. Even the Supreme Court was not immune to these concerns; in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, the Court upheld the expulsion of public school students who refused to salute the flag for religious reasons. Although, Gobitis would be overturned three years later, the decision nonetheless demonstrated the precedence national security concerns could take.
Both World War I and World War II were initiated with declarations of war, and terminated with the signing of ceasefires. The public was permitted to return to normalcy. Nobody was expected to abide by the suspension of the normal order of things, and the distinction between war time and peace time was clear. Yet although the concepts can be distinguished during the World Wars, Dudziak argues that since 1945, the distinction has been steadily eroded away. Now, Dudziak argues, Americans are living through “not a time without war, but instead a time in which war does not bother everyday Americans.” Though it has not officially declared war, America has nonetheless involved itself in countless proxy wars and a nebulous war on terror.
Dudziak makes a detailed case of how this change gradually occurred over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. The transformation began with the onset of the Cold War. As the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of war, but were not actually at war with one another, the public’s perceptions of times of conflict and times of normalcy changed. People knew they were in a Cold War, but most of them were not able to say what that meant. Some thought it was “war through talking,” or “war without actual fighting;” others said it was “just like a hot war,” or “real war all over the world.” Though the government emphasized the dangers of Soviet Communism, peoples’ understanding of the threat posed was nonetheless much vaguer than it had been during World War I and World War II.
This was not because shooting wars didn’t occur, or because the United States military was not involved. Shooting wars occurred in Korea and Vietnam that incurred significant American casualties, and in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, there were a sizeable number of small-scale military operations by the United States. But unlike the Second World War, there was no declaration of war, and except for Korea and Vietnam, little involvement in peoples’ day-to-day lives, due to the small number of military personnel deployed.
Such disconnect between peoples’ everyday affairs and faraway military engagements by the United State would grow even more pronounced in the war on terror. Dudziak argues the war on terror has many similarities to the Cold War. Like the Cold War, the war on terror was defined as a war against a general ideology rather than a specific country. There have been many real conflicts on the ground in the war on terror, but it was not initiated with a formal declaration of war. Instead, Congress passed an “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” and outsourced its war-initiating power to the executive branch.
The war on terror is increasingly out of sight and out of mind. Because it is so far disconnected from peoples’ lives, so far removed from public consciousness, it is difficult to fit the present into traditional conceptions of war time or peace time. Instead, Dudziak concludes, Americans live in a state where war—albeit distant war—is the new normal and have adjusted accordingly (bear in mind that the war on terror spans three Presidencies and has no apparent end in sight. People live most of their lives as if it were basically peace time while aware of the fact that it is not, in fact, a time of peace. This leads to the curious situation of people tolerating expanded government powers, security measures, and curtailed civil liberties—which is to say, deviations from the normal order of things—even though there is no end to war time in sight. Furthermore, the public’s removal from the war on terror means the public knows less about the war on terror. Dudziak claims this has led to the bureaucratization of war, by which the government takes control of the war effort with increasingly diminished input or oversight from the electorate.