Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A History of America's Wars and Those Who Fought Them

by James Wright

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61039-072-9
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Despite the title this is not a battle history but a thoughtful account of how America treats its soldiers.

From the time of the Revolution, Americans have eulogized our fallen warriors. Sadly, lauding those who die for their country is easier than supporting the survivors, and many still argue that defending America is every citizen’s duty to be carried out with no thought of reward. This opinion was never unanimous, but it was not until 1818 that Congress approved pensions for needy but nondisabled veterans. Pensions for Union veterans followed the Civil War, an expensive proposition. During the 1920s, with many Civil War survivors still collecting, veterans received nearly 20 percent of the federal budget. World War II marked the last gasp of the citizen-soldier myth. One result was the last New Deal entitlement program—the GI Bill of rights, which provided massive educational, medical, unemployment and loan benefits. By 1950 it was the largest entitlement program in history (Social Security eventually surpassed it). Since then Congress has expanded it, and no Republican dares call it socialism. Ironically, the other result is that, as our all-volunteer soldiers grew less representative of the average citizen with the draft’s end in 1973, Americans have come to revere them as the defenders of freedom. The downside is that Congress (20-percent veteran compared to 80 in 1975) tends to exert less authority over the military and acquiesce in our presidents’ increasingly aggressive use of force until long after it’s clear that matters are not going well.

An astute view of America’s enthusiastic but often-unrealistic attitude toward those who fight its wars.