Preparation for war, war itself, and the legacy of war are among the most important forces shaping American society and culture. Nevertheless, the study of war is often treated as if the only topics of importance were battles and campaigns, results measured in territory, and reputations gained or lost. This four-volume reference set, Americans at War, provides students with a different perspective by examining the profound effect of war upon American society, culture, and national identity. The 395 articles in this set, written by leading academic and independent scholars, cover a wide range of topics. We hope that these articles, focused on the effect of war upon society, will provide new insights into the nation's history and character, and will serve as a resource for further study of America's past and for charting the nation's future.
Volume 1 covers the longest period, 1500 to 1815, especially the era beginning in 1607 with the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown. Between 1607 and 1700, apart from frontier skirmishes, raids, and ambushes, colonists from South Carolina through New England were engaged in over a score of declared wars, rebellions, and insurrections. In the eighteenth century Americans were at war more than at peace. Between 1700 and 1800 Americans engaged in seventeen separate conflicts and rebellions, including the 1739 uprising of slaves at Stono, South Carolina, and the Revolutionary War, 1775–1783. Between 1798 and 1825 the United States was at war with Barbary pirates, Seminole Indians, and in the "Second War of Independence," 1812–1815, with Great Britain and Canada.
The articles in this volume examine how those wars, especially the Revolutionary War, influenced American literature, art, and music; affected the role of women; shaped the economy; and challenged the institution of slavery. Articles also examine how dissent and rebellion contributed to America's creed of liberty and the formation of its Constitution. Some articles focus on the effects of war in forming and reinforcing American racial attitudes towards Indians and blacks. Others discuss the effect of war upon civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and politics. The memory of America's wars helped to define the nation's culture and identity through patriotic celebrations, monuments, and memorials, and by honoring Revolutionary war veterans. Wars also reinforced the religious view that the nation was a beacon to the world's suffering and repressed.
The articles in Volume 2, 1816 to 1900, examine how wars in the nineteenth century shaped American society, culture, and identity while the United States changed from a small, nearly homogeneous, agricultural country into a continental, multicultural, industrial nation. American literature and art, the role of women, industry and technology, race relations, popular culture, political parties, and the Constitution were influenced by those wars, especially the Civil War (1861–1865). Protests against the institution of slavery and the spread of slavery affected the nation's expansion westward. The coming of the Civil War changed American politics through the formation of new parties.
In many ways, the Civil War was America's second revolution, fought to preserve and advance the founding principles of the nation. When Lincoln spoke of a "new birth of freedom" at Gettysburg, he addressed the meaning and vitality of America's most cherished ideals and values—values that were tested and refined by that war. Prior to the Civil War women sought equal rights and Abolitionists fought to end the institution of slavery. Whereas women did not secure their rights after the war, Constitutional amendments ended slavery and redefined the rights of citizenship that later generations struggled to achieve.
The Civil War also resolved the Constitutional issue of whether the states had the right to secede from the Union. The South clung to its image of the war as a "Lost Cause" that had impoverished the region and undermined its way of life. One legacy of defeat was the restoration of racial subjugation through "Black Codes," sharecropping, and the Ku Klux Klan. For both North and South, the Civil War became a source for literature, art, music, and public celebrations to memorialize their concepts of conflict and to honor their own veterans. Although the Civil War preserved the Union, society and culture remained divided.
The articles in Volume 3, 1901 to 1945, examine how America's rise as an imperial and then a world power shaped American society, culture, and identity. During this period the United States engaged in four significant overseas wars, the Spanish American War (1898), the Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902), the First World War (1917–1918), and the Second World War (1941–1945). American literature and art, the role of women, industry and technology, race and ethnic relations, popular culture, political parties, and the power of government were profoundly affected by those wars. The First World War produced a mass migration of blacks from the South to northern cities to work in defense industries. Hostility toward the enemy produced public discrimination against citizens with German ancestors. A "Red Scare," meaning the fear of Communist subversion and restriction of civil liberties by our government, followed the Russian Revolution in 1917. Americans became increasingly suspicious of aliens and dissenters. While seeking world peace through treaties promoting disarmament and renouncing war in the 1930s, America turned its back on the League of Nations and aggression in Asia and Europe.
When World War II began in Europe in 1939, the United States remained neutral. Nevertheless, the nation began to prepare for war, which was declared after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. World War II reshaped American society. Massive defense spending and the mobilization of young men and women for military service ended the Great Depression, which had begun in 1929. As a result of defense orders, big business prospered and labor union membership soared during the war years. America achieved a full employment economy during this conflict and this required a large number of women to enter the work force to increase defense production. It also spurred the massive migration of many Americans, especially African Americans, to cities in the North and West. The war effort reinvigorated movements to end racial discrimination and gender inequity. Many of the articles examine the legacy of that war in a wide range of areas that include the expansion of the federal government over the economy and the life of the average citizen as well as fashion, sports, veterans' organizations, medicine, gender roles, race relations, movies, music, patriotic celebrations, veterans, civil liberties, and war widows and orphans.
Volume 4's articles cover 1946 to 2004 and examine how the Cold War (1946–1991) and the War on Terror have formed American society, culture, and identity. For nearly fifty years, United States and its allies contested the Communist Bloc led by the Soviet Union. The "cold" part of the Cold War involved an elaborate worldwide network of alliances and military bases, an arms race to produce nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver those weapons to destroy whole civilizations. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the United States as the only superpower on the globe. The years after 1991 appeared to begin a new era of peace as fear of a cataclysmic war began to fade. However, since September 11, 2001 a new threat, terrorism, has again led America to an unprecedented form of war that is both foreign and domestic. Homeland security has become a feature of war in the twenty-first century.
civil liberties and introduced a new term, "McCarthyism." In 1954 Congress amended the Pledge of Allegiance, adding "under God" to the description of "one nation" to underscore the difference between "godless communism" and the religious foundation of American democracy.
An arms race with the Soviet Union contributed to the growth of the federal government, fueled spending on education, and created a significant defense industry. In his farewell address in 1961 President Eisenhower warned of a "military-industrial complex." Films and novels about experiences in World War II, the Korean War, and especially the Vietnam War revealed the traumatic effects of combat on soldiers and their families. During the Vietnam War television brought the images of combat into American homes.
Defeating Fascism and Nazi racialism in World War II energized efforts to close the gap between American ideals of equality and opportunity and social practices that involved racial, gender, and sexual discrimination. During the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, anti-war and anti-establishment protests as well as the civil rights, feminist, and black power movements, challenged cultural conventions and roiled American society. These conflicts changed American literature and art, gender and race relations, popular culture, the entertainment industry, political parties, and the Constitution. The articles in this volume examine those changes as legacies of the Cold War and America's conflicts since World War II. They also explore the impact of the War on Terror on American citizens through the Homeland Security Act, the implications of the concepts of "just wars" and "preemptive war" on American society, culture, and identity as a nation.
All of the articles in these four volumes are written for the general reader and are supplemented with aids to make the material accessible. A Topic Outline assists readers who wish to focus on a particular issue, such as civil liberties, that appears in all volumes. Additional text appears as sidebars to further illustrate or elaborate portions of articles. A select bibliography follows each article for readers who wish to study the subject further. A general chronology of events from 1500 to 2004 will assist readers in placing the articles they are reading in a larger historical context. An Index will lead readers to specific subjects. A Glossary defines key terms that might not be clear to younger readers. The editors hope that Americans at War will not only assist students and researchers in obtaining information, but will also encourage additional reading about the effect of war upon American society, culture, and identity.
September 13, 2010