Based on a rich array of sources that capture the voices of both political leaders and ordinary Americans, Uncle Sam Wants You offers a vivid and provocative new interpretation of American political history, revealing how the tensions of mass mobilization during World War I led to a significant increase in power for the federal government. Christopher Capozzola shows how, when the war began, Americans at first mobilized society by stressing duty, obligation, and responsibility over rights and freedoms. But the heated temper of war quickly unleashed coercion on an unprecedented scale, making wartime America the scene of some of the nation's most serious political violence, including notorious episodes of outright mob violence. To solve this problem, Americans turned over increasing amounts of power to the federal government. In the end, whether they were some of the four million men drafted under the Selective Service Act or the tens of millions of home-front volunteers, Americans of the World War I era created a new American state, and new ways of being American citizens.
The newly created image of Uncle Sam defined Americans' sense of obligation to their country during WWI, says Capozzola, associate professor of history at MIT. But the war also blurred the lines between... mobilization and social control. Capozzola does an excellent job of rendering the jingoistic, dogmatic mindset that characterized the country at a crucial time. The mobilization led 13 million American males between the ages of 18 and 45 to enthusiastically swarm to local draft boards, and women planted Victory Gardens. On the other hand, home guards kept an eye on enemy aliens Americans unlucky enough to be afflicted with German heritage when this was neither convenient nor popular. Concurrently, Americans abdicated power (and key freedoms) to the federal government, while those who advocated for peace were repudiated by most. Even the revered Jane Addams was castigated by the press when she spoke against the war. It seemed, Capozzola says, that being a true American meant mindlessly going along with the status quo. All this the author captures in eloquently rendered and assiduously researched detail. 15 b&w illus.