Review of Mary L. Dudziak's "War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences"

Robert Kodosky is assistant professor of history at West Chester University.

“A time for war, a time for peace?”--at least that is what Pete Seeger’s song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There is a Season)” says.  The old Seeger tune that the Birds later made famous cites biblical verse to suggest that clocks are naturally wound in turn by war and by peace. One marks time and then yields to the other, calibrating the human condition, from one season to the next. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” topped America’s music charts in 1965. It resonated with listeners who, after two decades of the Cold War keeping time, awaited passage into a new era measured by peace. That time failed to arrive. Wartime, whether set in Vietnam, El Salvador, Bosnia, Iraq, or elsewhere, continued to move the hands of America’s clock. Wartime, for Americans, came to constitute virtually all time.

This is hardly new, as Mary L. Dudziak, Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law School, renders evident in her timely new book, War Time. Dudziak cites eligibility requirements for combat-service medals and membership in American veterans’ organizations to reveal that such criteria “cause wartime to swallow much of American history” (p. 28). It turns out that the nation’s past has clocked far more time at war than Americans commonly imagine. Counting up the “‘small wars’ and the so-called forgotten wars,” Dudziak shows war as “not an exception to normal peacetime, but instead an enduring condition” (p. 5)....

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