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Book Reviews

David Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American society(Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York, 2004)

ISBN 0195173996

Reviewed by Eleanor Capper, Second Year PhD Student, University of Liverpool, Department of History.

David Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American society(Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York, 2004)

This book is the 25th anniversary edition of Kennedy’s 1980 original book, exploring the domestic American experience of World War I. This new edition, with a new afterward written by Kennedy, aims to re-examine the issues raised in Over Here in light of recent developments in American foreign policy. Kennedy’s assessment of the concerns and divisions in American society in 1917 are still as prevalent now as they were during that turbulent time in American history, as modern America faces strikingly similar debates and tensions regarding their role in Iraq.

The aim of Kennedy’s book is not to provide a complete an exhaustive account of the American experience in World War I, nor does Kennedy claim that it is. Over Here is concerned primarily with the domestic American experience of the war, and as a result, most of the book is focused on the home front experience, rather than America’s military commitments in World War I. However, his chapters on the war itself are lucid, well written and well researched, and extremely useful for any student or scholar of America’s involvement in the war.

Kennedy’s main emphasis, however, is how the domestic American experience of war and its aftermath, brought to the surface tensions regarding the state of American society that had previously been hidden. These include the tensions between the isolationists and those who wanted to become involved in the war, for example, and the chapter concerning the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people illustrate how deeply the war divided American society. The war itself raised other issues, such as how the war was to be fought; how the domestic battle against suppression and dissent would be fought; and perhaps most importantly; what the eventual move away from isolationism would entail, and the role America would have in the post-war world.

In doing so, he also addresses, more broadly, the changes such involvement brought to American society, in particular, the expansion of government apparatus during the war, and the attempts of the government to persuade the American people of the righteousness of American involvement in the affairs of the ‘Old World’. Over Here also offers an excellent study of the progressive strand in American politics, the debates between progressives regarding American involvement in the war, and how it gave way after 1918 to the Red Scare and also the nativist drive for ‘One Hundred Per Cent Americanism’.

Kennedy draws on extensive primary documentation from both the United States and United Kingdom, including letters, diaries, poetry contemporary fiction and periodicals, as well as the secondary literature, and the result is a well-researched, accessible, and lucid account of American involvement in World War I. With this in mind, Over Here in an invaluable book for undergraduates and postgraduates of American history and politics, as it offers a thorough account of the American domestic experience during World War I, and how this experience altered American society and political values, both in terms of domestic and foreign policy.

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