Mary L. Dudziak, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences
New York: Oxford UP, 2012
For Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, December 7, 1941, was a day on which "everything changed." Seventy years later, many Americans view September 11, 2001, through the same lens. But not Mary Dudziak. That's because the accomplished University of Southern California law professor doesn't believe in watershed moments like Pearl Harbor Day. In fact, Dudziak maintains that the widely embraced narrative of the American wartime experience--with its clear beginnings and endings--actually obscures the reality that the United States has consistently been at war for over a century. And, she argues, this is no small matter, because wars have a way of justifying cavalier government action and loosening constitutional restraints.
The first sentence of the US Constitution asserts that two of its central purposes are to "provide for the common defense" and "secure the blessings of liberty." Yet these twin aims often find themselves in tension during crises when efforts to satisfy the former end up impinging on the latter. Many of America's most controversial and regretted episodes--such as Japanese interment and, more recently, the waterboarding of suspected terrorists--were the result of wartime policies designed to protect the country. Dudziak wades into this uncomfortable space to take stock of where things stand as the War on Terror enters its second decade in what President Barack Obama describes as "an age without surrender ceremonies."
The book's central metaphor is a play on seasonal shifts between standard time and daylight savings time. Many assume that the United States also shifts between "War Time" and the more typical "Peace Time." But during the last century, according to Dudziak, someone stopped adjusting the clock, and without even realizing it, we have become stuck in "War Time."
This book's achievement lies in refocusing attention to one of liberal democracy's most endemic challenges. Two claims underpin Dudziak's analysis. First, wartime is not as rare as we think. Second, being consistently at war has facilitated grave government overreach. We acquiesce to this antidemocratic governmental activity because we wrongly assume that wartime is the exception rather than the rule.
While war is an inexact term in an age without congressional declarations, Dudziak is certainly on firm ground in emphasizing the US armed forces' ongoing lack of downtime. "When we look at the full time line of American military conflicts," she notes, "there are not many years of peacetime." As such, "wartime has become normal time in America" and is an "enduring condition." Indeed, it is easy to forget the many small wars and...
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