War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

Mary L. Dudziak. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-19-977523-1
Dudziak (Exporting American Dreams) riffs on the meaning of wartime and its legal implications in this brief cultural history. She examines the meaning of wartime in American history and notes that “an essential aspect of wartime is that it is temporary.” Because war is seen as provisional, Americans have been willing to accept “exceptional [wartime] policies” that enhance presidential power and erode civil liberties—a view generally endorsed by the courts. What if, Dudziak asks, “American war spills beyond tidy time boundaries” and wartime becomes “normal time”? The executive branch, she contends, has defined the war on terror along the lines of the cold war, as an ideological conflict with no boundaries. Dudziak laments that the courts generally have continued to treat wartime as temporary even though its meaning has changed. Wartime, she concludes, has “become a policy, rather than a state of existence” and need not cause us to suspend our principles. Closely argued and clearly written, this is a scholarly work with popular appeal. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 02/01/2012
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