California at War
The State and the People during World War I
Diane M. T. North
World War I propelled the United States into the twentieth century and served as a powerful catalyst for the making of modern California. The war expanded the role of the government and enlarged the presence of private citizens’ associations. Never before had so many Californians taken such a dynamic part in community, state, national, and international affairs. These definitive events unfold in California at War as a complex, richly detailed historical narrative.
Historian Diane M. T. North not only writes about the transformative battlefield and nursing experiences of ordinary Californians, but also documents how daily life changed for everyone on the home front—factory and farm workers, housewives and children, pacifists and politicians. Even before the United States entered the war, California’s economy flourished because its industrialized agriculture helped feed British troops. The war provided a boost to the faltering Hollywood film industry and increased the military’s presence through the addition of Army and Navy training camps and air fields, ship construction, contracts to local businesses, coastal defenses, and university-sponsored scientific research. In these stories, North traces the roots of California’s global stature. The war united Californians in common humanitarian goals as they supported war-related charities, funded the nation’s war machine, conserved food, and enforced rationing. Most citizens embraced wartime restrictions with patriotic zeal and did not foresee the retreat into suspicion, loyalty oaths, and unwarranted surveillance, all of which set the stage for the beginnings of the modern security state.
“Diane North’s sweeping overview of California in the Great War has something for every reader: armchair war buffs; scholars who understand that the United States extends beyond the East Coast; economists, scientists, and lawyers anxious to understand how the war transformed California and, in turn, the nation; and descendants of California veterans, keen to experience the sights and sounds of total war as their loved ones did.”
—Mary Ann Irwin, coeditor of California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression
“North does a superb job of conveying the American experience of total war, especially its dark dimension of vigilantism, surveillance, and draconian law. Impeccably researched—the range of archival sources consulted is nothing short of dazzling—this beautifully written study shows how a toxic atmosphere of patriotism and hysteria settled over wartime California, pitting neighbor against neighbor and reinforcing longstanding racial and ethnic divisions.”
—Steven Trout, editor of Scarlet Fields: The Combat Memoir of a World War I Medal of Honor Hero
“Diane North’s excellent book is the first serious social history of California during World War I. Comprehensive, carefully researched, and clearly written, the book is especially valuable for its detailed discussion of serious violations of constitutional rights and liberties made in the name of false patriotism.”
—Charles Wollenberg, author of Berkeley: A City in History
“North’s splendid study provides us with the first substantive work on California during the Great War. North focuses on the groundwork laid during the war for todays national security system, and intertwines the experience of Californians both at home and abroad with clarity and candor. It is informative reading for anyone interested in the legacy of World War I.”
—Edward A. Gutiérrez, author of Doughboys on the Great War: How American Soldiers Viewed Their Military Experience
“Diane M. T. North provides a comprehensive and nuanced examination of California’s contributions to the Great War and to how the conflict laid the foundations for the states rise to being an economic powerhouse. It is a fascinating study of how great events play out at the local level in the lives of individuals and their communities.”
—Richard S. Faulkner, author of Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I
“California at War is a masterful account of how the World War I propelled the Golden State into the economic power and social and cultural prominence for which it is known all over the world today. This is a thoroughly original work, the first of its kind. Based on prodigious research, much of it in never-before-consulted archives, and filled with engaging personal stories of the states diverse men and women, the book is also finely attuned to the question of how California’s World War I experience relates to our contemporary concerns. Diane M. T. North’s tour de force will quickly become a classic of California studies. ”
—William Issel, San Francisco State University
“California at War is essential reading for students of California history. It brims with valuable insights into the economy, politics, and social order of the Golden State during World War I—a world-shaking event sorely neglected in California studies. Notably, the chapters on spying and suppression of dissent foreshadow the Cold War and today’s surveillance state, serving as a preface to recent scholarship on California’s immense contribution to the rise of the New Right.”
—Richard Walker, professor emeritus of Geography, University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California and Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area.
California at War raises important questions about what happens when a nation goes to war. This book illuminates the legacy of World War I for all Americans.