(Image from amazon.com).
Capozzola, Christopher. Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 334. $30.95.
By Thomas Harvell-DeGolier
In Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, Christopher Capozzola argues that World War I changed the political relationship between American citizens and the state. Capozzola illustrates how state demands to support the war effort during World War I refashioned America’s “culture of obligation” to serve the state (214). He does this by providing evidence that this culture of obligation—which he roots in factors including republicanism, “utopian visions of community” and Christian beliefs that reinforced social hierarchies—followed, and surpassed, “federal war aims” (6). Concurrently, Capozzola discusses how this union, which utilized “coercive volunteerism,” engendered a backlash rooted in a language of individualistic liberties (10-11). Capozzola thus shows that World War I changed American political culture by altering state-citizen relationships (214).
This book builds upon scholarship on the development of American civic and political obligations, such as Linda Kerber’s No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship, Judith Shklar’s American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, and Robert Westbrook’s Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II. Cappozzola builds on these books to specifically argue that World War I changed the bonds of citizenship and the relationship between American citizens and the state.
Capozzola structures the book around multiple contemporaneous interactions between the government and citizens, rather than tracing a single incident temporally. To do this, Capozzola uses chapters on the draft, religious objections to war, women’s volunteerism, policing, speech, and the treatment of German-American culture. These chapters provide snapshots of how the state and citizens worked in concert to support the war effort and how this created a social dynamic that pressured citizens to participate while demonizing opposition to the war.
Throughout the text, Cappozola elucidates how different levels of government pursued American war goals. In Chapter One, he shows how the unified goals of multiple levels of government encouraged individual and civic organization vigilantism. War fervor inspired the formation of the American Protective League (APL), a government-sanctioned civic association that enforced draft regulations (41-43). Capozzola argues that the APL’s extralegal methods led to the recognition that legal enforcement demanded “due process of law” (48-50). He links due process to the idea that the government’s legal enforcer must be a legitimate state representative (54). This provides a poignant example of how public political culture cultivated another developing discourse rooted in individual rights.
Capozzola’s ability to depict America’s martial culture and the individualistic backlash to this culture is also illustrated in Chapter Six. Chapter Six focuses on “the obligation of loyalty” and the efforts of the government and individuals to police German Americans in the United States, alongside German American attempts to maintain their culture (173). According to Capozzola, individuals who spoke multiple languages or possessed dual citizenship were perceived as insufficiently loyal to America or even disloyal. Capozzola connects this portrayal to the suppression of German culture (176-177). To do this, he emphasizes that three separate levels of government— federal, state, and local—worked together to discourage the expression of German culture and instill Americanism into German populations (176, 179, 191). This framework connects popularly held ideas of a citizen’s obligations to the state with the subsequent demonization of individuals who failed to uphold these obligations. This theme, while uniquely evident in Chapter Six, is a thread throughout the book.
At the same time, Cappozola shows how individual and civic attempts to uphold American war goals changed American political culture. He demonstrates that World War I’s political environment encouraged individuals and civic societies to excise German culture and language from the public sphere. He shows that individuals took initiative by “[targeting] German singing societies for intimidation, arson, and destruction” (183). While German culture faded from the public, Capozzola implies that anti-German actions created a backlash that helped develop a language rooted in individual protections and civil liberties, a point that strengthens Capozzola’s argument about World War I’s long-term effects (196, 200-203).
Capozzola uses a wide range of sources, from the Ladies Home Journal, smaller publications such as the Pocatello Tribune and the Red Cross Magazine, and German-American publications like the New Haven Anzeiger. Capozzola’s amalgam of sources contributes an inclusive argument to the greater historiography of World War I (85, 92-93,180-181). Alongside these smaller newspapers, Capozzola utilizes more widely known publications like the New York Times, alongside research within personal papers. This widespread approach allows Capozzola to incorporate the experiences of women, African Americans, and other oppressed groups. Ultimately, he weaves a comprehensive story about how different citizens interacted with the government during World War I. Considering Native peoples, who did not gain formal citizenship until 1924, would facilitate a deeper examination of the symbolism of citizenship during World War I by contextualizing how the war changed its very meaning.
Capozzola makes incisive points about how World War I transformed and complicated the meaning of citizenship. By showing how different citizen-government interactions unfolded, Capozzola reveals how World War I refashioned popular understandings of the obligations of citizenship and changed American political culture. His examination of distinct interactions and separate groups fostered a thorough analysis of a broad spectrum of American society and the various responses to America’s war effort. Overall, Uncle Sam Wants You is an invaluable book for people studying the development of American political culture in the 20th century, the development of civil liberties, and government-citizen relationships.
 Linda K. Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); Judith N. Shklar, American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991); Robert B. Westbrook, Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004).
 Spencer C. Tucker, James R. Arnold, and Roberta Wiener, “Documents Concerning the Indian Citizenship Act, 1924 and 1933,” in The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607-1890 : A Political, Social, and Military History (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011), 1226–27, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/villanova-ebooks/detail.action?docID=775830.