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SU professor’s book explores impact of GI Bill on America’s ‘Greatest Generation’
SU professor’s book explores impact of GI Bill on America’s ‘Greatest Generation’November 18, 2005Carol K. Masiclatclkim@syr.edu
In 1944, the GI Bill gave millions of returning World War II veterans of the U.S. armed forces opportunities to attend college, get vocational training, start businesses or buy homes to facilitate the return to civilian life. This landmark legislation laid the foundation for what later became known as America’s “Greatest Generation.”
Now, as thousands of young men and women return from new conflicts overseas, Syracuse University Associate Professor of Political Science Suzanne Mettler’s new book, “Soldiers to Citizens: The GI Bill and The Making of the Greatest Generation” (Oxford University Press Trade, 2005), explores the social and political aftermath of World War II and highlights one of America’s most memorable government initiatives, the GI Bill.
“This project has been the scholarly adventure of a lifetime. I interviewed veterans all over the country, and surveyed several hundred of them,” says Mettler. “I was struck especially by the high price of citizenship they paid through military service, and by the value they placed on the GI Bill’s role in their lives.”
Mettler’s book tells the story of a generation that came of age with World War II and became intensely involved in American civic life afterward. When soldiers returned from the war they discovered that the American government had already prepared for them by creating the GI Bill. It proved tremendously popular and widely inclusive, as over half of all returning veterans-7.8 million individuals-seized the opportunity to attend college or attain vocational training. The bill also encouraged their active participation in the practice ofdemocratic citizenship. It expanded the scope of the active citizenry, such that for a time, people grew closer to government and government, in turn, became more responsive to their needs.
The GI Bill transformed lives, making the American dream a reality and enriching democracy. Through poignant personal stories from veterans and an extensive look at how the bill worked, Mettler shows what it meant to the United States, and what the lack of a comparable successor means for our society today.
According to Mettler’s research, veterans who used the bill’s education and training provisions joined 50 percent more civic organizations and took part in 30 percent more political activities than veterans who did not use it. To explain why the policy had such a highly positive impact, she describes the GI Bill’s provisions as being characterized by largesse, fairness and the chance to improve one’s circumstances. The benefits also had a very wide scope: they were used by half of all veterans, including people from all economic, social and racial backgrounds. Most importantly, Mettler contends that the bill treated veterans with dignity and respect, as first-class citizens, and hence they became more inclined to participate as members of society. Because it was a generous and magnanimous governmental act, veterans reacted in kind.
Mettler teaches political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at SU. She is also the author of the prize-winning “Divided Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy” (Cornell University Press, 1998).
For more information on Mettler or to arrange an interview, contact Jill Leonhardt at (315) 443-5492 or firstname.lastname@example.org.