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Work or Fight!: Race, Gender, and the Draft in World War One [Hardcover]

Gerald Shenk
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 24, 2005 1403961751 978-1403961754 1st
During World War I, the US demanded that all able-bodied adult men "work or fight." But fighting was mostly assigned to single white men who were not engaged in "productive" work. White men who were proper husbands and fathers, owned property, or worked at approved jobs, and who participated in civic activities, had the full benefits of citizenship without fighting. Women, men of color, and poor white men were often barred from achieving these benefits. This book uses the records of local draft boards and state draft officials in Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, and California to tell the stories of men and women whose lives were touched by the Selective Service System.

Editorial Reviews


"A probing, complex, and provocative study of the state, citizenship, and local power in early twentieth-century America. It combines in depth case studies with a remarkable analysis that privileges the intersections of race and gender in the unfolding of public policy and social conflicts. And, in drawing our attention to the dynamics of military conscription, it speaks directly to the political and moral issues of our own time."--Steven Hahn, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
"Extensively researched, engaging, and provocative. Simply the best account available on the actual operation of the draft and its relationship to power and identity in America in World War I. A real tour de force!"--John Whiteclay Chambers II, Rutgers University, editor-in-chief of The Oxford Companion to American Military History

"Shenk's richly textured analysis not only delivers a compelling and vividly told history but provides a complex view of the operation of white supremacist patriarchy. He helps us see how small decisions of both cooperation and resistance serve to shape but not undermine that ideology. Nevertheless, the stories are a testament to human will. Who would have thought that the lessons gleaned from the operation of the Selective Service during World War I would be so relevant today as we wage war in Iraq? We have much to learn from this powerful history."--Jane H. Aiken, William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law,
Washington University, St. Louis
"[A] powerful analysis of race, class, gender, sexuality and citizenship that sets an ideal benchmark for writing U.S. history. Meticulously researched, this excellent work could not be more timely in detailing the fundamental goals of draft officials as the protection of privileges associated with property, patriarch, and white supremacy. An invaluable contribution!"--Mary Romero, Arizona State University, author of Maid in the USA
"Gerald Shenk has given us a history that keeps its unerring eye on the subversive 'others' and the patriarchs calling the shots."--Akasha Gloria Hull, University of California, Santa Cruz

About the Author

Gerald Shenk is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Monterey Bay.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st edition (November 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403961751
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403961754
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,232,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In-Depth, pertinent lessons on war, race, and manhood January 14, 2006
This book is a fascinating read, tying together several important themes for today's audience through its study of the World War I era. How do our entrenched notions of "manhood" and race help us to simultaneously discriminate against some members of our society AND facilitate our ability to make war? Shenk's book will appeal to scholars of race, gender, and peace/war, but also to any person who wants to understand how systems of domination interact to keep power entrenched in the hands of the privileged.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Authro Shenk's nephew February 6, 2007
Really enjoyed this book, not only because I know a few of the Shenks that live in Harrisonburg, VA, but because the life an times of the war in this book is very well described.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Oh how far we have come. April 20, 2006
This is an excellent book that serves to remind me of the absolute inequality in times gone by. It shows how far we have come. And it shows that we still have a ways to go.

The author has picked an area that explicitly shows the inequalities in the American system at the beginning of the twentieth century. World War I was upon us and the draft system was set up. Based on the rules of the time, you wanted to be: white, married, a father, employed in an approved job, active in civic activities -- then you got to stay home. Otherwise you stood a good chance of going to the trenches in France.

The system was set up according to rough guidelines from Washington but then administered by the individual states. The author gives a detailed look at how the system was actually ran in four states: Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, and California. This covers the south, the northeast, midwest and far west. The situation was different in each, but just as unfair, almost silly.

The letter from a white woman in Daisy, Georgia asking that her son be returned from service illustrates just one case: 'as I am needing him both for protection and dependence, I am here with three girls and no protection, surrounded with Negroes, no whites nearer than one and a half mile I am afraid to stay home at night.'

This is just one example, the author has found many. The book is a snapshot of those times that brings home life at that time better than any I've read.
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