Subtitled: ” The New Deal for Veterans”
Authors: Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin
Publication date: 2009
On rare occasions in American history, Congress enacts a measure so
astute, so far-reaching, so revolutionary, it enters the language as
a metaphor. The Marshall Plan comes to mind, as does the Civil Rights
Act. But perhaps none resonates in the American imagination like the
G.I. Bill. In a brilliant addition to Oxford’s acclaimed Pivotal
Moments in American History series, historians Glenn C. Altschuler
and Stuart M. Blumin offer a compelling and often surprising account
of the G.I. Bill and its sweeping and decisive impact on American
life. Formally known as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act.
Physical Description: 261 p.
Edition Info: (electronic bk.)21 (NL)
[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T [/dropcap]en years after WWII, the Census Bureau found that 15.7 million veterans had returned to civilian life in the United States. Of that number, 12.4 million (78 percent) benefited directly from the GI Bill. When surveys were taken of American veterans, two-thirds of them answered, “The GI Bill changed my life.”
That information is part of a paragraph from the book titled “The GI Bill, A New Deal for Veterans” by authors G. Altschuler and S. Blumin.
The authors note that the GI Bill became the largest government program in American history. “By providing job training, unemployment compensation, housing loans, and tuition assistance, it allowed millions of Americans to fulfill their dreams of upward social mobility.”
The GI Bill, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 under the name of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, allowed soldiers coming out of the world war, following the decade of the Great Depression, to go to college, acquire job skills, buy homes, and, in essence, create a strong middle-class for a healthy U.S. economy. It was, and continues to be (to this day), an economic stimulus package in reward to veterans for service to their country.
The book provides an interesting history of American politics concerning the treatment of veterans, dating back on the continent to settlers of Plymouth in 1636 with a measure “to maintain for life any soldier maimed in the colony’s service.”
Several dozen veterans’ benefit laws–the first in 1776–addressed the needs of soldiers and veterans of the Revolutionary War. In 1817, fifth U.S. President James Monroe proposed that Congress award pensions to Revolutionary War veterans. At first, while Union soldiers benefited from national pension laws following the Civil War, soldiers of the Confederacy had to rely on the limited resources of their home states. Eventually, the Civil War pension system was expanded to all veterans. World War I veterans waited only 12 years for the enactment of a non-service-related disability or needs-based pension, according to the book, compared to 35 years for Revolutionary War veterans and 25 years for Civil War veterans.
But the largest expansion of assistance for veterans came with the FDR New Deal program in the 1940s. And it came the fastest for the WWII veterans.
Over the next few years, with government-backed loan guarantees, 4 million vets bought homes at low interest rates and 200,000 purchased farms and businesses, according to the book. “Education and training became the great surprise of the GI Bill. A whopping 51 percent of GIs took advantage of this provision: Altogether 2.2 million attended college or university and 5.6 million opted for sub-college training.” The veterans were known for taking education seriously. According to the book, a Harvard professor said, “The window-gazers and hibernators have vanished. This crowd never takes their eyes off you.” A student, competing with the veterans, said, “It’s books, books, books all the time. They study so hard we have to slave to keep up with them.” Harvard University’s president, who had once been a critic of federal funding for higher education, said the GI Bill was “a heartening sign that the democratic process of social mobility is energetically at work, piercing the class barriers which, even in America, have tended to keep a college education the prerogative of the few.”
Veterans became civilians and went to college, acquired job skills and went to work, bought homes for new families, and created a middle-class in the decades to follow that was probably stronger than any other time in U.S. history. And the whole nation benefited.
“The GI Bill, A New Deal for Veterans” is interesting and insightful. I found it at Murrell Memorial Library at Missouri Valley College, and it can probably be found in libraries and bookstores through America.