The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation
Oxford University Press
Winner of the 2006 J. David Greenstone Prize and the 2006 Gladys Kammerer Award
Transcending the boundaries of class and race, the G.I. Bill enabled a sizable portion of the hallowed “greatest generation” to gain vocational training or to attend college or graduate school at government expense. Its beneficiaries had grown up during the Depression, living in tenements and cold-water flats, on farms and in small towns across the nation, most of them expecting that they would one day work in the same kinds of jobs as their fathers. Then the G.I. Bill came along, and changed everything. They experienced its provisions as inclusive, fair, and tremendously effective in providing the deeply held American value of social opportunity, the chance to improve one’s circumstances.
But the G.I. Bill fueled not only the development of the middle class: it also revitalized American democracy. Americans who came of age during World War II joined fraternal groups and neighborhood and community organizations and took part in politics at rates that made the postwar era the twentieth century’s civic “golden age.” In an age of rising inequality and declining civic engagement, Soldiers to Citizens offers critical lessons about how public programs can make a difference.