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Burtin, Olivier (17. April 2020): Veterans as a Social Movement. The American Legion, the First Hoover Commission, and the Making of the American Welfare State. In: Social Science History [PDF, 295kB]

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This article challenges the conventional view of veterans’ politics in the United States as an “iron triangle” or a “subgovernment,” terms that connote a low-profile field dominated by a small number of elite actors operating consensually behind closed doors. It shows instead that veterans’ affairs were at the center of a heated national debate to which both grassroots activists and national leaders contributed as part of a larger social movement, as demonstrated by the controversy over the First Hoover Commission. Created by Congress in 1947 to find ways to make the executive branch more efficient, the commission’s proposals to reform veterans’ affairs were all defeated by the countercampaign of the largest and most influential veterans’ group of the era, the American Legion. Former soldiers were not alone (they benefited from the assistance of key state actors such as the heads of the Veterans Administration and of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs) but their mobilization proved decisive. This episode shows that even veterans of World War II, traditionally seen as the most deserving cohort of former soldiers in US history (the “Greatest Generation”), had to organize to defend their benefits against attacks. The privileged position of veterans in the US welfare state is therefore less the result of their exalted cultural status (as is often presumed) than of their ability to mobilize politically and to override the preferences of significant numbers of public and private actors—just like any other group making claims on the state.

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