The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly

World War II and the West: Reshapzng the Economy. By Gerald D. Nash. (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1990. Pp. xii+288. Preface, introduction,
black-and-white photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $32.50.)
The American West Transformed: The Impact of the Second World War. By Gerald D.
Nash. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. Pp. x+304. Black-and-
white photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $12.50, paper.)
In his latest book, Gerald Nash returns to one of his favorite themes-the
enormous impact of the Second World War on the development of the Ameri-
can West. World War II and the West: Reshaping the Economy traces the political
and entrepreneurial history of the war production effort in the Mountain and
Pacific states between 1939 and 1945. It nicely complements his social history of
the War presented in The American West Transformed (now available in paper-
back from University of Nebraska Press.)
Nash's new book succeeds on two counts. First, it forcefully reasserts his view
that the Second World War single-handedly transformed the West from a stag-
nant "economic colony" of the East into a dynamic, pacesetting society. Second,
the work provides a highly detailed account, skillfully distilling literally thou-
sands of pages of Congressional hearings and agency reports, of the legislative
and bureaucratic wrangling concerning the war production efforts in the West.
Included are chapters on the mining, shipbuilding, aircraft, aluminum, and
basic metals industries, as well as the environmental effects of the war. The
running narrative on the efforts of the West's three great champions-Senator
Pat McCarran of Nevada, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and the en-
trepreneur Henry Kaiser-is especially interesting.
In his attempt to stress his theme, Nash, at times, overreaches. For example,
he characterizes the West before the Second World War as a Third World coun-
try (p. 2). Yet in 1940, the region had a higher level of per capita income and a
smaller share of its labor force employed in extractive industries than the na-
tion as a whole. By focusing on political rhetoric, Nash also misses many signs
of Western dynamism evident even during the Great Depression. One key ex-
ample was the rise of the innovative Pacific Coast airframe industry to world
leadership in the early 1930s, creating the basis for much of the wartime mili-
tary spending. In the end, Nash's claim that the war condensed four decades of
development into four short years, thereby transforming the West from a stag-
nant, dependent economy into a pacesetter, appears overstated. Nevertheless,
Nash's new book is stimulating and valuable because it fills the interpretative
void in the literature on the West's economic development and provides a start-
ing point for future debate.

University of North Carolna at Chapel Hzll



Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed February 8, 2016.