State of War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1945-2011 (University Press of Kansas, 328 pp., $39.95) is the fifth and final volume of historian Paul Koistinen’s study of the political economy of warfare. What is “political economy”? Koistinen answers that question in the first line of the book’s Introduction. It’s “the means the nation has employed to mobilize its economic resources for defense and hostilities.”
This volume focuses on the Cold War and its aftermath. Koistinen—who is an Emeritus Professor of History at California State University, Northridge—concentrates on what President Eisenhower famously termed the “military-industrial complex,” and how it has influenced war and peace in the United States since the end of World War II.
That includes the Vietnam War, of course. Koistinen gives brief sketches of the Vietnam War policies of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Koistinen points out that the Defense budget under LBJ increased 57 percent from 1964-69—from $50.7 billion to $79.1 billion. “Based on the desire to protect Great Society [domestic social] programs and minimize opposition to the war,” Johnson’s decision not to raise taxes to cover war expenses, Koistinen says, “had extremely negative consequences for the economy in both the short run and the long run.”
As for Nixon, Koistinen notes that during his administration, defense budgets fell almost 30 percent and the number of active-duty troops dropped by around 1.3 million from 1969-75. “The declining budgets and force size,” he says, “stemmed largely (but not totally) from the United States’ disengagement from Vietnam. But civil-military relations during the Nixon years took on nightmarish qualities because of the secrecy, deception, and duplicity that were characteristic of the administration.”