Few acts of Congress have been as widely celebrated and sharply condemned as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill. This landmark law has acquired mythical status in the United States and is fondly remembered for its achievements. It has also been reviled by iconoclasts who believe that it did not achieve nearly enough, and they complain of bias by race, class, and gender. This book by Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin is a balanced history of the GI Bill that exceeds even the myths and countermyths in its drama, sweep, and significance.
Consider the evidence of scale. Ten years after World War II, 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. Even more striking than the scope of this program is the evidence of its impact on individual lives. When surveys asked veterans what difference it made to them, three-quarters answered, “The GI Bill changed my life.”
This book gives us our most comprehensive survey of the many provisions—not only for college education, but also for training outside of college, and the acquisition of skills, tools, and capital. It helped veterans to buy family homes, build farms, start businesses. In that broad design, the GI Bill was a new invention in social legislation.
Altschuler and Blumin survey many efforts by Legislatures and Congresses to aid veterans of earlier American wars with pensions, grants, bonuses, and mustering-out pay. The authors conclude that the law of 1944 was “unique” by comparison with what had gone before. It helped millions of young Americans to help themselves throughout