The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1993, Volume 39, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Fortress California, 1910-1961: From Warfare to Welfare.

By Roger W. Lotchin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Maps. Notes. Index. 420 pages. $45.

Reviewed by Gregg R. Hennessey. Author of articles on San Diego, including the military’s impact on urban development.

For well over a decade, Roger W. Lotchin has been studying the relationship of the military to urban development. California is an excellent place to examine because it is both highly urbanized and heavily dependent upon military spending. Lotchin argues that cities and their boosters played a crucial role in creating the martial metropolis rather than the Cold War phenomenon, “the military-industrial complex.” Indeed, the California relationship between the city and the sword extends back to pre-World War I days as anxious city builders seeking economic stability for their towns joined forces with military leaders trying to halt the decline of their services. Focusing on San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Lotchin lays out the story in considerable detail. These cities pioneered the domestication of war, Lotchin writes, “and San Diego led the way” (p. 297).

Early in this century San Diego Congressman William Kettner and the Chamber of Commerce developed the scheme of giving away valuable real estate in exchange for a military presence and its long term economic stimulation. “Following the San Diego formula for successful city building” (p. 396), other California city leaders reordered their environments to attract the military, much as other cities had accommodated steel mills or shoe factories. An important point here, is that the old San Diego idea about “bay ‘n climate” attracting the military is of secondary importance. Los Angeles, which had the same climate, a new man-made harbor, superior industrial infrastructure, and oil did not land the Navy. The actions of San Diegans captured the Navy first, helped it expand, kept it, and made it feel welcome. Indeed, even San Francisco, the preeminent west coast city, lagged behind San Diego naval developments during this period because of internecine political battles. As World War II approached, however, the two larger metropolises became full partners in California’s martial transformation.

During the war, and especially afterwards, the three metropolitan centers worked effectively to expand and concentrate the interlock between military spending and urban growth. Using scare tactics based on a deliberately over estimated Soviet threat, California city leaders joined their military partners in championing huge defense spending to employ returning veterans, keep the economic engines going, and help develop a civil aviation industry. This was the conversion of warfare into welfare, as a telling chapter on the career of San Diego Congressman Bob Wilson demonstrates.

This is an important book with manifold strengths. Lotchin successfully seeks to illuminate a crucial but neglected aspect of urban and national history. Moreover, he insists upon making city dwellers actors in their own history, not merely pawns of larger forces. For San Diego he serves as a chronicler and interpreter of its role in regional and national events. While this book needed stronger editorial attention (especially Chapter 4) and would not have suffered if Chapter 8 had been published as a separate essay, it is a significant contribution that historians and policy analysts will need to understand as the Golden State enters the post-Cold War era with sharply declining fortunes.

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