The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1997, Volume 43, Number 1
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Reviews

Politics in the Postwar American West. Edited by Richard Lowitt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Notes. Maps. Index. 400 pages.

Reviewed by Ronald J. Quinn, Lecturer in the Department of History, San Diego State University, and State Historian for California Department of Parks.

In this anthology Professor Lowitt has put together nineteen articles about a wide ranging number of contemporary political topics. In all, nineteen Western States, including Alaska and Hawaii, receive coverage in the reader. There is a good deal more here than the title suggests, including a number of articles on water and land use, and the management of natural resources.

For California’s entry, Lowitt has selected Jackson K. Putnam’s comprehensive overview of California Politics from World War II to the early Wilson years, an article which first appeared in 1992 in the Pacific Historical Review. This selection also includes an analysis of the Governor’s ability to regain favor in the 1994 election. Putnam believes that liberalism has survived in California politics despite various right wing attacks, and even makes a case for continuing strains of it in California’s political future. Putnam praises Earl Warren’s social vision for the State, and lauds his efforts to thwart California McCarthyism in the 1950s. The author’s analysis is thought-provoking, open, and leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions.

Issues of racial diversity ranging from Southern California to Idaho appear in Stephen Shaw’s article, “Harassment, Hate, and Human Rights in Idaho.” The essay deals with the bipartisan effort in Idaho to pass hate crime legislation to give the State more aggressive tools to fight the Aryan Nations movement in the State. One of the major players in the evolution of the Aryan Nations movement in Idaho is a disgruntled Lockheed Aircraft engineer from Los Angeles, Richard Butler. Butler embraced the theology of Christian Identity after listening to the sermons of Reverend Wesley Swift at the Anglo Saxon Christian Congregation in Los Angeles. In the 1970s Butler left Southern California because its racial diversity challenged his white supremacist ideology. Arriving in Idaho in the late 1970s, he founded Aryan Nations, and its religious counterpart, the Church of Jesus. These two institutions had a significant impact upon Idaho politics throughout the decade of the 1980s, and have contributed to the evolution of the militia movement in the 1990s.

Four of the articles in this anthology grapple with the politics of water in the modern west. Of these, California readers would find Peter Iverson’s “The Cultural Politics of Water in Arizona” the most stimulating. Since Southern California and Arizona share Colorado River water, and have historically, battled over its distribution, water issues in Arizona have an impact on the Golden State. The increased salinity of the Colorado has triggered crop declines in both states. Urbanites in both California and Arizona complain that cheap water for agriculture keeps city water bills artificially high. As much as states jealously guard their water allocations, real solutions to water distribution and environmental protection must flow across state boundaries.

The theme of colonialism appears in the pages of many of these articles, especially those dealing with more sparsely settled western states. In this context colonialism means the conditions under which economic factors within states are controlled by outside sources, usually by an arm of the United States Government or an international corporation. In their article, “Politics is Personal: Postwar Wyoming Politics and the Media,” Phil Roberts and Peggy Bieber Roberts contend that unlike other western states, Wyoming’s economy has become increasingly more colonial since World War II. By 1990 Wyoming newspapers were owned by outsiders and cable television signaled programming from neighboring states. Multinationals have bought out the small mineral companies that prospered immediately after World War II, and even the major concessions at Yellowstone National Park are owned and controlled by companies outside the state, making local control impossible, and thus breeding resentment.

However, an opposite view of this situation also appears in the anthology: that western states use colonialism as an excuse for failing to accept responsibility for what happens to them economically. David Emmons suggests that this is the case in Montana. In “The Price of Freedom: Montana in the Late and Post Anaconda Era,” Emmons chides most Montana historians as presenting “this whining and self pitying interpretation of Montana’s past.” He praises the recent efforts of Michael Malone to provide a more balanced vision of the state’s history. Emmons doesn’t deny that large corporations have reeked havoc on the state’s natural resources and economy in various situations, but he criticizes the residents for failing to develop a progressive tradition of their own. Emmons believes that Montana’s tax system only encourages colonialism by avoiding a sales tax while maintaining high business and industry taxes.

Utah, on the other hand, is a western state that Thomas A. Alexander claims has avoided the pitfalls of western colonialism. In “The Emergence of a Republican Majority in Utah, 1970-1992” the author lauds the ability of the state to replace declining manufacturing jobs with electronic and high tech employment. These new companies propelled Utah to an eighteen percent growth in population between 1980 and 1990, despite a continuing decline in rural population. Utah’s growth is a marked contrast to some of the state’s western neighbors.

While the anthology introduces the reader to some of the most current and pressing subjects in modern Western History, it is difficult to imagine an audience for this book. It is too technical for the general reader, and too unfocused for classroom use. The anthology lacks thematic unity, and the articles are so disparate and unconnected as to leave students in a quandary. Unfortunately the editor does not address these concerns in the preface, and the lack of a coherent theme mars the anthology’s usefulness.

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