Fortress California: From Warfare to Welfare, 1910-1961, 1992

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office, he departed with a note of caution. Holding office in the still early years of the Cold War, Eisenhower developed a distaste for the growing “military-industrial complex”, warning America about its undue influence on political matters. For many, Eisenhower’s decree proved warranted and prophetic, others bristled at his suggestion of unfair collusion. However, in his 1992 work Fortress California: From Warfare to Welfare 1910-1961 ,Roger Lotchin adopts a different critical stance. According to Lotchin, Eisenhower was correct when noting the emergence of a significant economic sector oriented toward defense production, but incorrect when suggesting that large corporations dominated agreements. Instead, Lotchin argues that small businesses and mid level manufacturers, urban policy makers, and cities themselves, a diverse group with many interests, drove the flurry of defense spending across the Sunbelt, especially in California. Referring to them as “metropolitan military complexes” (16) – “polycentric configurations [that] chang[e] consistently over time” (353) - Lotchin illustrates them in action, using military spending to industrialize their cities without truly industrializing. Of all his California examples, San Diego serves as the epitome of the “metropolitan-military complexes”. In these ways, Fortress California examines the role of cities in determining defense spending, western development, and war. Moreover, Lotchin laments that most historians have ignored the impact of the military on cities, arguing that especially in the postwar period the two remain intertwined, “Historians have long recognized, although not systematically developed, the importance of the topic of the military to postwar national history. If anything, it proves much more important to urban history, because that’s where military money impacted.” (353)

Though Lotchin explores more than San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, they serve as his three primary examples. In regard to urban/suburban divides, Lotchin looks at larger metropolitan areas, not only focusing on strict city boundaries. For example, Lotchin includes discussions of Alemeda and other areas surrounding San Francisco, illustrating the intraregional/local disputes that arose when lobbying for money and projects. Like Karen Anderson’s Wartime Women, Lotchin’s work illustrates the influence of local factors and government on the implementation of wartime policies; even within California each metropolitan region employed its own tactics and rules. The boosterism of congressional delegates and local actors helped to determine outcomes. Lotchin points out that self interest more than any other factor led municipalities to chase military dollars. California and its metropolitan regions proved especially adept at securing such development According to Lotchin this success rested on three factors, 1) the aggressiveness of Southern California companies in pursuing contracts along with its aggregation in “the urban Southland”, 2) the diversity of assets contained in Southern California found few competitors nationally and 3) political leadership in Los Angeles and San Diego proved enthusiastic and effective in securing federal defense monies. (129) Within California, if any city exemplified an ability to use the military for its own development purposes few did so well as San Diego. Municipal leaders had a “precise notion of what a city should be and how equally exact idea of how the Navy could be used to help them create it.” (26) The Navy would allow San Diego to industrialize without risking quality of life issues. Lotchin continues this line of reasoning more broadly for his California example. Accordingly, the military did not alter or change urban patterns but rather reinforced ones already present or developing. Lotchin clearly views urban areas as the catalysts, “the patterns of urbanization in California greatly dictated the patters of militarization that the in migrant services created. California was already disproportionately urban, its southern sector was rapidly outpacing its northern counterpart, and its suburbs were everywhere mushrooming. The military occupation of the largest state on the Pacific Slope did not alter these fundamental relationships.” (54) For example, the Navy eventually accepted the decentralized nature of its San Francisco infrastructure when it realized it could not alter the city’s development patterns.

Like John Findlay’s Magical Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture since 1940 and Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors: The Rise of the New Right, Lotchin notes the importance of technological innovation in shaping urban California. McGirr’s Orange County residents migrated for technological jobs in defense and related industries. Likewise, if Findlay’s Seattle’s World Fair, Stanford Industrial Park, and Disneyland exuded a trust in science, technology, and corporate sponsorship of such, military investment contributed to these developments. The establishment of the California Institute of Technology and USCD provide two examples of public institutions created to support federal military industries. The public private nature of defense spending existed alongside Silicon Valley’s relationship with Stanford. Unlike these public private examples, many municipalities expressed desire for federal military funding but chaffed under its influence and demands. That many residents of Southern California, most notably those living in Orange County, developed anti-government ethos strikes many observers as highly ironic.

The influence of California cities on military spending can be clearly discerned in the spatial layout of the armed forces aviation and nuclear divisions. Despite their obvious vulnerability to attack (a vulnerability that increased as more defense production and technological institutions emerged to aid in military weapon development), much of the atomic industry and military aircraft clustered along the West Coast, especially in California. Eastern and Midwestern politicians resented this aggregation, calling for a decentralization of production, which California cities interpreted to mean decentralization within a local metropolis not true geographic dispersal. Ultimately, the “resources of the nation state” found themselves harnessed not only for national advancement but also “domesticated for urban uses” (272)

The combination of military necessity, timing, and established agglomeration conspired to keep many of the facilities along the West Coast. California political leaders used federal monies to develop institutions of learning and research, transportation infrastructure (airports especially) and other urban needs, becoming a form of “welfare”. In terms of aviation, the tripartite organization of “the trinity of air power” (civil aviation, aircraft manufacture, and the air force) resulted into “a unity of urban aggrandizement.” (193) Though Lotchin views the “Sunbelt” somewhat nebulously, he suggests that military spending, most notably in the postwar period, helped to create identities along with social, political, and economic connections between the diverse communities within the Sunbelt. Lotchin stresses the importance of the Sunbelt’s emergence when he notes that never before in US history had a region been displaced in “the hierarchy of American economic power.” (320) Debates over military spending presaged current Sunbelt-Frostbelt conflicts. The new Sunbelt metropolis were newer and lacking in traditional industry. In the military they saw a cost effective way to secure both military industrial development and federal largesse for their own regional economic needs. In reality, the conflict revolved around “urbanization and de-urbanizatoin.” (325) Additionally, the Sunbelt lacked political uniformity as the Pacific Coast sometimes sided with Easter/Midwestern interests and sometimes with those of the Sunbelt.

As previously mentioned, San Diego serves as Lotchin’s quintessential martial metropolis. From the outset, San Diego’s population and leadership recognized the usefulness of military dollars. They epitomized the metropolitan-military complex, as diverse set of small businesses organized to carry out spending. Yet even if the Navy enjoyed bottom up support, metropolitan military complex remained elite dominated. The “politics of surplus” also emerged as translating “military assets into civilian ones” proved more difficult as streams of requests for these dollars proliferated. Additionally, San Diego’s eagerness to accommodate military forces resulted in limitations on its civil aviation infrastructure. Another problem with the shift from warfare to welfare lay in expectations. The Navy cut budgets to improve efficiency, cost, and the like. However, since military assets now became civilian ones, such cuts impacted not just service personnel, “the Navy perhaps quixotically, insisted on operating on a an efficient military basis, and that insistence generated conflict.” (312) Luckily, many the Navy’s welfare provisions can be justified on the “grounds of military efficiency, service moral and fair play.”

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