Ty Welborn
Hogan, Michael J. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National
Security State, 1945-1954. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Michael J. Hogan explores the disparate sides of the national security argument
through the critical years of 1945-1954. He frames the argument as being between those
supporting the new idea of a national security state versus the older argument and fear of
the creation of a garrison state. These doctrines, according to the author, are actually two
sides of the same coin. Following the end of World War II, few political leaders ignore
the need for the United States to step up its role on the world stage while also seeing
greater need for protecting herself and her shores from the new threat of communism
seemingly sweeping the world. Where the leaders of this era differed was on how best to
achieve these ends. National security implied the need for greater use of intelligence,
surveillance activities, as well as a powerful standing army, ready to repel any enemy.
These very same “strengths” could be perceived as negatives that might destroy
constitutional freedoms if the United States was allowed to, in fact, become a garrison
In A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the national Security
State, 1945-1954, Hogan, a diplomatic historian, traces this battle between these two
camps. In their debates, both sides used the same nationalistic rhetoric to attempt to
persuade public opinion to their cause. Not surprisingly, military groups were evidently
very willing, according to Hogan, to peal back traditional values and freedoms in the
name of national security. This therefore brought to life the greatest fear of many political
leaders. The author argues that this time period saw the creation of the great military
juggernaut that we now know well in the United States, and this era also saw the
escalation of the Cold War and subsequent arms race.
As implied by the title, the author focuses on the Truman administration in this
domestic policy study, although Eisenhower is also discussed in great depth. During these
years, there was little in the way of “bridge-building” and partisan politics ruled the day.
President Truman had a particularly difficult time in balancing the sides of this debate
during his administration, and often showed his inability to enforce his will on various
parties. No place is this more obvious than in his failure to pass the Universal Military
Training (UMT). The views of the various sides were dreadfully incompatible with each
other despite the similarity of the rhetoric used, as mentioned earlier. At odds were issues
such as balancing the budget, attempting to control skyrocketing military spending, the
rise of Communism on the international landscape, and protecting individual freedoms
within the United States.
The growth of the United States into a world power following the end of Second
World War put a great amount of stress on American political leaders. The US now had a
role to maintain, whether real or perceived, in this newly restructured world order. At
question was how much the American public would have to sacrifice in order to fill this
role. Fortunately, few really wanted any sacrifices to be made, although the proposition
of programs such as Universal Military Service show that these sacrifices were real and
not far from the mainstream consciousness.
Arguable this military buildup in response to the Cold War is the historical lead
up to the military defense industry that is now in place in the United States, and
seemingly so central to our national economy. The Cold War fed the production of
military goods and services, and surely even contributed to the creation of the so-called
private military firms of the twenty-first century. Not only this, but the Cold War also
saw the marshalling of the nation’s universities and other scientific entities for military
research and development. Although the Cold War is over, the United States seems to be
unable to pull away from the role it has taken on the national stage, or from the defense
spending that is necessary to maintain the national security state that we are now used to
living within.
Michael Hogan uses an impressive array of sources in this dense work. These
primary sources range wide, and include the Eisenhower and Truman papers,
Eisenhower’s diaries, several other personal memoirs, office records of various federal
agencies, and the voluminous amount of paperwork generated by the various committees
on national security. Hogan’s writing is somewhat intense at times, but is overall very
good. Although an excellently argued book, it is easy to see through to the author’s own
opinions at times.
Michael Hogan presents a study in which the garrison state fortunately never
came to exist. Therefore, one could argue that the national security state did its job in
successfully staving off the apparent Cold War threat of Communism. Fortunately it did
so without the need to curtail American liberties.