U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

"The Political Economy of American Warfare, Vols. 1-5"


  1. Home
  2. "The Political Economy of American Warfare, Vols. 1-5"

This five volume work reviews the economy, politics and government, military and civil-military relations, and weapons technology of America's wars from the colonial period to 2011.

Paul A. C. Koistinen

This pentalogy is a monumental achievement, by one of the greatest historians of the American military-industrial complex. It is the product of a half-century of research and scholarship, which started with the author's efforts on his unpublished 1965 PhD dissertation, which focused on World War II. The five published volumes, according to Koistinen, are designed to offer "a comprehensive, schematic, and interdisciplinary study of the economics of America's wars from the colonial period to today."

Koistinen handles this grand subject with what he calls a "four-factor, three-stage paradigm." Each volume considers the four factors: the economy, politics and government, the military and civil-military relations, and weapons technology. Across the volumes, Koistinen describes three chronological stages of development: a "preindustrial" phase, ending around 1815; a "transitional" period, in the mid-nineteenth century; and, finally, an "industrial" era, from 1865 to the present. In each volume, Koistinen is concerned especially with economic, political, and military elites, and their organizations. As these became more tightly integrated, Koistinen suggests that over time, the U.S. defense sector became more powerful, entrenched, and dangerous.

In the first book in the series, Beating Plowshares into Swords, Koistinen provides a rich synthesis of hundreds of published sources, as he surveys the "preindustrial" (1606–1815) and "transitional" (1815–1865) phases of his story. More than half of this volume is focused on the Civil War, with the Union and the Confederate mobilization efforts described in great detail, with three chapters each.

The second volume, Mobilizing for Modern Warfare, covers the years 1865-1919. A first section surveys the industrialization of the economy and reform of the armed services, in the late nineteenth century. In a longer, second section, Koistinen uses original archival research to present a detailed history of the U.S. economic mobilization for the Great War. This account is especially strong on the financial activities of J.P. Morgan & Co., as well as the work of the War Industries Board.

The third book in the series, Planning War, Pursuing Peace, covers the interwar decades. In its first part, Koistinen digs deeply into the records of industrial mobilization planners in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War (established in 1920), which established specialized committees charged with studying specific commodities. The book becomes livelier in its second part, which considers the intense interwar political critiques of war profiteering, by veterans' groups, members of Congress, and the general public.

The fourth and longest volume, Arsenal of World War II, examines the biggest of all the industrial mobilizations for war. Here, Koistinen offers a detailed, original history of the activities of the War Production Board (WPB), and its predecessor agencies, which were civilian organizations charged with overseeing the war economy and managing the flows of key materials, such as steel.

In the final book, State of War, Koistinen surveys the 1945–2011 period, by synthesizing a large body of work by other scholars. In this volume, which includes chapters focused on the Presidency, Congress, and "Big Science," Koistinen appropriately calls attention to the growing importance of nonprofit organizations, as well as globalization, deindustrialization, and privatization.

Taken together, the five volumes represent a remarkable achievement, which synthesizes a vast amount of information from archival sources, published materials, and hundreds of relevant scholarly works. Today's acquisition professionals and policymakers may be especially interested in the books' detailed case studies of past efforts to handle weaknesses in domestic and global supply chains, and the defense industrial base. Full of detail about the civilian coordinating boards, the books often fail to say enough about the work of major military procurement organizations, such as the Navy's Bureau of Ships. The books seldom offer reader-friendly narratives; Koistinen's arguments are not always stated clearly. Nevertheless, this is an essential opus, which should be consulted for many decades to come. 



"The Political Economy of American Warfare, Vols. 1-5"