Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert D. Johnson

Subject Categories

Economic History | International Relations | United States History


This dissertation examines how Cold War defense spending shaped the evolution of American political culture and public policy from the 1940s until the 1990s. It argues that the Cold War economy contributed to the realignment of American politics in the postwar era. The fight against global communism abroad altered the structure, purpose, and public perception of the federal government following World War II, but also subsidized corporations, suburban communities, and individuals affected by defense spending. The militarization of the Cold War therefore created various dependents of America's military and defense apparatus that continuously pressed for more defense spending during the Cold War, even if increases in the military budget were strategically and economically gratuitous. Americans in communities dependent upon defense contractors for employment and economic growth lobbied their political representatives to allocate more defense contracts to their towns, while defense companies and contractors formed alliances with activists, politicians, defense workers, and labor unions to ensure their profitability in the face of cuts to the defense budget. The combination of these forces created a unique "Cold War coalition" that worked to keep the defense economy active in shaping the domestic and foreign policies of the United States.

As the constitutive elements of the defense economy were threatened with defense cuts and a thaw in the Cold War after the 1960s, they increasingly gravitated toward political figures and officials who promised continued defense spending. After the economic crisis of the 1970s, residents of such "Cold War communities" saw job losses to inflation and stagnation, but also to a drawdown in the Vietnam War and the era of détente. By the end of the Cold War, communities reliant upon the Department of Defense for employment supported "conservative" proposals for the reduction of federal taxes and government influence in regulating local economies, while also campaigning for additional federal defense contracts to keep local economies afloat. By exploring the realignment of American politics through the context of global events--and their impact on local politics--this dissertation considers how the personal livelihoods and political prejudices of Americans shaped both national politics and foreign affairs.