Book Review: Chewing Gum, Candy Bars, and Beer: The Army PX in World War II


by James J. Cooke

Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2009. Pp. ix, 186. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0826218679

Prof. Cooke (Emeritus, "Ole Miss"), author of several notable books on the AEF in World War I, such as Pershing and His Generals: Command and Staff in the AEF (1997) and The Rainbow Division in the Great War: 1917-1919 (1994), and more recently an editor of some note, gives the seemingly dry topic of the PX -- officially the "Army Exchange System" -- a lively, readable, and informative treatment. 

The Army's approach to providing troops with the opportunity to buy non-issue items virtually anywhere in the world, the PX -- the "Post Exchange" -- was intended to replace the often corrupt sutlers of the Civil War and "Indian Fighting Army", as well as the canteen system that replaced it during the First World War.  After reviewing these early programs, Cooke looks at the development of the PX, examining the subject both from the perspective of the customers, the troops who bought the goods, and of the system's organizers and operators.  This discussion of the operation of the system forms the most interesting part of the book.  The officers operating the PX system developed a vast network of suppliers and outlets, battling with bureaucrats over every-thing from access to goods to securing shipping space, while trying to figure out what the troops wanted,  Therre are a number of amusing insights into the mind-set of the times, such as how the PX planners over-estimated the demand for make up by Army nurses operating near the front lines, and how in occupied areas the PX rapdily became the engine behind a vast quasi-illicit economy, as GIs swapped goods and food for souvenirs and services.
A good read for those interested in the American way of war.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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