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Matt House '08 Researching WW II Veterans and Civic Virtues

By Lisbeth Redfield
Posted August 26, 2007
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When Tom Brokaw visited the Hamilton campus, Matt House was a sophomore. The talk had such an effect on its listener that House, now a rising senior, used Brokaw's correlation between military service and political responsibility as a jumping-off point for his senior project. Although he has already begun working on the thesis, House applied for and was granted a Levitt Fellowship to do additional historical research this summer into the decline of the citizen-soldier in modern American.

There is a well-proven historical connection between soldiers and politics. Classical writers dealt with the subject at length, and this country has a strong history of successful soldiers who turned to a career as successful politicians, beginning with George Washington and continuing forward.

As House's inspirations Brokaw and Arthur Levitt, Jr. explained, the Second World War had a deep and personal impact on the men who served in it. The result was a generation of politicians with a "common experience that bonded them together" and made them aware of their government and country, "an interest greater than their own." Describing today's contrasting political atmosphere, House quoted Brokaw: "we can't disagree without being disagreeable."

House's senior project focuses on the partisan allegiances of World War II veterans; what House described as "a primarily quantitative study to determine whether Congressional veterans of World War II tended to be less partisan than non-veterans." Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Nicholas Tampio, who was House's grant adviser for the summer, suggested that House should take some time to place his research in a historical context by investigating the ideal of the civilian-soldier.

House spent most of his summer investigating a reading list of authors who stretched from Classical to modern. He was trying to understand the figure of the citizen-soldier, but also addressing the question of how to encourage civic virtues in modern America. House did ask whether introducing mandatory military service might create a less partisan, more effective political climate, but eventually concluded that, while it could be a critical part of an increase in civic virtues, it must be accompanied by other measures.

House came to his first summer of research for the chance to examine his thesis topic on a level more relevant to the electorate, and because he would be in his native Keene, New Hampshire to follow the primary. "It's been great," he said of his work. "It's fun to set your own pace and let what you read take you to new places."

He will be in Washington, D.C. in the fall on Hamilton's D.C. Program where he will intern on Capitol Hill and is anxious to interview some of the congressmen from the WW II generation. During the year, House is a sports broadcaster for WHCL, Hamilton's radio program. A rising senior, he plans to attend law school after graduation. "That's this fall's project," he joked.

House's research this summer is funded by the Levitt Research Fellows Program, operated through the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. The students spend the summer working intensively in collaboration with a faculty member on an issue related to public affairs. 

-- by Lisbeth Redfield

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