In the latter year, 37 percent of all adult women were in the labor force. As the United States produced the weapons of war and became, in President Franklin D. Roosevelts phrase, the arsenal of democracy, the country experienced a fundamental reorientation of economic and social patterns at home that provided the template for the postwar years. The system worked. When it became clear that other parts of the country did not want the evacuees, a new War Relocation Authority ignored constitutional qualms and forcibly moved Japanese Americans to ten detention camps in seven western states. Very informational. In responding to extraordinary challenges, the United States was undeniably different at the end of the war than it had been at the start. Rumors spread about possible sabotage. Military spending that began in 1940 to bolster the defense effort gave the nations economy the boost it needed, and millions of unemployed Americans returned to work to make the weapons of war needed to protect the United States. The war restored the self-confidence they had felt prior to the depression and convinced them that what they wanted was within their grasp. In the Navy, they could enlist only in the all-black messmens branch. The war brought enormous changes in American womens lives. 49 W. 45th Street, 2nd Floor NYC, NY 10036, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. They had fought against totalitarian dictatorships for democratic ideals and they had won. It also expanded their hopes and expectations and forever altered the patterns of their lives at home. One black American soldier recalled being turned away from a lunchroom in Salina, Kansas, only to see German prisoners of war being served at the same counter. Facing discrimination in the job market, they found many positions simply closed to them. Harsh conditions undermined a sense of social cohesion. For groups discriminated against in the past, the war was a vehicle for lasting social and economic gains. Although no battles occurred on the American mainland, the war affected all phases of American life. Traditionally, working women had been single and young. They saved metals and fats to be recycled into military materiel and collected rubber until the nation successfully produced synthetic rubber, necessary because shipping lanes to obtain natural rubber were blocked. Americans now looked to the federal government to deal with problems handled privately, or at a state or local level, before. The people of Salina would serve these enemy soldiers and turn away black American GIs.. The renewed prosperity vindicated the theory of English economist John Maynard Keynes, who had earlier argued that sizable government spending could end a depression if the private sector was unable or unwilling to engage in such spending itself. It had also produced the worlds first two atomic bombs. Though but a tiny minority on the West Coast, they were visible and vulnerable, particularly after Pearl Harbor. As millions of men entered the military services, both government and industry waged a concerted campaign, with posters of Rosie the Riveter, to get women to work in the factories, and they didin huge numbers. By mid-1945, the United States had produced 80,000 landing craft, 100,000 tanks and armored cars, 300,000 airplanes, fifteen million guns, and forty-one billion rounds of ammunition. Some were able to continue working, but most left their positions. Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, proposed a massive March on Washington under the slogan WE LOYAL NEGRO AMERICAN CITIZENS DEMAND THE RIGHT TO WORK AND FIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY. He agreed to call off the march only when FDR signed an executive order creating a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to investigate complaints about discrimination and take appropriate action. At the same time, it demanded a monumental production effort to provide the materials necessary to fight. They have debated, too, the degree to which World War II was a watershed that changed the nations course. The war clearly brought a return of prosperity after the dismal depression of the 1930s. Allan M. Winkler is Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University of Ohio and author of Home Front, USA: America during World War II (1986) and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Making of Modern America (2005). Even when seen against a broader perspective, the transformation the United States experienced was profound. For groups discriminated against in the past, the war was a vehicle for lasting social and economic gains. It was no jive talk. Eventually, some Japanese Americans accepted the chance to fight in the war. At the same time, the demographic composition of the female labor pool shifted. Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without became the slogan of the day. Paid a dollar a year for their services, they remained on company payrolls, still cognizant of the interests of the corporations they ran. The world was a better place for the sacrifices they had made, and veterans and others took pride in a job well done. There was a National Defense Advisory Commission, then an Office of Production Management, then a War Production Board, and eventually an Office of War Mobilization to coordinate all parts of the war economy. Instead, the popular music industry ground out a series of trite but colorful titles including: Youre a Sap, Mister Jap, Lets take a Rap at the Jap, The Japs Dont Have a Chinamans Chance, and Were Gonna Find a Feller Who Is Yeller and Beat Him Red, White, and Blue.. That pattern allowed him to play off assistants against each other and to make the final choices himself. Japanese Americans were the worst civilian casualties of the war. Americans faced shortages that required them to deal with the hassle of rationing. Between 1940 and 1944, married women made up over 72 percent of the total number of female employees. In the Army they were segregated from whites, and they were bothered by constant slights. Helpful for my research paper that is a big part of my grade. A common pattern, which provided an incentive to business to cooperate, was the cost-plus-a-fixed-fee system, whereby the government guaranteed all development and production costs and then paid a percentage profit on the goods produced. As Americans looked ahead, they did so through the lens of the past. Thanks Gilder Lehrman! They remained attached to the status quo as they sought to create a more attractive, stable, and secure future based on the model that still influenced their lives. A Japs a Jap, said General John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command. Despite such continuities, the changes that occurred between 1940 and 1945 stand out vividly. For the most part, Americans looked back fondly on World War II. A huge network of wartime agencies developed to coordinate war production. Their vision of the future included no brave and bold new world, but a revived and refurbished version of the world they had known before. They had to provide the necessary couponsissued by the Office of Price Administrationto be able to purchase items in short supply like sugar, or meat, or gasoline. Women loved the work. At the peak of the industrial effort, women constituted 36 percent of the civilian work force. The war caused disruptions at home. For many Americans, this was, in the phrase journalist Studs Terkel helped popularize in 1984 in the title of his Pulitzer Prizewinning book, the Good War. Yet more recently some observers have pointed out that in the pursuit of victory, the United States on occasion failed to live up to its own democratic principles. Not all groups of outsiders fared well. FDR was never fond of dismantling administrative structures or firing people who worked for him, and so he created one agency after another, with new ones often in competition with old ones, to guide the war effort. In the United States, World War II made Americans more willing to involve themselvespolitically and diplomaticallywith the outside world. But then the huge productive effort that began in 1940 gave women the chance to do industrial work. In jobs they could find, they usually earned less than men. The Pittsburgh Courier, a widely circulated black newspaper, proclaimed a Double V campaignV for victory in the struggle against the dictators abroad and V for victory in the campaign for equality at home. Americans seeking a song like Over There, which had summed up their confidence in World War I, never found one. World War II had a profound impact on the United States. By the end of the war, half of all female workers were over thirty-five. Housing shortages plagued people moving to war-production centers. Goodbye, Momma, Im off to Yokohama was one example; Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition was another. Meanwhile, the presidency grew more powerful than it had ever been before. While the FEPC was never wholly effective, it enjoyed a few notable successes when the pressure of war production made employers willing to hire African American workers. Songs conveyed Americas sense of optimism. These efforts foreshadowed the protest campaigns of the subsequent Civil Rights Movement. Some black airmen finally had the chance to fly, and black soldiers served with distinction in increasing numbers.
Many agreed with a Baltimore advertisement that told them that working in a war plant was a lot more exciting than polishing the family furniture. They remained frustrated at unfair pay differentials, but wanted to continue working after the war. The number of working women rose from 14,600,000 in 1941 to 19,370,000 in 1944. Even so, midway through the conflict, seven out of ten Americans said they had not had to make any real sacrifices as a result of the war. It promoted the growth of big business and solidified military industrial links.
They hungered for the prosperity they recalled from the 1920s, so elusive in the 1930s, now once again possible thanks to the spending for war. Still, their experience helped lay the groundwork for a womens movement in later years and the war was an important step on the road to equal rights. This was really happening, he said sadly. They could not join the Air Corps or the Marine Corps. African Americans likewise benefited from the demands of war. In the economic arena, the war ended the Great Depression. And yet, continuity with the past was also important, and basic American values endured. For women and blacks in particular, the war was a stimulusand a modelfor future change. Faced with mounting pressure, the Army cited military necessity as the reason to evacuate Japanese Americans, whether or not they were citizens, from the West Coast. The nation worked closely with businessmen, for, as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson observed, If you are going to try to go to war, or to prepare for war, in a capitalist country, you have got to let business make money out of the process or business wont work. Business leaders who had incurred the wrath of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, when they balked at fully supporting New Deal programs, now found themselves invited to Washington, DC, to run the agencies that coordinated production. It brought about permanent demographic change. The American dream, its contours the same, remained alive and well. It required unprecedented efforts to coordinate strategy and tactics with other members of the Grand Alliance and then to plunge into battle against the Axis powersGermany, Italy, and Japan. Others, who refused, faced further internment, sometimes in even harsher conditions. At the start of the struggle, their unemployment rate was twice that of whites, and many of the jobs they held were unskilled. Copyright The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 2009-2019. Blacks became increasingly assertive. Mobilization required enormous organizational adjustments. They planted victory gardens to provide fruits and vegetables for personal use. Women were, without question, second-class citizens at the start of the struggle. Time and Life magazines told readers how to tell friendly Chinese from enemy Japanese: The Chinese expression is likely to be more placid, kindly, open; the Japanese more positive, dogmatic, arrogant. Government officials added their own observations.
Some recognized, as one woman in Tacoma noted, My husband wants a wife, not a career woman, and complied with the propaganda campaign as the war drew to an end to get them out of the factories so that returning servicemen could take back their jobs. War, by its very nature, has always been a catalyst for change, and World War II followed that pattern. They bought billions of dollars worth of bonds to help defray the cost of the war. Meanwhile, black students at Howard University in Washington, DC, picketed segregated restaurants. The war changed configurations of political power. As propaganda came of age, in a new Office of War Information, Americans rose to the challenge of doing whatever was necessary to support the war effort. And while wartime controls disappeared after the war was over, the experience provided a framework for future administrative organization of the economy.