Stockman's History Extravaganza
WORLD WAR II: Homefront
Home on The Range
Most U.S. citizens never experienced any fighting in World War II first hand. However the war still impacted people in the U.S. in many ways. In 1940, Congress authorized the first peacetime draft in U.S. history when it passed the Selective Service Act. Following Pearl Harbor, a large number of volunteers enlisted in the military.
The government realized it needed to maintain strong public support for the war effort. The government paid artists to design patriotic war posters and movie theaters started playing newsreels depicting the U.S. war effort in a positive light. Ads depicting patriotic themes in magazines and on radio broadcasts also became common.
War meant that the U.S. economy had to switch from peacetime to wartime as quickly and efficiently as possible. President Roosevelt established the War Productions Board to oversee this.
The economic result was that the U.S. economy boomed and people’ standard of living increased. Unemployed men began finding jobs and migrating to northern cities and out west to fill jobs needed for wartime production.
In order to have money for the war, the U.S. called on sacrifices from citizens. The government introduced the idea of withholding income tax. The idea was that employers would withhold taxes and give it to the government immediately.
Another means of raising money was through the sale of war bonds. By buying bonds, citizens were actually loaning money to the government in return for interest. People also sacrificed resources, growing victory gardens for their own food so more food could be sent to soldiers.
The government also started a program of rationing, certain items were assigned points. Once you used up your points, you had to wait till you received more points to obtain the items.
With so many U.S. men going off to fight, women became an important part of the workforce at home. Women of all racial and cultural backgrounds stepped forward to take on jobs traditionally held by men.
A popular song of the day was called Rosie the Riveter. The song described a woman who worked in the factory as a riveter while her boyfriend served in the military. Rosie the Riveter became the symbol of those women who entered the workforce.
Women in Uniform
It was not just white males who served in WWII, women and minorities also served with honor. Although nearly every branch had a division for women, the WAC was by far the largest. Women served at home and abroad in every role but combat.
Minorities played a crucial role in the U.S. war effort. Nearly one million African Americans volunteered or were drafted. At first they were prohibited from combat roles, eventually the number of causalities led to a change in this policy. The Tuskegee Airmen served as an all-black squadron of fighter pilots. They successfully protected every bomber they escorted during the war.
Native Americans also served in WWII. The Marines even developed a code for communicating based on the Navajo language. This code proved effective and the Japanese were unable to break it. Some 300 Navajo Marines served as radio operators known as code talkers against Japan. Meanwhile Mexican Americans who served in the U.S. military won 17 Congressional medals of Honor.
Finally there were the Japanese Americans who served. Originally they could not enlist, but this changed in 1943. One Japanese American unit, the 442nd, served so valiantly in Europe that it became the most decorated unit in U.S. history. Their contribution was remarkable considering the racism and discrimination that many families endured at home during the war.
The boom in war industry revived African American migration. Large numbers of blacks moved to the cities and out west. Many African Americans advocated what they called the double V – victory at home and victory abroad. As a result, the period marked the beginning of more open and bold challenges on the part of African Americans to the racial injustices that existed in U.S. society.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor fueled suspicion and fear of Japanese people in the U.S. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, ordering all Japanese Americans from military facilities. Under this order more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and businesses and place in internment camps. The camps tended to be in remote areas owned by the federal government. In 1944, the executive order was challenged, but the Supreme Court ruled the government internment of the Japanese Americans was not unlawful because of the military situation.