Mobilization of the American Home Front
World War II officially began in Europe when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. By 1940 the war in Europe was in full swing, and the Allies, the nations fighting Germany and Italy, including Britain and France, needed U.S. support. At this time the United States was not involved in the war. However, it did agree to provide the Allies with weapons and other war materials. This agreement changed daily life in the United States as Americans began participating in a broad united effort to support the far-off military campaign. The biggest challenge involved industrial mobilization, the conversion of U.S. manufacturing from the production of civilian goods to the production of war materials. America had much to do to gear up for war production. It had to awaken from an economic lull brought on by the Great Depression. The Great Depression was the most severe economic crisis the United States ever experienced. It began in late 1929 and lasted throughout the 1930s. The Depression led to slowed business activity, high unemployment rates, and social unrest in many areas of the country.
To guide and coordinate the massive mobilization effort the U.S. government created numerous temporary federal agencies, including the War Resources Board, Office of Emergency Management, Office of Production Management, Supplies Priorities and Allocations Board, War Production Board, Office of Economic Stabilization, Defense...
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In the December 1942 National Geographic Magazine, Albert W. Atwood authored an article titled "The Miracle of War Production." Atwood penned the following words:
This country which we love is producing all-out for war. At first there was only a trickle, then it became a mighty stream, and now it is a deluge [an overwhelming amount] of ships, planes, tanks, and guns roaring down the assembly lines of America.
True, the war finally must be won on the battlefields, but it cannot be won without production, and it can be lost in the shops and factories….
This war has an incredibly voracious, an unbelievably stupendous appetite for materials, supplies, equipment, machines, munitions, and armaments….
By a sheer miracle of production America is now satisfying the yawning maw [mouth or jaws] of the war god….
Hence this country has become the most gigantic factory the world has ever seen, turning its plowshares into swords, transforming itself into an all-embracing, universal arsenal—all to meet the Axis challenge.
In his article Atwood relates the seemingly impossible requests for production that President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) made: 45,000...
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Managing the Nation's Finances
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) had two major home front financial concerns during World War II (1939–45): how to finance the very expensive war effort and how to control the greatly altered home front economy. Solutions for both problems were intertwined. During World War I (1914–18) prices of goods and services in the United States had risen 62 percent, causing much economic hardship on the U.S. home front. Roosevelt was determined to avoid such dramatic inflation (prices of goods rising faster than wages) during World War II. This meant making major changes to the U.S. economy during the war years. Under Roosevelt's direction, the economy changed from a peacetime free market economy—an economic system with very limited government control over business activities, whereby the price of goods is primarily determined by the public demand and availability—driven by consumer spending to what is called a "command" economy. A command economy is driven largely by government funding and controls, under command of various temporary agencies that are directed by private business leaders. In fact, many of the wealthy and prestigious business leaders who greatly influenced the market economy prior to the war continued to strongly influence the wartime command economy and prospered greatly from it.
The "Good War"...
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In an April 1943 National Geographic Magazine article titled "Farmers Keep Them Eating," Frederick Simpich writes:
In the fields. That's where American farmers, including women, girls, and school children are fighting now—fighting frost, heat, dust, drought, mud, flood, and insect pests, growing our biggest crops in history.
Food is as much a munition as TNT. Farm tractors and milk wagons, like tanks and cannon, are war machines.
Farmers don't get killed and wounded on battlefields, get decorated with medals, or have to sleep in mud and snow. Yet without this 'soldier of the soil' all armies would soon have to quit, for it is still true that an army travels on its stomach.
During World War II (1939–45) the American farming community gained more from the wartime economy than any other segment of the U.S. population. The more acreage a farmer owned and cultivated, the more he profited. Prior to World War II American agriculture had suffered through twenty years of depressed farm prices. The decline began after World War I (1914–18), when the demand for U.S. farm produce worldwide decreased, and lasted through the 1920s, a period of prosperity for the rest of America. During the 1930s farmers were severely affected by the economic hardships of...
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Before World War II, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the main political concerns in the United States involved social and economic issues. During the war, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, the key issues driving U.S. political debates and election campaigns were foreign policy and national defense. The two main political parties in the United States, the Republicans and the Democrats, held to their traditional ideas of how the nation should be governed. The Republicans favored the idea of a relatively small and limited federal government, whereas the Democrats preferred the federal government to take a leading role in providing services and protections for the nation's citizens. During World War II Americans reelected President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), a Democrat, to an unprecedented third term and fourth term. Franklin Roosevelt is the only American president who served more than two terms, and he greatly influenced U.S. politics during the war.
Politics before the war
During the mid-1930s, as Germany and Japan were busy building large militaries, the United States concentrated on domestic issues. The nation was in the depths of the Great Depression, an economic crisis that began in the United States in late 1929 and spread throughout the world during the 1930s. By...
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Minorities on the Home Front
Historian Allan M. Winkler, in his 1986 book Home Front U.S.A.: America During World War II, provides the following saying, which was familiar among black Americans during World War II (1939–45), "Here lies a black man killed fighting a yellow man for the protection of a white man." This saying reflected the wartime frustrations of many minorities in the United States. Americans on the home front generally supported the Allies' fight against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II. The country was united in its patriotic desire to win the war. However, American minorities felt a contradiction in the wartime experience. While they were fighting overseas to save democracy, freedoms at home were still limited for people of color. Strong racial prejudices, centuries old, still existed in the United States, and racial conflicts on the home front escalated during the war years. Throughout the war, black Americans fought hard for new opportunities on the home front, with limited success; Japanese Americans had their rights as U.S. citizens ignored; and Mexican Americans, though welcomed into the job market, faced the same prejudices as they had in the past.
When the United States entered World War II in late 1941, the largest racial minority group in the United States was...
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Mobilization of Women
At the start of World War II (1939–45) most Americans still held an old-fashioned notion of women's place in society; that is, they believed that a woman's proper role was in the home, working as a housewife, caring for her husband and children and handling the household chores. Husbands were expected to make the money on which a family lived; they controlled the household finances and held ultimate authority in the home. In U.S. society at large, men also controlled politics and the economy. World War II disrupted these patterns, thrusting men and women into new roles and activities related to the war. Between 1942 and 1945 about fifty million women over the age of fourteen lived in the United States. Roughly 90 percent of them were white, 9 percent were black, 0.3 percent were Native American, and 0.1 percent were Japanese American.
During the war women found new job opportunities in factories and shipyards. They also had increased opportunities to work as support personnel in governmental positions, such as in the many temporary federal agencies set up for wartime. Those who stayed at home to raise their families faced new challenges: The job was lonely and more difficult for anyone whose husband was serving overseas. Shopping for necessities was also more demanding because of the complicated wartime rationing system and shortages of various goods.
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As airplanes first began to appear in warfare in the early years of the twentieth century, war's destruction suddenly extended beyond the battlefields to towns and cities. Increasingly, government leaders and the general public worried that enemy nations might bomb civilian populations. No organizations existed to protect civilian populations during wars, but in 1916, just before the United States entered World War I (1914–18), the U.S. government began to plan for home front defense. Congress created the Council of National Defense (CND), and the CND encouraged states to create state defense councils, which in turn encouraged creation of local defense councils.
World War II (1939–45) spurred much more extensive home front defense efforts; most of the defense strategies that were developed were built on the concept of civil defense. Civil defense refers to a system of defensive measures designed to protect civilians and their property from enemy attack. The U.S. civil defense system included bomb shelters, air raid warning systems, patrols along the nation's borders, and distribution of information on emergency survival. Citizens who had
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Women in Uniform
The only women serving in the U.S. military when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, were a few thousand in the Army Nurse Corps and Navy Nurse Corps. By the end of World War II (1939–45), more than 350,000 women had served in the U.S. military. Women in the military supported the total American war effort by carrying out essential noncombat responsibilities. The idea of women serving in the military in any role outside of nursing was a new concept for the American public, a concept that was difficult for many Americans to accept.
After much debate in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, Congress created the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in May 1942. On July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) signed a bill authorizing the navy, Coast Guard, and marines to accept women. That same day the U.S. Navy established the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES. In November 1942 the Coast Guard created its women's reserve, known as SPAR (the name SPAR came from the Coast Guard motto: Semper Paratus—Always Ready). In February 1943 the
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Home Front Organizations and Services
During the war years two civilian organizations provided fundamental support for U.S. soldiers and their families: the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO). These organizations had centers throughout the United States and carried out their activities with the help of millions of volunteers. Each organization also had centers overseas, as near to the U.S. troops as possible. By providing relief and comfort, the Red Cross and the USO bolstered morale on the home front and on the front lines. Responsibility for maintaining the physical health of military personnel and the American public fell to the U.S. Public Health Service. During the war years the Public Health Service concentrated its efforts on treating warrelated diseases and maintaining adequate vaccines for Americans at home.
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross, founded by Clara Barton (1821–1912) in 1881, established the following goals as its mission: to care for sick and wounded soldiers during wartime, to help U.S. military personnel overseas communicate with their families, and to provide relief during natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and fires. During World War II (1939–45), the Red Cross was the largest civilian organization providing vital services to military personnel and their families. By...
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Wartime in U.S. Communities
For the United States, World War II lasted from December 8, 1941, until September 2, 1945. During this period, communities across the country felt the impact of war in various ways. This chapter describes how the war affected San Diego, California; Washington, D.C.; the states of Michigan and Washington; North Platte, Nebraska; and the U.S. territory of Hawaii. The business of war significantly altered life on the home front in nearly every part of the nation; the communities described in this chapter serve as examples. From tiny North Platte to the boomtown of San Diego, citizens saw their communities transformed by the new wartime economy.
San Diego: Boomtown
With several large military facilities and an everexpanding aircraft industry, San Diego turned into a boom-town during the war years. San Diego, a beautiful temperate Southern California city with a deepwater port, became one of the most important naval centers of the world. The city was home to a huge naval hospital and supply depot; a destroyer, submarine, and light cruiser operating base; an advanced training center; and one of the largest U.S. naval bases for aircraft. At North Island Naval Air Station, located along the coastal section of the city, the U.S. Navy maintained facilities to repair airplanes. The Marine Corps also had facilities in...
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Information and Entertainment
During World War II (1939–45) people on the U.S. home front faced gas rationing, shortages of certain foods, over-crowded public transportation, and bans on pleasure driving. Unaccustomed to such restrictions and inconveniences, Americans found some comfort in various forms of media, including radio, movies, newspapers, books, and popular music. These forms of mass communication provided not only entertainment but important war-related information. Early in the war President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) declared that movies and even certain sporting events were essential for maintaining morale on the home front. The U.S. government used these media and others to communicate with the American public. Government messages included statements about the nation's war goals, suggestions for what citizens could do to contribute to the war effort, and reports on the progress of the war. Government communication of this sort is often called propaganda. Propaganda is information designed to shape public opinion. Radio, movies, and all the other popular media provided the U.S. government with an effective means of funneling wartime information to the public. At the same time, these media forms
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Transition to Peacetime and Home Front Legacies
The transition to peacetime was under way on the home front by 1944, though World War II (1939–45) was still raging abroad. In 1943 full industrial and agricultural war production had been achieved; that is, the capability to meet the ongoing Allied needs for war materials and food had been reached. While war production did not slow down or cease, special emphasis on war mobilization was no longer needed. It was up to the armed forces on the battlefield to achieve victory, and the chances of victory looked better as time went by. Although some of the largest and bloodiest battles were yet to come, planners in government and industry began to prepare for peacetime. When the war finally ended, the United States was poised to become one of the world's superpowers: The economy was strong, the population was growing, and U.S. military strength was greater than ever before. Having given their all for the war effort, Americans were ready to enjoy prosperity and peace. The legacies of the home front events of World War II would propel the nation as a world power through the remainder of the twentieth century.
A reconversion debate
The beginning of America's peacetime transition was no less controversial than the beginning of its war mobilization. Officials in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration...
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