Did World War II set the stage for racial and gender change within American society?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many ways, World War II set the stage for racial and gender change in American society.

Men who went off to serve the military left behind jobs that needed to be filled.  Women were being asked to fill these vacancies. The iconic image of "Rosie the Riveter" represented how women were an active part of the work force during the war.  Full page advertisements were directed at women asking them if they were doing all they could to help the war effort. The result was a transformation in how women saw themselves. During the war years, Women represented a significant portion of the American labor pool. In addition to this, thousands of women participated in the Armed Services. These positions helped to transform possibilities for women. When the war was over, men returned to the work force. However, women believed that they could be more and do more, reflecting how World War II changed gender roles.

The way that people of color saw themselves also changed as a result of World War II.  African- Americans volunteered for military service.  Many were active participants in the fight against fascism.  They fought for American democracy, even though they themselves were not able to experience its full promises and possibilities because of racial segregation. From a cultural standpoint, African- Americans began to ask the fundamental question of why, if they were good enough to sacrifice their lives for American freedom, should they be denied opportunity in America?  As a result, African- Americans began to start thinking about democracy "at home and abroad." When Truman desegregated the U.S. Armed forces after the war in 1948, it began a new thought process:  If the military could be racially integrated, why not other parts of American society?  In this way, significant racial change was envisioned as a result of World War II. 

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