Social Change in the United States
During World War II
As the possibility of a second World War arose people began to form opinions on the United States' role in Europe. The general population disagreed on whether or not to get involved in the conflict with Germany. Some people believed in interventionism, the theory that the United States should do everything it could to support Britain without declaring war on Germany. Along with William Allen White they formed the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Others supported the idea of isolationism, which said that the United States should defend itself first. The supporters of isolationism formed the Committee to Defend America First which was supported mainly by pacifists and socialists and well as democrats and republicans. The majority of Americans were against the involvement of the United States. Congress acted on this general opinion by enacting neutrality laws and appropriating little money for the army and navy. Because of its poor funding, in 1939, the United States Army was small and ranked only 39th in the world. Much of its artillery was still drawn by horses (Harris, 17).
After Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor the opinion of the American people drastically changed. Isolationism was eliminated virtually overnight. Most Americans thought they were fighting for President Roosevelt's four freedoms:
We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression...everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own
way...everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want...everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear...everywhere in the world.
--President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress, January
6,1941 (National Archives and Records Administration)
Once the United States joined the war it was immediately realized that the armed forces needed to be built up before it could be effective. Flocks of American men, outraged from the Pearl Harbor incident, voluntarily signed up for the army and navy. Those Americans who couldn't join the armed forces helped the war effort by volunteering to grow their own vegetables in make-shift gardens. In 1941 the Secretary of Agriculture formally suggested the use of these "victory gardens". The "victory gardens" were planted anywhere they could be, in such places as vacant lots and jails. The gardens soon accounted for 40% of the countries vegetables (Nash, 525).
To keep Americans informed during the war the government created the Office of War Information. The Office of War Information encouraged the newspapers, radio, and movies to help explain the current events and government policies. The media, however, needed no encouragement and movie makers were soon scrambling to copyright movies like: Bombing of Honolulu, Yellow Peril, and V for Victory. Comic strips were also being based on war. New characters like G.I. Joe and Dan Winslow of the Navy emerged at this time. Songs, advertisements from magazines and newspapers, billboards, and radio shows also picked up the war time trend.
The economic changes that took place during and because of the war were almost all positive. The country's GNP (gross national product), the total dollar amount of all the goods and services produced in one year, increased from $90.5 billion in 1939 to $211.9 billion in 1945 (Nash 527). Because the war created a demand for supplies and new products as well as military personnel, a slew of new jobs became available. This flood of openings raised wages and lowered the unemployment rate. As the earnings of Americans increased so did the cost of living and by 1942 a person spent 15% more on living expenses than 1939 levels. Because of the dramatic increase in wages and inflation the National War Labor Board (NWLB) was set up to control them. The...
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