The effect of WWII on the American nation was ubiquitous and spread across multiple layers of society. Creating a solid technological foundation was necessary for the war effort, which encouraged the expansion of a highly trained, diverse workforce. Labor shortages instigated the transformation of the perception of women and African Americans by providing them with employment possibilities. Perceptions of traditional military roles also began to change. World War II was a total war effort, engaging all Americans to work and support rationing. The government encouraged the contributions of ordinary Americans to the war effort. This was done via the sales of war bonds and creating a robust propaganda campaign. However, negative aspects of the war effort are also visible. The conflict posed new challenges for numerous minority groups that experienced discrimination. The war took a tremendous toll on the local economy by rapidly depleting the resources and increasing the national debt. In other words, the conflict irrevocably changed the American way of life, affecting not only the industries of war and the economy but American society as a whole.
The US government continued the economic and ideological shifts that started during the Great Depression due to World War II. During the 1930s, the country concentrated on surviving economically as no one was able to escape the impoverished state of affairs. The resources were not being fully used, limiting wealth and economic progress. Government involvement was seen to be necessary when the economy halted in order to restart the economy. During World War II, Americans prioritized maintaining their country. The government had difficulty retooling its industrial and manufacturing facilities. The war’s worldwide reach necessitated the distribution of supplies to ally forces from Europe to the South Pacific, so the government took the challenge head-on.
In preparation for American engagement in World War II, the Office of Production Management (OPM), a centralized procurement organization, was established in January 1941. The Director of Priorities was appointed to be Donald Nelson, a former executive vice president of Sears Roebuck. The Supply, Priorities and Allocations Board (SPAB) was created in July to address supply inefficiencies. Nelson was chosen to serve as the board’s director. After the United States entered World War II, Roosevelt disbanded the OPM and SPAB (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). The War Production Board (WPB), led by Nelson, was established by executive order in January 1942 (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). Large-scale restrictions were granted to the WPB, allowing it to prioritize the production of rare commodities and forbid the manufacture of non-essential items. The board managed the manufacturing of $185 billion in military supplies throughout its three years (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). In 1942 alone, $100 billion in military orders were issued (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). This necessiated a fully operational and practical industrial capability to satisfy the demand.
The cost of creating a military machine was felt at home. In addition to rations and inflation, the National War Labor Board (NWLB) required salary restrictions. Over 3 million new members joined labor unions during the war, and they were bitterly opposed to the government’s pay limits. To address strike fears, Congress approved the Smith-Connelly Anti-Strike Act in June 1943 (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). This law made strikes against a sector run by the government a crime. It allowed the federal government to take and run any businesses negatively impacted by strikes. During the war, the government took over the coal mining sector, and for a little while, it also took over the railroads. By the war’s conclusion, work stoppages had only impacted less than 1% of the labor force’s total work hours (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). The conflict cost more than $4 trillion in current currency (Norwich, 2020). At the same time, between 1940 and 1945, the national debt more than doubled.
Like World War I, World War II was an industrialized conflict, and the home front’s industrial production was crucial to the war effort. Propaganda was adopted to secure civilian support since maintaining home morale was crucial to the military effort. African Americans and women were included in poster campaigns that changed these groups’ social roles and perceptions. Traditional types of advertising, including the newspaper, radio, and billboards, were employed to maintain home morale. The United States likewise enlisted the Hollywood film industry to promote themes of wartime propaganda (Ciment & Russell, 2007). In World War I, posters were the primary means of public communication; they later became a crucial component of the propaganda campaign during World War II (Ciment & Russell, 2007). The poster campaign served as a visual call to arms to enlist American support for the war through rationing, war bond purchases and increased productivity. The campaign also reminded people of American principles and warned them about the perils of Nazism. The US Office of Combat Information (OWI) was established in June 1942 to manage war communications’ language and visual aspects (Ciment & Russell, 2007). Since many OWI members were drawn from the advertising industry, posters’ appearance and message were altered to match straightforward marketing messages.
During the war women were mainly employed in non-combat roles. The American armed services recruited 15 million men and more than 200,000 women in World War II (Ciment & Russell, 2007). Mainly required were female candidates for nursing posts. Despite the government exempting certain industrial and agricultural employees from conscription, farms and industries still lacked the necessary number of personnel. More than half of the six million women who entered the workforce after the war had never before worked for pay (Ciment & Russell, 2007). In the 1930s, as more women entered the workforce out of necessity for employment, attitudes regarding women working outside the house began to change (Ciment & Russell, 2007). Some women were forced to work due to widespread poverty in order to support their families. The cultural norms of that period stressed the importance of women remaining as housewives bound to the responsibilities of their family. The government supported a propaganda drive to get women into the employment market by emphasizing the significance of the war effort when the first female response was insufficient to satisfy the needs of the job.
Government-sponsored Rosie the Riveter symbolized how women might be accepted into roles that males previously held. Rosie epitomized the perfect employee: attractive, dependable, effective, and diligent (Hughes, 2018). When Norman Rockwell’s painting of Rosie was featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in May 1943, it became the first globally-recognized portrait (Hughes, 2018). The government poster “We can do it” included her most well-known image (Hughes, 2018). She became a media sensation, appearing in publications, signs, and posters throughout the nation.
Most African Americans worked in low-skilled employment, with a family income of just one-third that of the typical white household. In 1940, the unemployment rate for white people was 10%, while it was 20% for African Americans (Bayer & Charles, 2018). The availability of jobs caused significant domestic migration during the war as individuals moved to places like Detroit, Los Angeles, and Seattle in search of new employment. The most significant population change was seen in the south. 1.6 million African Americans migrated to northern and western cities, despite the south receiving a disproportionate amount of defense contracts in an effort to boost the sluggish economy (Bayer & Charles, 2018).. Racial tensions increased from a local to a national level rather than dissipate.
Initial barriers to higher-paying occupations for Blacks led to escalating conflicts over housing and segregated amenities. The NAACP quickly attracted over 500,000 new members (Ciment & Russell, 2018). In response to the threat of a black march on Washington in 1941, FDR signed an executive order outlawing discrimination in the defense sector (Ciment & Russell, 2018). The Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) was formed to guarantee adherence to the directive. Blacks serving overseas were often given more excellent chances to learn new skills and show off their strengths than those serving at home (Ciment & Russell, 2018). Additionally, they were typically given better treatment abroad than in the US. When the battle was over, they went home with more confidence and broader perspectives. African Americans made a significant contribution to the military effort, which was acknowledged. President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948 to abolish segregation (Kennedy & Cohen, 2020). Within the armed services, the order maintained equality of opportunity and treatment.
In conclusion, the war efforts on the home front allowed for the development of various industries within the states. However, it also expanded the national debt to over 300 billion dollars. At the same time, the war became an opportunity that allowed the eradication of the workforce racial segregation. Governmental propaganda partially contributed to the democratization of the local society in pursuit of civilian support for the military effort. Women were also able to heighten their social standing and acquire equal opportunities. The drastic change in the aspect of social life and culture is apparent.
Bayer, P., & Charles, K. K. (2018). Divergent paths: A new perspective on earnings differences between black and white men since 1940. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 133(3), 1459-1501. Web.
Ciment, J., & Russell, T. (2007). The Home Front Encyclopedia: United States, Britain, and Canada in World Wars I and Ii. ABC-CLIO.
Hughes, A. (2018). Rosie the Riveter. TLS. Times Literary Supplement, (6011), 6. Web.
Kennedy, D. M., & Cohen, L. (2020). The American pageant. Cengage.
Norwich University Online. (2020). The cost of U.S. wars then and now. Norwich University. Web.