After the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. was thrust into World War II (1939-45), and everyday life across the country was dramatically altered. Food, gas and clothing were rationed. Communities conducted scrap metal drives. To help build the armaments necessary to win the war, women found employment as electricians, welders and riveters in defense plants. Japanese Americans had their rights as citizens stripped from them. People in the U.S. grew increasingly dependent on radio reports for news of the fighting overseas. And, while popular entertainment served to demonize the nation's enemies, it also was viewed as an escapist outlet that allowed Americans brief respites from war worries.
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This Day in History
World War II
On this day in 1940, the German army in northern France reaches the English Channel.In reaching Abbeville, German armored columns, led by General Heinz…
During World War II, the U.S. government recruited women to join the munitions industry with the "Rosie the Riveter" propaganda campaign.
American women helped the World War II effort, both in uniform and by joining the industrial workforce.
An international military conflict, World War II involved most countries around the world and lasted from 1939 to 1945.
Did You Know?
During World War II, as an alternative to rationing, Americans planted “victory gardens,” in which they grew their own food. By 1945, some 20 million such gardens were in use and accounted for about 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the U.S.
- Baseball and the Battlefield
- The Movies Go to War
- Patriotic Music and Radio Reports from the Frontline
The Task of Winning the War
On December 7, 1941, the U.S. was thrust into World War II when Japan launched a surprise attack on the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor. The following day, America and Great Britain declared war on Japan. On December 10, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S.
In the earliest days of America's participation in the war, panic gripped the country. If the Japanese military could successfully attack Hawaii and inflict damage on the naval fleet and casualties among innocent civilians, many people wondered what was to prevent a similar assault on the U.S. mainland, particularly along the Pacific coast.
This fear of attack translated into a ready acceptance by a majority of Americans of the need to sacrifice in order to achieve victory. During the spring of 1942, a rationing program was established that set limits on the amount of gas, food and clothing consumers could purchase. Families were issued ration stamps that were used to buy their allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables and fruit to gas, tires, clothing and fuel oil. The United States Office of War Information released posters in which Americans were urged to "Do with less--so they'll have enough" ("they" referred to U.S. troops). Meanwhile, individuals and communities conducted drives for the collection of scrap metal, aluminum cans and rubber, all of which were recycled and used to produce armaments. Individuals purchased U.S. war bonds to help pay for the high cost of armed conflict.
The Role of the American Worker
From the outset of the war, it was clear that enormous quantities of airplanes, tanks, warships, rifles and other armaments would be essential to beating America's aggressors. U.S. workers played a vital role in the production of such war-related materials.
Many of these workers were women. Indeed, with tens of thousands of American men joining the armed forces and heading into training and into battle, women began securing jobs as welders, electricians and riveters in defense plants. Until that time, such positions had been strictly for men only.
A woman who toiled in the defense industry came to be known as a "Rosie the Riveter." The term was popularized in a song of the same name that in 1942 became a hit for bandleader Kay Kyser (1905-85). Soon afterward, Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984), a Hollywood leading man, traveled to the Willow Run aircraft plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to make a promotional film encouraging the sale of war bonds. One of the women employed at the factory, Rose Will Monroe (1920-97), was a riveter involved in the construction of B-24 and B-29 bombers. Monroe, a real-life Rosie the Riveter, was recruited to appear in Pidgeon's film.
During the war years, the decrease in the availability of men in the work force also led to an upsurge in the number of women holding non-war-related factory jobs. By the mid-1940s, the percentage of women in the American work force had expanded from 25 percent to 36 percent.
The Plight of Japanese Americans
Not all American citizens were allowed to retain their independence during World War II. Just over two months after Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) signed into law Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the removal from their communities and the subsequent imprisonment of all Americans of Japanese descent who resided on the West Coast.
Executive Order 9066 was the offshoot of a combination of wartime panic and the belief on the part of some that anyone of Japanese ancestry, even those who were born in the U.S., was somehow capable of disloyalty and treachery. As a result of the order, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were dispatched to makeshift "relocation" camps.
Despite the internment of their family members, young Japanese-American men fought bravely in Italy, France and Germany between 1943 and 1945 as members of the U.S. Army's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry. By the end of the war, the 100th had become the most decorated combat unit of its size in Army history.
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