THE GOOD WAR”: WORLD WAR II
During World War II, many commentators noted that the United States seemed to be fighting a war against tyranny and racial hatred abroad while supporting many of those same behaviors at home. How did the authors of the assigned documents in this module address this apparent contradiction? Reference at least one document in your answer.
By 11:59 pm on Monday, write a 200-word discussion board post in response to the prompt. In your response, you must quote or make reference to at least one of the documents assigned for reading in this module. You may also use material addressed in the lecture videos.
This a transcript of the video First lecture video :In our last lecture, we talked about the road to war in Asia and in Europe. And in this lecture, we’ll focus on the US experience in World War II. In all, more than 16 million men and women served in the US military during World War II. Women were barred from combat duty, but they worked at nearly every non-combatant task, eroding traditional barriers to women’s military service. The selective service or the draft also prohibited discrimination on account of race. A million African Americans donned uniforms. Though they were housed in segregated units during the war, half a million Mexican Americans, 25,000 Native Americans, and 13,000 Chinese Americans also served in the US military during the World War II. In the Pacific War, the Japanese sought to win the war quickly. In 1942, they assaulted the Philippines. An attack that culminated in the Bataan Death March, during which thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war died. In the spring of 1942, US forces launched a counter offensive from Australia and Hawaii. In November of 1942, the Battle of Midway marked an important victory for the US in the Pacific. In Europe, German troops continued to push into the Soviet Union. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, now on the side of the allies, urged the British and Americans to open a second front in the war to relieve some of the pressure on the Soviet Union. Instead of an invasion of France however, the Allies attacked German forces in North Africa. In July 1943, they landed troops in southern Italy. Opponents of Mussolini deposed the dictator, and Italy quickly surrendered. In June 1944, the British and Americans finally opened the second front that Joseph Stalin had long called for. On June 6, 1944, known as D-day, a massive force landed at Normandy, France. Casualties were heavy. An eyewitness reported that bodies lay strewn along the beach like cordwood. Within a week, British and American troops were moving towards Germany. The Allies liberated Paris on August 25, 1944 after four years of Nazi occupation. At the Battle of the Bulge, which lasted nearly six weeks in late 1944 and early 1945, more than 70,000 Allies and 100,000 Germans were killed. As the Allies advanced into Nazi territory, they uncovered horrifying evidence of Nazi atrocities. As early as 1942, reports had circulated among the Allies that Hitler was implementing a “Final Solution,” that is the systematic murder of Jews, Gypsies, political radicals, and homosexuals. In spite of these reports however, US officials refused to grant asylum to Jewish refugees from Europe, and the Allies declined to bomb suspected labor and death camps, preferring to focus their resources on the German military. As the Allied forces moved across eastern Europe, they found emaciated prisoners, skeletal corpses, gas chambers, and pits of the dead. The Holocaust claimed some 9 million victims, 2/3 of them European Jews. In February 1945, the Big Three Allied leaders– that is Roosevelt, Winston Churchill of England, and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union– met at Yalta. They agreed to create a new international peacekeeping organization, the United Nations. In a remarkable reversal of post-World War I resistance to internationalism– when, as I hope you remember, the US refused to join Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations– the US Senate approved the United Nations charter by a vote of 89 to 2. By early April 1945, British and American troops had reached the Elbe River in Germany. On May 2, Soviet troops captured Berlin. Hitler committed suicide shortly before Soviet troops reached Berlin, and the Provisional Nazi government quickly surrendered, ending the war in Europe. In Asia however, the fighting continued. Franklin Roosevelt had succumbed to heart disease in April 1945 leaving his Vice President, Harry Truman, to lead the war effort against Japan. Since 1942, US troops had worked with allies in the area, China and India, in a brutal island-by-island campaign in the Pacific. The battle for the island of Guadalcanal lasted six months and cost thousands of lives. In 1944, Allied troops succeeded in liberating the Philippines. They also captured two strategic islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, from which they hoped to attack the Japanese mainland. Japanese resistance was fierce. In 1945, Japanese leaders ordered thousands of suicide pilots, known as kamikaze, to crash their bomb-laden planes into Allied ships. In mid-July 1945, as US troops prepared for the final assault on Japan, American scientists successfully tested a secret weapon at a desert site in New Mexico. In 1944, President Roosevelt had authorized the Manhattan Project, an attempt to use nuclear energy to create a super bomb. More than 100,000 Americans worked on the project. Though many of the scientists involved urged him not to do so, President Truman ordered that a bomb be dropped on Japan. Foremost in Truman’s mind were the thousands of American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of the Japanese mainland. On August 6, 1945, an Air Force pilot dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a Japanese city that had been largely spared war damage. The bomb leveled the city in an instant. Three days later after the Japanese government refused to surrender, the United States dropped a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki. There is much debate over the number of casualties, but somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were killed by the bombs and their after-effects. It is, of course, impossible to know how many Allied and Japanese soldiers and civilians would have died in a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland. The enormous killing power of the atomic bomb, however, shook the world. Fear of atomic warfare was a central feature of American life in the post-war decades. We’ll pick up that story in our next module. On August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II.
second lecture video:
It was World War II that finally pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. The war increased economic prosperity, increased labor union membership, and smoothed the way for a closer relationship between the federal government and private defense contractors– A relationship that would later come to be known as the military industrial complex. To mobilize for war, the Roosevelt administration increased federal spending to unprecedented levels. War orders fueled economic growth, productivity, and employment. The gross national product nearly doubled during the war– from $91 billion to $168 billion. During the same period, unemployment dropped from eight million to one million. Wartime prosperity spread to all areas of the country. The industrial Northeast and the Midwest boomed as automobile factories converted to building tanks and military vehicles. Farmers in the South grew food for the United States military and its allies. At the same time, World War II saw the rise of heavy industry in the South. The federal government spent $4 billion in wartime contracts in the South, supporting military bases, factories, and ports. Thousands of share-croppers and rural laborers made their way to Southern cities for these wartime jobs, increasing the urbanization of the region. On the west coast, aircraft plants and shipbuilding yards boomed. While populations jumped due to the presence of military forces massed at bases on the Pacific, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle all saw enormous population growth during World War II. In order to streamline and centralize war production, Roosevelt established the War Production Board to oversee the economy. The agency allied with big business to fill wartime needs, and Roosevelt hired business executives to oversee government agencies for the token pay of $1 per year. In the first three years of the war, the United States increased military production by 800%. At their peak productivity, US plants built a ship a day and an airplane every five minutes. By 1945, the United States had produced 86,000 tanks, 300,000 planes, 15 million guns, and 6,500 ships. The demand for wartime production, combined with the departure of millions of workers to the military, created a labor shortage that gave labor unions increased leverage. By 1945, membership in unions had grown from nine million to 14 million. In 1942, the Roosevelt administration established the National War Labor Board, which regulated wages, hours, and working conditions during the war. Significantly, the war also opened important opportunities for women in the paid workforce. By 1944, some six million women were at work across the United States. Women moved from their employment in traditionally female occupations, such as clerical and sales jobs, taking jobs in heavy industry during the war. The overall number of women in industry grew 140%. For industries that were directly involved in producing goods for the war effort, the total number of women employed increased by 463%. Employers targeted potential female employees with gender-specific advertising. So one billboard during a war proclaimed, quote, if you’ve sewed on buttons, you can learn to do spot welding on airplane parts. Another advertisement claims that a giant overhead crane in a factory was, quote, just like a gigantic clothes ringer. It was not just where women worked, but which women worked that shifted during World War II. For the first time, married women outnumbered single women in the workforce. However, there were limits. Married women with children still found it enormously difficult to get work. The government and most industries declined to provide childcare. Women regularly received lower pay for the same work. Women were usually denied the potential for advancement and promotion. And many contracts stipulated that female jobs would expire at the war’s end. For the most part then, women who took war jobs were viewed as a temporary experience due to wartime emergency. As the war drew to a close, women were widely expected to return home and pre-war patterns of gender and domesticity to take hold. As in World War I, the federal government set up an agency– the Office of War Information– to promote patriotism and urge Americans to contribute to the war effort. School-children collected scrap metal and rubber to donate to the production of military vehicles and weapons. Families planted victory gardens to grow vegetables for domestic consumption and contributed to the war effort by adhering to restrictions on the consumption of certain consumer goods, rationing cards, restricted purchases of gasoline, meat, butter, and sugar during the war. Hollywood also did its part during the war effort. Wartime films portrayed the heroism of American and allied soldiers. Comedians and entertainers performed for soldiers or took part in bond drives to pay for the war effort. The Walt Disney Company produced a number of wartime propaganda cartoons featuring characters like Donald Duck conserving rubber or fighting against the Japanese. Due to the booming wartime economy in the United States and to their physical distance from the battlefront, the war experience in the United States contrasted sharply with what Europeans experienced. In Britain, for instance, personal food consumption fell 22% during the war. In the Soviet Union, it fell 66%. In the United States, however, few went hungry as the wartime economic growth finally snaps the nation out of its long depression.
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