The Descent into War
December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. There were brutal fatalities to the American naval fleet that shook the country and President Franklin Roosevelt then devoted the country’s forces to the allied cause of World War II. With tensions from World War I still enveloping Europe, it was only a matter of time before war broke out again. An economically unstable Germany sought salvation in allying with Italy and Japan and put their hope in their rising leader Adolf Hitler. With a renewed sense of nationalism, Germany took action in invading Poland which thus drove Great Britain and France to declare war, igniting the second World War. With our forced involvement on the cause, an American’s everyday life was quickly drastically altered (History). Through the country’s new priorities and roles required of each individual citizen, the home front of America during WWII was developed.
The immediate reaction of the Pearl Harbor attack was panic throughout the nation. There were sudden fears of assaults among the actual mainland, especially the Pacific coast. The people of the country thus quickly accepted the need of sacrifice for victory. The government asked of the people to conserve food, but this proved to not be enough (American). A rationing program was put in place to limit the needs of the people. They were given ration stamps that would then determine the amount of food, gas, or clothing they could purchase. Without a stamp, most items couldn’t be legally bought and to avoid stolen stamps or hoarding, ration books were warranted.
All of this in turn helped provide for the war effort, allowing for the frontlines to be provided with enough supplies. It was important for every family to cut back on meats, sugar, canned foods, and coffee (World). Recycling became another important duty of the American citizen. The construction of gas masks, rafts, and airplanes for the war required immense amounts of rubber, but with the Japanese as our enemies, our direct source of this rubber, the country had to turn to their own homes in order to provide (World).
With our sudden entrance into the war, there was also an exceeding need for soldiers. A draft was thus passed in 1940 being the first peacetime draft in US history (RESEARCH). The primary requirements were to serve a full year in the armed forces. “By the end of the war in 1945, 50 million men between eighteen and forty-five had registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted in the military,”(RESEARCH).
Women in the Workforce
With so many men leaving to join the war, the country was left with a high need for workers. It was vital to now start manufacturing large quantities of rifles, airplanes, tanks, warships and other armaments and as a result of so many men forced to leave their jobs, women took their places as valuable American workers. It was a time of great change as the jobs these women were taking, such as becoming welders, electricians, and riveters, were previously strictly for men. The percentage of women in the workforce steadily rose from 27% to nearly 37% by 1945 (History). The most iconic image of women factory workers became Rosie the Riveter, the star of a government campaign aimed at recruiting women. It displayed “Rosie,” a woman clad in work gear with the quote “We Can Do It!” promoting women's involvement. This campaign was posted throughout the US during this era and served great influence in stressing the patriotic need for women in the workforce (History).
For the US, being at war meant sending troops away, while those left behind worked to keep the country running. Though across the seas, other countries were forced to bear the war in their backyards, quite literally. Farms became battlefields across Europe and as a result, a food crisis’ swept the continent. The US turned their attention to this and it became their priority to help feed the starving people. The National War Garden Commission was established, encouraging the American people to start planting “victory gardens” (History). Their crops produced could then be exported to our Allies. Propaganda was widely spread to use all available uncultivated land to start these gardens and amateurs could even be provided with helpful pamphlets. The cause was so widely accepted that it was then promoted to start canning and drying the goods produced. Although promoted for the soldiers and Allied people of the war, these victory gardens also proved useful in providing for those on the American homefront during their time of strict rationing. They were allowed to put aside food grown for winter and the canning options taught how to produce at home. Both exempted the rationing limits so citizens could try and live more normally as they did before. “Soldiers of the Soil” was a common promotion and by the war’s end, about 15 million families had planted their own victory garden (History). Though the cause died with the war, this movement provided the home front not only with aid in the food shortages, but a powerful wave of patriotism.
About two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the most controversial acts during the war was recognised through the signing of the law Executive Order 9066. This order established the removal of all Americans of Japanese descent from their homes and communities along the west coast (History). They were to be imprisoned at designated camps around the country where they were not allowed to leave the poor conditions they were forced to live in. America felt this was the efficient way to be especially cautious after the Japanese attacked. Their initial panic is what stemmed their unnecessary beliefs of disloyalty of those merely connected to the attackers by ancestry and its noteworthy this law did not extend to Hawaii whose population was one-third Japanese, or to those of German or Italian descent, the ethnicities of our enemies. Although the conditions of these camps couldn’t quite compare to those of mass extinction established on the other side of the world during the same time, the people were still forced to live in very cruel conditions. There were “nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans” relocated to these camps, regardless of loyalty or citizenship (History). Forced to leave homes and establishments behind, these individuals lost essentially everything. Young Japanese-American men were still allowed to fight in the war though, despite their family’s imprisonment. This was the US Army’s 100th battalion, and by the war’s end, was the most decorated combat unit. The last camp didn’t close until 1946, and the people were thus allowed back to the west coast. Though it wasn’t until 1988 that these thousands of families affected would receive any compensation (History).
As WWII progressed, the American government sought ways to persuade and inform the public. Propaganda was not only used to sway the public opinion in support of the war, but to turn Americans against the enemy. Posters, being inexpensive and accessible, were widely used to promote this. They promoted various of things among the home front, such as the victory gardens, rationing, and the need for working women. War bonds were a popular promotion, persuading citizens to pay the debt securities to finance military operations. There was a clear message that the factory and the home were also battlefields (The World). The government expertly incorporated posters to guide the American economy into an all out war production. The Office of War Information was later established to control the content of these war messages, addressing complaints about designs. To provoke fear and disgust into America, posters were made of the enemies, giving them a cruel appearance. This in turn would get more citizens on board of the war effort. A lot of times, Germans were portrayed as ruthless Huns or brutes, emphasizing how out of control they were, and our need to stop them. The overall purpose of them was simply motivation for patriotic duty (The World).