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Domestic Changes in the United States during the Second World War

From 1939 to 1945, the scene of life on the homefront in the U.S. was drastically

altered, at least for the span of a few years, by the American presence in the bloodiest conflict in human history, World War II. However, it wasn’t until after December 1941–– when the United States entered the war as a combatant–– that the most important and profound domestic changes really began to take root on American home soil. The most significant changes in U.S. domestic life wrought by the war effort were the economic revitalization that resulted from ample new opportunities opening up in industry & employment for countless Americans, especially women. Yet at the same time, certain other socioeconomic status quo on the homefront, such as segregation and other persisting systemic racial inequities, remained relatively unchanged, in spite of the war.

The wartime economy that the Second World War suddenly created in the United States led to the creation of many new job opportunities–– but it also generated some surprising changes in the demographics of American workers who were called upon to occupy these jobs. After declaring war on Japan and the other Axis Powers in late 1941, industrial production output of the United States instantly was massively increased, with the newfound impetus to produce instantaneously stimulating an economy that had still been reeling from the Great Depression. However, a need for soldiers forced the hand of President Franklin Roosevelt, who instituted a large-scale military draft. Because such a large proportion of the working-age, able-bodied male population was drafted into the armed forces, American women were, for really the first time in the nation’s history, called into action to step up in the absence of men in the workplace. Many thousands of women in America took up the reins and handled a large chunk of the domestic labor & industrial sectors that had traditionally been jobs reserved for males, and as a result, women in the workplace played an essential part in helping the USA, and the Allies, to win the war. Many of the American women who contributed to aiding the wartime effort at home were evidently motivated by their perceived civic duty as ‘good American citizens’–– and the U.S. government clearly appealed to their patriotic sentiments in making posters like this one. This wasn’t the only sweeping change which occurred during this timespan. Geographical trends in population centers were impacted by the war effort in that thousands of Americans relocated to the West Coast & Pacific Northwest. The primary reason behind this trend was “the west coast’s industrial revolution”, wherein the region experienced a flourish in manufacturing military infrastructure–– spawning many industrial job opportunities out west.

But the unfortunate reality was, despite the wartime progressivism that, on the surface, brought noteworthy socioeconomic changes, such changes certainly did not apply to all Americans, especially those of color. More specifically, not only did several old policies & practices of racial discrimination persist through the war, but other new examples of racial injustice and violation of civil liberties also sprung up as a result of the war. Despite playing their part in fighting for their country just as well as any other ethnic group did, black Americans were in a dilemma, as they continued to face segregation both at home and while they served in the military itself. (Indeed, it wouldn’t be until the Korean War in the 1950s that the U.S. Armed Forces were finally ordered desegregated by President Truman, FDR’s successor.) This led many to express discontent with this hypocrisy and call for equal status for black soldiers and, by extension, blacks in general. Then there was the newly-created policy of forced Japanese internment that the federal government created out of concern for ‘national security.’ The rounding-up, eviction, and forced relocation of innocent Japanese American civilians to internment camps are in retrospect a blatant violation of basic civil liberties, yet this racist practice was okayed by President Roosevelt (via Exec. Order 9066) and then deemed constitutional by SCOTUS in the Korematsu case. Japanese internment, naturally, became the subject of much protest by Asian American citizens, especially over the terrible conditions experienced by interns in these camps; today it remains an ugly blot on the often-idealized World War II years in America. Ultimately, the injustices which continued to affect African Americans, Japanese Americans, and other ethnic minorities would at times call into question the moral values of democracy and freedom that the USA was ostensibly fighting for overseas, yet contradicted on their own home soil.

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