Thursday, October 28, 2010

How World War II Changed American Society

  I. A Tale of Two Soldiers

A. Born in Cairo, Georgia 1919, youngest of five children. Father abandons family while child is still an infant; mother moves her family shortly afterward across the country to Pasadena, California, where she buys two lots and works several part-time jobs to build houses on those lots

1. One of a very few African American families in Pasadena, and among the poorest in a relatively affluent area, this young man felt the sting of discrimination, and began a life-long battle against the racism he perceived in life.

2. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Pasadena Junior College, where he starred in four sports (football, basketball, baseball, and track), and quarterbacked the football team.

3. Graduating from PJC in 1939, he enrolled at nearby UCLA, where he became the first person to letter in four sports in the same year at that school. He was the 1940 NCAA long-jump champion, as well. Financial difficulties led him to drop out of UCLA just short of graduation, however. He played a short season of semi-professional football in Honolulu, Hawaii, returning to California just shortly before December 7, 1941.

4. Drafted into the Army in early 1942, this man applied, and was qualified to be placed in, Officer Candidate School (OCS). Although the description was written as race neutral, very few African Americans were accepted for positions; after the personal intervention of heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, several blacks were finally admitted to the school.

5. After receiving his commission, this soldier was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, to be trained as a tank commander. While boarding a bus with a fellow officer's wife after receiving treatment on an ankle he had broken years before--a bus the army itself ran as an unsegregated line--this officer was asked to move to the back of the bus. He refused, and when he reached his destination, military police were at his stop to arrest him. When he vehemently protested this treatment, he was threatened with court martial. When his commanding officer refused to press charges, this officer was transferred to another unit, where charges were brought.

6. At his court martial, the most serious charges were dropped, and he was found not guilty on the remaining insubordination charge. The delay caused by the court martial meant he did not ship out with his unit, however, the 761st Tank Battalion (known as the "Black Panthers"). He instead received an honorable discharge in November 1944, and shortly afterward began a professional baseball career.

B. Uncle Sam's Misguided Child--born in New York City in 1924 to an advertising executive and his fashion writer wife, this future Marine was thrown out of most of the better schools on the east coast, including eventually St. Leo's Prep in 1941; shortly after the war broke out, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

1. An avid hunter, he was assigned to the position of sniper, and took part in over 20 amphibious assaults in the Pacific. His last assault was the Battle of Saipan

where he was wounded in the buttocks--a wound he made light of for the rest of his life, but which severed his sciatic nerve, and meant he spent the rest of the war in a military hospital recovering. He received an honorable discharge, a Purple Heart--and a life-long aversion to war. While working as a plumber's helper at a theater in Woodstock, New York, he discovered a love of acting, and was able to make that his career.

II. The Home Front

A)    Centralized planning – 1941 was a banner production year for the auto industry, which was reluctant to abandon civilian production to make war material, and did so only under duress (and the promise of guaranteed profits of cost-plus contracts).

B)     “Dollar-a-year-men” – executives from the US firms who came to Washington to help the military plan the economy

1)      War Production Board – set prices and determined production

2)      Suspension of anti-trust laws – encouraged the formation of larger firms, which officials in the military believed would better meet their production criteria—and which made procurement easier.

3)      Construction of new factories – at the governments expense, or with low cost government loans (often, after the war, these factories that the government owned were sold to private industry for pennies on the dollar

4)      Cost-plus contracts

C)    War Labor Board – arbitrated labor-management disputes; set wage rates for all workers.  In return, labor officials promised to abide by a “no-strike” pledge, which individual workers supported, except when it involved their own grievances at work.

D)    Office of Price Administration – set price ceilings for almost all consumer goods.

E)     Selective Service – FDR administration followed the practice of Woodrow Wilson, and instituted a wide-ranging conscription program.

F)     War Manpower Commission – determined which workers work was vital to the war effort (which would prevent them from being drafted); also determined when a workers could change jobs.

G)    Concentration of the Economy

1)      Procurement system – fostered further concentration of the US economy; by the end of the war the top 100 companies held 70% of all civilian and military contracts, compared with 30% five years before.

2)      Industrial boom

(a)    By 1943 unemployment disappeared

(b)   Second Great Migration – whites and blacks leave the South for the Midwest and the West Coast, where most of the jobs created by this economic boom are to be found.

3)      Real income growth – 27% between 1939 to 1945

(a)    Redistribution of wealth – income of those at the bottom of the wage scale grew at a faster rate than the heavily taxed incomes at the top of the scale.

4)      Americanization push – although there were ugly, racist aspects of this new push toward Americanization, it was not anti-European immigrant; in fact, most propaganda celebrated the ethnic diversity of America.

H)    Rosie the Riveter – women began to move into industrial jobs in unprecedented numbers during the war years; although most were force to give up those positions at the end of the war, they fought hard to remain in those positions, and a significant number of women remained in the industrial workforce after the war.

1)      Male resistance – women who moved into these jobs faced tremendous amounts of resistance from the males who remained on these jobs (give examples of harassment)

2)      Working mothers – faced problems relating to the lack of childcare, and the related problem of the alleged juvenile delinquency that their neglect caused.

3)      Role of women in society – remained largely unchanged; many saw women in these kinds of positions as a temporary war expediency.

VI)             Conclusion – the pressure of  "war-time necessity" caused many of the programs to be implemented that the FDR administration had attempted to implement during the two phases of the New Deal; this is transformed in the period after the war to the "military-industrial-government complex" that a later president (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Allied Supreme Commander during the war) warned against in his farewell address in 1959.

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