On the Home Front During World War Two
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
The United States entered the Second World War late in 1941 after a surprise attack by Japanese forces on Hawaii.
The time and the place of the attack was a surprise. But American military and political leaders had believed that the United States, sooner or later, would be pulled into the fighting. And they began to prepare for war.
President Franklin Roosevelt had been assistant aecretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War One. He remembered how American troops were not ready for that war. Now that he was president, Roosevelt wanted to be sure that the United States would be ready when it had to fight.
Throughout 1941, Roosevelt urged American industries to produce more arms and military goods. And he established new government agencies to work with private industry to increase arms production.
Some business leaders resisted Roosevelt's efforts. They felt there was no need to produce more arms while the United States was still at peace. But many others cooperated. And by the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the American economy was producing millions of guns and other weapons.
This still was not enough to fight a war. After the Japanese attack, Roosevelt increased his demands on American industry. He called for sixty thousand war planes, 45,000 tanks, and 20,000 anti-aircraft guns. And he wanted all these within one year.
One month after the Pearl Harbor raid, Roosevelt organized a special committee to direct this military production. He created another group to help companies find men and women for defense work. And he established a new office where the nation's best scientists and engineers could work together to design new weapons.
These new government organizations faced several problems. Sometimes factories produced too much of one product and not enough of another. Sometimes tools broke. And some business owners refused to accept government orders. But the weapons were produced. American troops soon had the guns and supplies they needed.
The federal government had to expand its own workforce rapidly to meet war needs. Federal spending increased from just 6,000 million dollars in 1940 to 89,000 million in 1944. This was a fifteen hundred percent increase in just five years.
In fact, total spending by the federal government during the war was twice as much as the government had spent since its beginning in 1787.
Roosevelt had to take strong steps to get the money for all this spending. He put limits on wages. He increased taxes to as high as ninety-four percent of pay. And he asked the American people to lend money to the federal government. The people answered with almost one hundred thousand million dollars.
The great increase in public spending raised the threat of economic inflation. There was much more money in the economy just at the time that factories were producing fewer goods for people to buy. More money and fewer goods usually makes prices rise rapidly.
Roosevelt was able to prevent this problem by using taxes and borrowing to reduce the amount of money that people had. But he also created a special office with the power to control prices. Many Americans agreed with the idea of price controls. But everyone wanted somebody else's prices controlled, not their own. Federal officials had to work hard to keep prices and supplies under control. They restricted how much meat and gasoline and other goods people could buy.
The price control program generally worked. Its success kept the American economy strong to support the troops fighting in Europe and Asia.
One reason these strong economic steps worked was because the American people fully supported the war effort. One can look at photographs of people of those times and see in their faces how strongly they felt.
In one photograph from the state of North Carolina, a group of men are standing in front of old rubber tires collected from automobiles. They are planning to give the tires to the Army to be fixed and used for army vehicles.
Another photo shows a woman visiting a hospital. She is singing a song to a soldier to lift his spirits.
Still another photo shows a man who owns a small food store. He is placing special signs on his meats and cans of food to tell people how much they are allowed to buy.
Radio cannot show the faces in the pictures. But you can get an idea about their feelings by the names of some of the popular songs of the period. One of the most famous was "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." Another was "He Is One-Aye in the Army, and He's One-Aye in My Heart." And one of the most hopeful songs was "When the Lights Go on Again All Over the World."
Not all Americans supported the war. A small number of persons refused to fight, because fighting violated their religious beliefs. And a few Americans supported the ideas of Hitler and other fascists. But almost everyone else supported the war effort. They wanted to win the war quickly and return to normal life.
Japanese-Americans felt the same way. Many of them served with honor in the military forces. But many Americans were suspicious of anyone whose family had come from Japan. They refused to trust even Japanese-American families who lived in the United States for more than a century.
Banks refused to lend money to Japanese-Americans. Stores would not sell to them. An American Army general, John Dewitt, spoke for many citizens when he said, "A Japanese is a Japanese. It makes no difference whether he is an American or not."
The federal government ordered all Japanese-Americans to live in restricted areas for the rest of the war. Only after the war ended did it release them. Years later, people agreed that Japanese-Americans had been badly treated.
Another American minority made progress during the war: black Americans. For years, black American citizens had been kept in low-paying jobs and poor living conditions. But black leaders spoke out to say it was unfair to fight a war for freedom in Europe while blacks at home were not as free as white citizens.
In 1941, black leader A. Philip Randolph threatened to lead a giant march on Washington for black rights. President Roosevelt reacted by issuing an order that made it a crime to deny blacks a chance for jobs in defense industries. He also ordered the armed forces to change some of their rules for blacks.
Blacks made progress in these government-controlled areas. But most private industries still refused to give them an equal chance.
Major progress for blacks would come in the years after the war, in the 1950s and 60s.
Life was busy during the war years with all the changes in the economy, business, music, race relations, and other areas. But in many ways, life continued as it always does.
Americans did what they could during the hard years of World War Two to keep life as normal as possible. But almost everyone understood that the first job was to support the troops overseas and win the war.
This strength of purpose at home gave American soldiers the support they needed. And it also helped President Roosevelt as he negotiated with other world leaders during the fighting. Diplomacy and foreign relations were extremely complex during the war. That will be our story next week.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators have been Harry Monroe and Jim Tedder. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.