United States in World War II Term Paper

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Minorities in World War II

World War II and Its Impact on Minorities in America

World War II was the most destructive war in human history, claiming the lives of at least fifty million people around the world. It crippled many more millions and cost nations astronomical amounts of property damage. World War II also has left a huge legacy as its impact on the domestic affairs of the countries involved was enormous. Though most history books focus on the war itself, this paper is an attempt to look at the war's impact on American society. Particularly, the focus of this paper is on the impact of World War II on minorities in America: Native Americans, Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, women, and other groups. It is hard to chronicle the impact of World War II on so many groups in such a short paper, so the focus will be on the major aspects of the war's impact on minorities. The main argument of the paper is that the impact was huge and led to positive consequences for minorities though in some cases the positive aspect of the impact was limited due to long-standing historical biases against minority groups in the United States.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on United States in World War II Assignment

World War II literally changed the United States social landscape forever. Mobilization for war changed Americans in ways far differently and radically than ever before. World War II "set families in motion, pulling them off the farms and out of small towns packing them into large urban areas. Urbanization had virtually stopped during the Depression, but the war saw the number of city dwellers leap from 46 to 53%" ("America at War"). The change in mobility affected the lives of minorities because they had to fill up the labor force required for running the war-time economy. Most of the American soldiers in World War II were white men. As they left their positions in the labor force -- as the war time economy required even greater labor force to ratchet up the defense industry -- the country's minorities were suddenly in demand. Many Native Americans went out of the reservation camps for the first time in their lives and began to work alongside other racial groups. African-Americans confined to sharecropping in the South moved to the North and towards the West in California where the Defense Department projects required more labor force. Women sitting at home had to start working to maintain their families in the absence of husbands and also help fill the labor force in such places as Detroit which from being a car maker turned into a producer of war vehicles.

Prior to World War II, African-Americans in the United States lived in a racial apartheid, especially in the South. The Great Depression had a double impact on African-Americans, as they had lost limited gains they had acquired by 1920s. Unemployment was high, many were poor sharecroppers, educational opportunities were few, and African-Americans in the South had extremely limited civil rights. When World War II broke out, there was also blatant discrimination in the defense industry. African-American civil rights advocates decided to challenge the discriminatory policies by demonstrating their loyalty to the United States in the war abroad and combating racism at home. In addition to fighting the Nazis abroad in a larger war, they had to conduct a sort of "a war within a war" at home (Black and Thompson).

African-Americans dubbed this struggle the "Double V," meaning that they would attain victory over fascism abroad and over racism at home (Takaki; Perry). Randolph Philip, one of the prominent African-American, leaders called for Franklin D. Roosevelt to end the discrimination or face the demonstration of a hundred thousand African-Americans in the Pennsylvania Avenue of Washington, D.C. Embarrassed by the prospect of such a scenario, Roosevelt issued an Executive Decision, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and creed in the defense industry. Roosevelt also set up the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC), which "exposed prejudice in the war industries and broke some racial barriers, processing over twelve thousand complaints of discrimination and settling nearly five thousand to its satisfaction. . . . The FEPC influenced the course of civil rights reform as it became a postwar model for city, state, and, federal efforts against employment discrimination" (Kersten 14). In other words, to meet the demands of the war, Roosevelt had to adjust to new realities of African-American life in the country.

On many levels the White population of the United States was not ready to grant African-Americans equal rights at the time. But as De Graaf explains, by looking at the case of the West Coast, "the war placed the American West at a crossroads with respect to minority groups. On one side were its historic practices of discrimination, often exercised toward Mexicans, Asians, and Indians as well as blacks. On the other wide would be wartime ideology and labor shortages, which, coupled with extensive migration of African-Americans, would challenge those practices and put blacks in the forefront of racial issues in the West (De Graaf 24). The American government and White employers had no choice but to choose to cater to some of the demands of African-Americans to succeed in war efforts. Those unwilling to face the new realities faced total bankruptcy. For example, Los Angeles aircraft plants had lost 20,000 employees by September 1942. An official working for the Lockheed Martin warned that by the end of the year the shortage of skilled workers could reach unacceptable levels. Under such circumstances, "discrimination against blacks declined. Training programs accepted them, the machinists' union ended its ban on them, and plants that had hired no blacks until late 1941 had over 1,000 each by 1943" (De Graaf 26). These changes had important implications for the future since it would be hard for White employers reluctant to hire blacks to return to the status quo after the war's end.

It should be noted that the inclusion of African-Americans into the labor force did not immediately turn into equal relationship between Whites and Blacks. Spickard explains: "Even when they got jobs, however, African-American workers generally were denied positions commensurate with their skill level, and they frequently received lower pay than white workers for the same work. They also found themselves on segregated work teams, often with white foremen" (73). But the labor and geographic changes that took place during World War II shook things up. When the war was over and white men returned from the front back to the workforce, many African-Americans again were left out. However, many Whites, upon witnessing the horrors of Nazi racist scientific experiments, wanted to distance America from them. They began to call for the end of racial inequality in America. They also appreciated heroism demonstrated by African-Americans during the war. At the same time, African-Americans who had experienced the war as soldiers abroad and at home were unwilling to return to pre-war status quo when white soldiers came back from the battlefield. Disillusioned with racist policies and segregation, they began to call for complete equality, leading to Civil Rights Movement. In 1954, President Eisenhower, a war hero himself, enforced desegregation in the South, while President Lyndon Johnson, a senator during the war who saw the bravery of many minority groups, welcomed the leader of the Civil Rights Movement Martin Luther King Jr. At the White House and passed a series of civil rights legislations. It is hard to imagine these changes taking place so soon without the impact of World War II.

If African-Americans struggled for double victory during the war, some ethnicities found themselves under double oppression. The Japanese-Americans had been discriminated against since the second half of the nineteenth century. But during the war, the Japanese-Americans were further discriminated against as potential subversives. With Roosevelt's approval, 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent, two-third of whom already possessed American citizenship, were removed from their homes and relocated at special "detention camps." The act was purely based on racism and war-time hysteria as there had never been a case of a single Japanese-American spying on behalf of Japan against America ("The Internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II"). This temporary oppression of the Japanese-Americans further shook the conscience of many Americans who accused the U.S. government of replicating Nazi Germany on American soil. Those who wanted to distance America from the Nazis and combat American racism condemned the internment of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. The internment of Japanese-Americans during the war, however, remains one of the most shameful blots in American history.

Japanese-Americans are not the only minority group who has been forcibly removed of their homes in American history. Native Americans have suffered similar fates during the nineteenth century, the Indian Removal being the most notorious. Given the history of horrific oppression of Native Americans, the Nazis even believed that American Indians would rebel against the U.S. Government rather that fight on its behalf. Radio Berlin cynically asked, "How could the Americans Indians think of bearing arms for its exploiters?"… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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