After World War I, America returned to isolationism. When the nation entered World War II in 1941, its armed forces ranked nineteenth in might, behind the tiny European nation of Belgium. Three years later, the United States was producing 40 percent of the world’s arms.

Building the Military

What roles did minorities and women play in the armed forces during World War II?

Within days of Germany’s attack on Poland in 1939, President Roosevelt expanded the army to 227,000 soldiers. Before the spring of 1940, many Americans had opposed a peacetime draft. Opinions changed after France surrendered to Germany in June 1940. In September of that year, Congress approved the Selective Service and Training Act—a plan for the first peacetime draft in American history—by a wide margin.

The man responsible for taking the flood of recruits and building a large modern army capable of engaging the armed forces of Germany and Japan was General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. Army and Roosevelt's chief military advisor. Marshall would guide the largest expansion of the army in American history from fewer than 190,000 men at the time the war began in Europe in 1939 to over 8 million men by the war's end.

You’re in the Army Now

More than 60,000 men enlisted in the month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At first, the flood of recruits overwhelmed the army’s training facilities and equipment supplies. In 1940 the Department of Agriculture had transferred over 350,000 acres to the War Department. New bases such as the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, were built, and existing ones such as Eglin Air Force base were expanded. Many recruits lived in tents rather than barracks, carried sticks representing guns, and practiced maneuvers with trucks labeled “TANK.”

New recruits were given physical exams and injections against smallpox and typhoid. Then they were issued uniforms, boots, and available equipment, and sent to basic training for eight weeks. Trainees drilled and exercised constantly and learned how to work as a team. Basic training helped break down barriers between soldiers. Recruits came from all over the country, and training together created tight relationships among the troops.

When you hear new academic vocabulary words, be sure to use them to help build your understanding of them. This section uses the academic terms "draft," "coordinate" and "justify". Include these words in sentences you write and in discussions with your classmates.

A Segregated Military

Although basic training promoted unity, most recruits did not encounter Americans from every part of society. At the start of the war, the U.S. military was segregated. African Americans were organized into their own units, but white officers generally commanded them. Military leaders typically assigned them to construction and supply units.

Pushing for “Double V” Not all African Americans wanted to support the war. As one African American college student noted: “The Army jim-crows us. . . . Employers and labor unions shut us out. Lynchings continue. We are disenfranchised . . . [and] spat upon. What more could Hitler do to us than that?” Nevertheless, most agreed that they should support their country. One leading African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, launched the “Double V” campaign to urge readers to support the war to win a double victory over Hitler’s racism abroad and racism at home.

African Americans in Combat Under pressure from African American leaders, President Roosevelt ordered the armed services to recruit African Americans and to put them into combat. He also promoted Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the highest-ranking African American officer, to the rank of brigadier general.

In early 1941, the air force created its first African American unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, the pilots became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Commanded by Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the squadron helped win the Battle of Anzio in Italy. Three other Tuskegee squadrons protected American bombers as they flew to their targets. Known as the 332nd Fighter Group, these squadrons flew 200 such missions without losing a single member to enemy aircraft. Also, the African American 761st Tank Battalion was commended for service during the Battle of the Bulge.

Other Minorities in the Military Although Japanese Americans were not allowed to serve at first, as the war progressed second-generation Japanese Americans served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Almost half had been in internment camps in the Southwest. Together these units became the most decorated in the history of the United States military. Approximately 500,000 Hispanic Americans served in the armed forces despite racial hostility against them. By the end of the war, 17 Hispanic Americans had received the Medal of Honor.

About one-third of all able-bodied Native American men aged 18–50 served in the military during the war. More than 400 Navajo marines served as “code talkers,” relaying critical information and orders over field radios as spoken messages coded in their own language.

Of the half million Jewish Americans who served in the military, approximately 52,000 were decorated for bravery. Because so many European Jews died as a result of the Holocaust, American Jews took on increased leadership in the worldwide Jewish community.

Although the military did not end all segregation during the war, it did integrate military bases in 1943 and steadily expanded the role of African Americans within the armed forces. These successes paved the way for President Truman’s decision to fully integrate the military in 1948.

Women Join the Armed Forces

Women also joined the armed forces. The army enlisted them for the first time but barred them from combat. Many army jobs were administrative and clerical. Filling these jobs with women freed more men for combat.

Congress first allowed women in the military in May 1942 by creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). It appointed War Department official Oveta Culp Hobby as WAAC’s first director. Many women were unhappy that WAAC was not part of the regular army, however. About a year later, the army replaced the WAAC with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), and Hobby became a colonel.

The coast guard, navy, and marines followed suit and set up women’s units. Another 68,000 women served as nurses in the army and navy. About 300 women serving as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) made more than 12,000 flights to deliver planes to the war effort.

American Economy in Wartime


How did the U.S. government mobilize the economy for war?

Fighting a global war troubled President Roosevelt, but not British prime minister Winston Churchill, who knew that victory depended on industry. He compared the American economy to a gigantic boiler: “Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.”

Converting the Economy

War production increased rapidly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, helped by existing government plans to build thousands of warplanes and a “Two-Ocean” navy. Roosevelt believed that government and business had to work together to prepare for war. He created the National Defense Advisory Committee and asked business leaders to serve on the committee. The president and his advisers believed that giving industry incentives to produce goods quickly was the best way to rapidly mobilize the economy.

Normally, the government asked companies to bid on contracts to produce military equipment, a slow process. Instead, the government signed cost-plus contracts, agreeing to pay a company the cost to make a product plus a guaranteed percentage as profit. Under the cost-plus system, the more—and faster—a company produced, the more money it made. Although not cheap, the system got war materials produced quickly and in quantity. Cost-plus convinced many companies to convert to war production, and Congress authorized the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) to make loans to companies wanting to convert.

American Industry Gets the Job Done

By the fall of 1941, much had already been done to prepare the economy for war, but it was still only partially mobilized. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. By the summer of 1942, almost all major industries and some 200,000 companies had converted to war production. Together they made the nation’s wartime “miracle” possible.

Tanks Replace Cars The automobile industry was uniquely suited to mass-producing military goods. Automobile plants began making trucks, jeeps, and tanks. Mass production was critical because the country that could move troops and supplies most quickly usually won the battle.

Automobile factories produced rifles, helmets, artillery, and dozens of other pieces of military equipment along with vehicles. Henry Ford created an assembly line near Detroit for the enormous B-24 “Liberator” bomber. The factory went on to build more than 8,600 aircraft. Overall, the auto industry made nearly one-third of all wartime military equipment.

Building Liberty Ships Ford’s remarkable achievement in aircraft production was more than matched by Henry Kaiser’s shipyards. German submarines were sinking American cargo ships at a terrifying rate. The United States had to find a way to build cargo ships as quickly as possible. Kaiser’s method emphasized speed and results. Instead of building an entire ship in one place from the keel up, parts were prefabricated and brought to the shipyard for assembly.

Kaiser’s shipyards built many kinds of ships, but they were best known for basic cargo ships called Liberty ships. When the war began, it took 244 days to build the first Liberty ship. After Kaiser shipyards applied their mass-production techniques, average production time dropped to 41 days. Kaiser’s shipyards built 30 percent of all American ships constructed during the war.

As war production grew, controversies between business leaders, government agencies, and the military increased. President Roosevelt created the War Production Board (WPB) to direct priorities and production goals. Later he set up the Office of War Mobilization to settle disputes among the different agencies.

Life on the Home Front

 How did World War II change life for women and minorities in the United States?

The war dramatically changed American society. Unlike much of Europe and Asia, which experienced devastation, America benefited somewhat from the war. Mobilizing the economy finally ended the Great Depression, creating almost 19 million new jobs and nearly doubling the average family’s income. As an Ohio worker noted, “[O]ne of the important things that came out of World War II was the arrival of the working class at a new status level in this society. . . . The war integrated into the mainstream a whole chunk of society that had been living on the edge.”

The improvement in the economy did not come without cost. Families had to move to where the defense factories were located. Housing conditions were terrible. The pressures and prejudices of the era led to strikes, race riots, and rising juvenile delinquency. Goods were rationed and taxes were higher. Workers earned more money, but also worked longer hours.

When the war began, American defense factories wanted to hire white men. With so many men in the military, however, there simply were not enough white men to fill all of the jobs. Under pressure to produce, employers began to recruit women and minorities.

Women in Defense Plants

During the Great Depression, many people believed married women should not work outside the home, especially if they took jobs that could go to men trying to support their families. Most working women were young, single, and employed in traditional female jobs such as domestic work or teaching. The wartime labor shortage, however, forced factories to recruit married women for industrial jobs traditionally reserved for men.

Although the government hired nearly 4 million women, primarily for clerical jobs, the women working in the factories captured the public’s imagination. The great symbol of the campaign to hire women was “Rosie the Riveter,” a character from a popular song by the Four Vagabonds. The lyrics told of Rosie, who worked in a factory while her boyfriend served in the marines. Images of Rosie appeared on posters, in newspapers, and in magazines. Eventually 2.5 million women worked in shipyards, aircraft factories, and other manufacturing plants.

By the end of the war, the number of working women had increased from 12.9 million to 18.8 million. Although most women were laid off or left their jobs voluntarily after the war, their success permanently changed American attitudes about women in the workplace.

African Americans Demand War Work

Factories hired women, but they resisted hiring African Americans. Frustrated by the situation, A. Philip Randolph, the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters—a major union for African American railroad workers—decided to act. He informed President Roosevelt that he was organizing a march on Washington “in the interest of securing jobs . . . in the national defense and . . . integration into the . . . military and naval forces.”

On June 25, 1941, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which stated, “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin.” To enforce the order, he created the Fair Employment Practices Commission, the first federal civil rights agency since Reconstruction.

Mexican Farmworkers

The wartime economy also benefited Mexicans. In 1942 the federal government arranged for Mexican farmworkers to help harvest crops in the Southwest as part of the Bracero Program, which continued until 1964. More than 200,000 Mexicans came to work during the war. Many also helped build and maintain railroads. Migrant workers thus became important to the Southwest’s economic system.

A Nation on the Move


How did the wartime relocation of many Americans affect U.S. government and society?

The wartime economy created millions of new jobs, leading 15 million Americans to move to find work. The growth of southern California and cities in the Deep South created a new industrial region—the Sunbelt. Cities with war industries had to find room for the thousands of arriving workers. Tent cities and parks filled with tiny trailers sprang up. Congress authorized $150 million for housing in 1940. In 1942 Roosevelt created the National Housing Agency (NHA) to coordinate government housing programs.

Racism Leads to Violence

Many African Americans left the South for jobs in war factories in the North and West. However, African Americans often faced suspicion and intolerance. Racial violence erupted in Detroit on Sunday, June 20, 1943. Fighting between white and African American teens triggered a citywide riot that left 25 African Americans and 9 whites dead.

In Los Angeles, the fear of juvenile crime and racism against Mexican Americans became linked in the “zoot suit” riots. Popular with Mexican American teenagers, zoot suits had very baggy, pleated pants and an overstuffed, knee-length jacket with wide lapels. Most men, to conserve fabric for the war, wore a victory suit with no vest, no cuffs, a short jacket, and narrow lapels. In June 1943, after hearing rumors that zoot-suiters had attacked several sailors, some 2,500 soldiers and sailors attacked Mexican American neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Japanese, German, and Italian American Relocation

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, many Americans turned their anger against Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 allowing the War Department to declare any part of the United States a military zone and to remove people from that zone as needed. He must have felt justified four days later when a Japanese submarine surfaced north of Santa Barbara, California, and shelled an oil refinery. Most of the West Coast was declared a military zone, and people of Japanese ancestry were evacuated to 10 internment camps farther inland.

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan apologized to Japanese Americans on behalf of the U.S. government and signed legislation granting $20,000 to each surviving Japanese American who had been interned.

Thousands of people of German and Italian descent also had their freedom restricted. All unnaturalized residents of German and Italian descent aged 14 years or over were deemed enemy aliens and subject to regulations including travel restrictions and the seizure of personal property. More than 5,000 were arrested and sent to live in military internment camps.

Daily Life in Wartime


What steps did the government take to stabilize wages and prices?

Both wages and prices began to rise quickly during the war because of the high demand for workers and raw materials. Worried about inflation, Roosevelt created the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply (OPACS) and the Office of Economic Stabilization (OES) to regulate wages and certain prices. At the end of the war, prices had risen only about half as much as they had during World War I.

While OPACS and OES worked to control inflation, the War Labor Board (WLB) tried to prevent strikes. Most American unions issued a “no strike pledge,” instead asking the WLB to mediate wage disputes. By the end of the war, the WLB had helped settle more than 17,000 disputes.

Support and Sacrifices

High demand for raw materials and supplies created shortages. OPACS began rationing, or limiting the purchase of, many products to make sure enough were available for military use. Households picked up a book of rationing coupons every month for different kinds of food. When people bought food, they had to have enough coupon points to cover their purchases. Meat, sugar, fats, oils, processed foods, coffee, shoes, and gasoline were all rationed. Driving distances were restricted, and the speed limit was set at 35 miles per hour to save gas and rubber.

Americans also planted gardens in backyards, schoolyards, city parks, and empty lots to produce more food for the war effort. The government encouraged victory gardens by praising them in film reels, pamphlets, and official statements. The government organized scrap drives to collect rubber, tin, aluminum, and steel.

The federal government spent more than $300 billion during World War II—more money than it had spent from Washington’s administration to the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s second term. Congress raised taxes, although not as high as Roosevelt requested due to public opposition to large tax increases. As a result, the extra taxes collected covered only 45 percent of the war’s cost.

To make up the difference, the government issued war bonds. Buying bonds is a way to loan money to the government. In exchange for the money, the government promised to repay the bonds’ purchase price plus interest at some future date. Individual Americans demonstrated their patriotism and commitment to winning the war by buying nearly $50 billion worth of war bonds. Banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions bought the rest—more than $100 billion worth of bonds.

Despite the hardships, the overwhelming majority of Americans believed the war had to be fought. Although the war brought many changes to the United States, most Americans remained united behind one goal—winning the war.

Hollywood Goes to War

In 1942 President Roosevelt created the Office of War Information (OWI). The OWI’s role was to improve the public’s understanding of the war and to act as a liaison office with the various media. The OWI established detailed guidelines for filmmakers, including a set of questions to be considered before making a movie, such as, “Will this picture help win the war?”

Despite the hardships, the overwhelming majority of Americans believed the war had to be fought. Although the war brought many changes, most Americans united behind one goal—winning the war.

Broadened Perspectives
“Entrance into the Army in August, 1942, widened my horizons literally as well as experientially: for the first time I travelled beyond a 200 mile radius from Newark. I marveled at the flatness of the prairie in Illinois. . . . Stops at posts in Miami Beach, Florida, and Richmond, Virginia, were my introduction to the American South.”

—Carl Degler, from The History Teacher, vol. 23, 1990

The Value of Vehicles
“The greatest advantage . . . the United States has enjoyed on the ground in the fighting so far [was] . . . the jeep and the two-and-a-half-ton truck. These are the instruments which moved and supplied United States troops in battle, while the German Army . . . depended heavily on animal transport. . . . The United States, profiting from the mass production achievements of its automotive industry . . . had mobility that completely outclassed the enemy.”

—General George C. Marshall, chief of staff for the U.S. Army, quoted in Miracle of World War II

Thinking Like a HISTORIAN
Distinguishing Fact from Opinion
When In Defense of Internment: The Case for “Racial Profiling” in World War II and the War on Terror was published in 2004, many historians were outraged. Author Michelle Malkin supported the decision to put Japanese Americans in internment camps. The Historians’ Committee for Fairness said it was “contradicted by several decades of scholarly research.” Malkin wrote that Roosevelt had evidence that some spying was taking place on the West Coast, and that Roosevelt was protecting national security.

Reviewing Vocabulary



Using Your Notes

TEKS: 7G, 17A


Answering the Guiding Questions


TEKS: 7B, 17A

TEKS: 7G, 17A



TEKS: 7G, 17A

Writing Activity