World War II had drastically changed many countries all over the world, and the US was not an exception. The USA joined the allies in a war against the Axis powers in 1941 following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Despite more than four hundred thousand military casualties, the war brought many positive consequences for the state’s economy and domestic civil advancements. African Americans received an opportunity to join the army and change their life what incited the future civil rights movement. Moreover, American women got more freedom to choose what they wanted to do, and their roles became more comparable to what men had. This essay aims to present the main consequences of WW II to find out the reasons for such changes.
Opportunities for African Americans
African Americans faced the segregation approaches of civilian life during the war, as they were very often set aside from the draft by the predominately white conscription boards. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) put pressure on President Roosevelt, who ultimately promised to draft African Americans following their percentage in the total population. This percentage was never de facto achieved in the services during 1941-1945, but there was a drastic change to the number of African Americans serving in the military.
In 1945, more than one million Afro-Americans participated in military actions in Europe, the Pacific, and served on the home front, while back in 1941, only 4000 of them were a part of the US military forces (Kersten, 2002). The majority joined non-combat units dealing with service duties, such as supply and transportation. However, by 1945, the number of African Americans serving as pilots, medics, and officers increased due to military troop losses. About 2000 Afro-American troops were part of the First Army during the Normandy landings, while the all-black 761st Tank Battalion become famous for capturing 30 important towns in Belgium, France, and Germany. Moreover, “Tuskegee Airmen” are famous for their support missions for bomber crews over Southern Italy.
Although the Great Depression augmented the poverty of Black America, WW II brought African Americans some new opportunities to earn an equal place in politics and society. On the home front, Afro-American leaders strived to fight discrimination. For instance, in 1941, A. Phillip Randolph threatened to organize a March on Washington to protest discrimination in wartime employment (Winkler, 2012).
As a result, the Fair Employment Practice Committee was established, while Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense industries by issuing an executive order. It was a direct reflection of the Double V campaign, developed by the Afro-American press that urged to eliminate the disjuncture between fighting to end fascism abroad and failure to secure civil rights at home.
Moreover, the executive order resulted in more jobs available to African Americans and established federal support for integration and equity, but discrimination continued to exist. In general, the war and its aftermath handed many contradictions to Afro-Americans. They still were oppressed by the government and suffered from racial prejudice, whereas their social and economic positions advanced.
The Shift in Women’s Roles after WW II
WW II endorsed women to take over jobs that were never before available to them, especially in the defense industry. Between 1940-1945, more than six million women entered the workforce. It was the first time in US history when married working women outnumbered single ones (DuBois & Dumenil, 2018). Women received an opportunity to move into occupations previously perceived as exclusively male, such as the aircraft industry.
By 1945, the armed forces included approximately 350,000 female auxiliary servants who had their officers, uniforms, and even equal pay. American women who joined the military commonly worked as nurses, drivers, mechanics, chemists, engineers, and replaced men in other non-combat jobs. For instance, the Manhattan Project, dealing with the atomic bomb development, required thousands of females.
However, together with great opportunities, women faced severe challenges during wartime. It was difficult for them to combine maternity and work at the same time. There was an attempt from the US government and industry leaders to introduce childcare facilities under the Community Facilities Act in 1942; still, working mothers needed more centers to be satisfied (Kimble, 2000). Another issue was gender inequality in such male-dominated industries, thus, to mitigate this cultural resistance government applied a propaganda campaign focused on Rosie the Riveter, who was a tough worker but still looking her best.
In the postwar period, women experienced another change in their roles, as men returned from military service. American men expected that women would drop their jobs for their benefit. Nevertheless, the surveys taken in 1944 revealed that the majority of female workers (more than 70%) hoped to retain their factory jobs, instead of resuming homemaking (Corbett et al., 2016). According to DuBois and Dumenil (2018), three and a half million female workers quit the labor force during 1946.
People stereotypically perceived the 1950s as a homemaking period for American women. Nevertheless, women’s presence in the labor force returned to the war numbers relatively quickly. By 1960, it became a common practice for married women to work at least part-time, and about 38% of them were working outside the home (DuBois & Dumenil, 2018). They returned to the workforce because of economic necessity, satisfaction, and technological advancement.
The Aftermath of WW II and the American Economy
After the war, the United States accounted for 60% of industrial production, 2/3 of the gold reserve, and 1/3 of the export of the capitalist world (Corbett et al., 2016). 1946 was characterized as a “postwar boom,” although real GNP showed a 12% decline due to price control elimination (Henderson, 2010). The intensified US postwar economy enabled the country to conduct the rapid reorientation of its economy to produce peacetime goods. This transition was completed by 1947 due to the excellent organization of public administration, reconversion programs for the soldiers, and rapid growth in private consumption.
The post-war foreign economic policy was highly oriented on Western Europe to support the region and establish strong economic ties. On June 5, 1947, the government presented Marshall Plan what was a “program for the revival of Europe” after World War II. From 1948 to 1952, the countries of Western Europe received more than $ 17 billion from the US (Higgs, 2005). At the same time, American businesses profitably bought up some of the Western European enterprises.
The war in Korea (1950-1953) had a particular influence on the post-war American economy as the volume of industry working for military needs, together with the employment rate increased. The US invested more than 30 billion dollars in the industry, that is, more than during the entire World War II (Higgs, 2005). After the defeat of Democrats in the 1952 elections, the republican administration relied on monetary policy to regulate the economy in a way to overcome the 1953-1954 economic slump and the third post-war recession of 1957-1958.
The leading position of the United States in the world economy was undeniable during the first post-war decade. Still, the economic recovery of Western Europe and the industrial breakthrough in Japan have significantly changed this situation. In the second half of the 1950s, the technological revolution undoubtedly influenced the US economy. In the early 1960s, the government launched the program of J. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” based on the idea of deficit spending, which yielded positive results.
It can be concluded that the US underwent a smooth transformation from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy due to a change in government policy from a centrally planned approach to deregulated one. Although government spending and employment were drastically cut, the economy adjusted due to the increase in private goods and services. In general, WW II triggered the US’s phenomenal economic growth. The war eliminated the Great Depression’s negative repercussions the country still felt at the beginning of the war and returned the prosperity. The US ultimately used its war economy base to consolidate its position as the world’s most prosperous state.
The Impetus for the Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights movement arose in the 1950s and 1960s, and its goal was to struggle for equal rights for African Americans. Discrimination and prejudice had been plagued US society for centuries, but one can suggest that WW II became the main impetus for the fight. African Americans received many job opportunities during the war because of the shortage of white laborers, who entered the army. They joined unions, became a part of the workforce, acquiring new skills, and a higher salary.
Furthermore, more than one million Blacks served in the military units, but they still had been facing a high level of racism. It is peculiar that in the speech on the war purpose to help Europe fight against Nazis, Roosevelt mentioned four freedoms every human must enjoy. In reality, those freedoms were in danger at home as well, especially for Afro-Americans. Early mentioned march on Washington against segregation in the defense industry and military was a successful threat. It put race relations on the agenda and induced Roosevelt to prohibit discrimination and segregation for those who desire to work in defense industries (Winkler, 2012). Moreover, many African Americans returned from the war aware of domestic problems with civil rights and inspired to fight against it as they did with fascist regimes overseas.
During the war, many Afro-Americans were members of auxiliary units, but later they participated in different combat units. Nevertheless, American Blacks had been confronted with racism during off-duty hours and when they returned home. One of the most prominent examples of such incidents can be Jackie Robinson’s protest against segregation rules set in the bus at Ft. Hood (O’Brien, 2019). Many other incidents and events testified to the continual rise of discontent and civil activity among African Americans. Civil rights organizations were active in their legal campaigns against discrimination. At the same time, the Congress of Racial Equality supported some acts of civil disobedience. These all aspects consolidated Afro-American veterans to join the Civil Rights Movement after the wartime.
American Popular Culture after WW II
The aftermath of WW II was rather fruitful for the development of popular culture. The US was under conditions of economic prosperity, soldiers come back to join the workforce, and the government removed price control. All that contributed to the economic boom, which in turn triggered a change in the lifestyle of the American people. There was also a population boom, which added to increased demand for consumer goods. The victory inspired people, they enjoyed more leisure time, a higher salary, access to modern conveniences, and material goods. All that made them able to focus more on sports, art, vacations, and music.
The largest generation in the history of America, called baby boomers, in the 1950s and 1960s, were young adults and teenagers. All manufacturers and entertainment providers focused on them as the primary target group. This crop left a more developed generational consciousness for its descendants than any other, as they strived to redefine their own identities. Rock and roll, which is rooted in the blues, in the 1950s, became the most popular genre among teenagers due to such songs’ themes as freedom from the oppression of society and disobedience against adult authorities (Halliwell, 2007). The most important representatives of rock and roll were Alan Freed, Bill Haley and His Comets, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry.
Although Hollywood faced some challenges to adapt to postwar conditions, it became one of the drivers of pop culture of that time. In 1947, cinemas, owned by big companies, spot a record attendance of domestic audiences. However, in 1948 the US Supreme Court issued a decision to prohibit their total control of industry (production, distribution, and exhibition) because it was a violation of antitrust laws.
Cold War fears also influenced the industry, as the government accused eleven suspected “Communists of Hollywood” of communist ideology dissemination within the film industry (Corbett et al., 2016). The blacklist hereby expanded to more than three hundred musicians, actors, directors, and other artists. At that time, studios filmed a large number of horror movies and science fiction to appeal to young people.
Television also was an essential element of 1950s popular culture. Although TV shows and movies were designed to entertain the audience, they usually transmitted such values as patriotism, faith, and conformity to norms. By 1955, almost half of all households had television, while in 1948, there were only 178,000 TVs (Corbett et al., 2016). Channels expanded their programs with soap operas, game shows, talk shows, and police procedurals. Such comedies like “Father knows best” were intended to show an idealized image of a white family reinforcing specific American values.
To conclude, although the US lost many valiant soldiers, WW II outcomes had a predominantly positive influence on the postwar economy and social life. After the war, the US became the wealthiest state in the world, while adequate governmental regulations provided the smooth transition to a peacetime economy and maintained further economic development. The intensified economy contributed to the population boom and change in people’s lifestyles, which encouraged the fast development of pop culture. Increased Hollywood production, higher TV accessibility, and the spread of rock and roll became its main drivers.
In terms of civil advancements, World War II established a foothold for further civil rights development. African Americans contributed to the US victory serving with distinction on the battlefields and working in defense industries. They seized the opportunity to escape poverty, increase economic activity, and pave the way for further civil rights movements. The wartime civil advancements allowed African American leaders and organizations to continue their fight against discrimination.
Meanwhile, WW II empowered women to achieve professional opportunities, workplace mobility, and break some old-fashioned stereotypes about the traditionally female occupations. The main reason for the role change was the need to substitute the men who left their workplaces due to military service. Nevertheless, American women still received lower payments and were often fired because of pregnancy. World War II generally enriched the American economy, to some extent, empowered African Americans and women that set in motion the rapid development of pop culture and the civil rights movement.
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