Effect of WWII on Society
Wars of any scale always bring destruction, death, and suffering that affect lives of people involved directly and indirectly in them. Wars change people, families, and communities as well as transform societies and nations. The 6-year long bloody and disastrous Second World War reshaped the political map of the world and changed societies that participated in it. American society was not an exception, even though the U.S. cities had not been bombed and enemy soldiers had not set foot on American soil. Nevertheless, World War II had a profound effect on American society, and this effect will be discussed in this paper.
The U.S. entered the war when several European countries had been already occupied by Nazi Germany, and some countries fought desperately, trying not to allow Hitler’s army to capture them. Millions of American soldiers were sent to European and Pacific Theaters, and these soldiers required ammunition, weapons, and supplies, among others. America was their home front that supplied them and America’s allies with everything necessary for defeating the enemy. War effort saved America from the Great Depression, giving the economy a powerful boost, revitalizing the nation, and renewing its prosperity and belief in the future (Winkler 3).
American society felt the effect of World War II after the attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. People were in panic, fearing the enemy attacks on the mainland, especially the Pacific Coast. However, this panic and fear helped society accept the reality and necessity of doing everything possible to achieve victory even if sacrifices had to be made (“The U.S. Home Front During World War II”).
These sacrifices included rationing of everything that could be useful for the army because supplying the troops was the most important task for the wartime economy of the U.S. Rationing meant that people could purchase limited amounts of goods such as food, gasoline, and clothing. Each American family had a war ration book with war tokens and stamps. Rationing programs were developed in such a way that people had a choice of food purchases, and they could control what to purchase, but the amounts were limited. The most rationed food products were beef and sugar because of their high nutritional value. Moreover, sugar was used in the munitions industry for the production of smokeless powder (Hurt). As for beef, its shortage and rationing led to the emergence of the black market where people could purchase meat from the butchers who had evaded inspections of the Office of Price Administration (Crum). It should be noted that for the most part, Americans accepted the system of food rationing and adjusted their lifestyle to it. Cookbooks contained recipes that had been revised to fit the new reality of food shortages, and American women admitted that diets of their families and size of the meals did not suffer much from the rationing (Crum). However, many people complained that they had to reduce the amount of coffee they consumed or eat fewer products that contained sugar, for example.
Unlike food rationing, which did not significantly influence the quality of life for most people, rationing of the commodities like gasoline and rubber aroused the feeling of discomfort in the lives of many people. Raw rubber for America was purveyed from the Far East where Japan had seized plantations, taking control over the sources of rubber. American industry required rubber in great quantities, and Americans were encouraged to contribute all scrap rubber they had for recycling and using in the industry. Shortage of rubber caused rationing of tires, and in order to preserve tires from deterioration, speed limits had been imposed (Hurt). The same situation was with gasoline that was heavily rationed because it was needed for the military, especially for the production of aviation fuel. Moreover, people did not even receive equal amounts of gasoline. For example, those car owners whose work was essential for war effort received more gasoline than those for whom driving was a pleasure and not a necessity. Different window stickers were issued to different categories of drivers, and workers at gas stations knew how much gasoline they could sell to them.
Besides the necessity to ration food and commodities, American society felt other effects of the war that raged on the battlefields far away. The shortage of workforce at factories and plants caused by the fact that many male workers had participated in the war gave women, previously unemployed individuals as well as and representatives of minorities a chance to make a difference in their lives. For America, World War II was the time when women’s role in society began to change. Many women went to join the army, and by the final year of the war, “more than 250,000 women had joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Army Nurses Corps, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), the Navy Nurses Corps, the Marines, and the Coast Guard” (“Social Changes During the War”). At home, many American women abandoned their traditional roles of housewives and worked at the defense industry factories and plants. The same can be said about many African Americans and Mexicans who were also able to find employment, which was a difficult task to achieve during the years preceding the war.
The war caused demographic changes in America. There were great shifts in population as workers emigrated from rural areas to the industrial centers in search of work. In the South and the West, cities began to develop rapidly due to the influx of new people. In urban areas, where the population was diverse and people felt shortage of transportation and housing, racial tensions increased and turned violent sometimes (“Social Changes During the War”). Unfortunately, for the Americans of Japanese origin, wartime changes were negative. The reason is that almost 120,000 of them were relocated from the West Coast to the internment camps according to Executive Order 9066 (“The U.S. Home Front During World War II”).
During the war, everything that surrounded people reminded them of it. The government used a powerful propaganda machine to encourage people to give their full support to the war effort. Programs with war-related themes were shown to the moviegoers even if the films themselves had nothing to do with the war. Moreover, cartoons were used for propaganda purposes. For example, such characters as Duffy Duck and Donald Duck starred in the cartoons Duffy the Commando (1943) and Der Fuhrer’s Face (1943) respectively (“The U.S. Home Front During World War II”). Professional baseball was used in propaganda as well as it boosted the nation’s morale and served as the means of diversion from grim reality.
Perhaps, the most important effect of World War II on American society was the restoration of America’s self-confidence that had been lost during the Great Depression. Ironically, the war helped Americans realize that while their old society was gone during the Great Depression, they could have “a revived and refurbished version of the one they had known before” (Winkler 4).
From the above-mentioned information, the following conclusion can be reached. World War II influenced American society greatly. It gave a powerful boost to the economy and the sense of patriotism since Americans believed that they contributed to the war effort, limiting their consumption of many goods and doing everything they could to help the nation fight the enemy. The war changed the roles of women in society, giving them an opportunity to join the army and find their place beside home and family. African Americans and Mexicans were also able to improve their lives. Finally, Americans regained the belief in their society and their way of life.