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Chapter 22
Fighting for the Four Freedoms: World War II,
Fighting World War II
Good Neighbors
Facing economic crisis in the 1930s, international affairs garnered little public attention. But FDR innovated in
foreign and domestic policy. In 1933, trying to encourage trade, he recognized the Soviet Union. Roosevelt also
repudiated the right to intervene with military force in the internal affairs of Latin American nations, called the Good
Neighbor policy. The United States withdrew troops from Haiti and Nicaragua and accepted Cuba’s repeal of the
Platt Amendment, which had authorized U.S. intervention in that nation. But Roosevelt, like previous presidents,
recognized undemocratic governments like that of Somoza in Nicaragua, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and
Batista in Cuba.
Yet events in Asia and Europe quickly took center stage, as international order and the rule of law seemed to
disintegrate. In 1931, seeking to expand its power in Asia, Japan invaded Manchuria, a northern province in China.
In 1937, it pushed further, committing a massacre of 300,000 Chinese prisoners of war and civilians at Nanjing. In
Europe, Hitler, after consolidating his rule within Germany, launched a campaign to dominate the continent. He
violated the Versailles Treaty by pursuing a massive rearmament and, in 1936, by sending troops into the
Rhineland, a demilitarized zone between France and Germany. The failure of Britain, France, and the United
States to oppose Hitler’s aggression convinced him that these democracies would not resist his aggressions.
Benito Mussolini, the father of fascism in Italy, invaded and conquered Ethiopia. When General Francisco Franco
in 1936 mounted a rebellion against the democratically elected government of Spain, Hitler and Mussolini sent
men and arms to support him. In 1939, Franco won and established another fascist government in Europe. Hitler
annexed Austria and Sudetenland, a German area of Czechoslovakia, and soon thereafter invaded and annexed
all of that nation, too.
The Road to War
Roosevelt became more and more alarmed by Hitler’s actions in Germany and Europe, but in 1937 called only for
a quarantine of aggressors. Roosevelt had little choice but to follow the “appeasement” policy of France and
Britain, who hoped that agreeing to Hitler’s demands could prevent war. In 1938, British prime minister Neville
Chamberlain returned from the Munich conference of 1938, which awarded the Sudetenland to Hitler, promising
“peace in our time.”
Fighting World War II
The threat posed by Germany and Japan seemed distant to most Americans, and Hitler, in fact, had many
admirers in America, from those who praised his anti-communism to businessmen who profited from business with
the Nazis, such as Henry Ford. Trade also continued with Japan, including shipments of American trucks, aircraft,
and oil, which amounted to 80 percent of Japan’s oil supply. Many Americans now believed American involvement
in World War I had been a mistake and benefitted only international bankers and arms producers. Pacifism
attracted supporters across America, from small towns to college campuses. Americans of German and Italian
descent also sympathized with fascist governments in their homelands, and Irish-Americans remained staunchly
anti-British. Isolationism dominated Congress, which in 1935 started enacting a series of Neutrality Acts banning
travel on belligerent ships and arms shipment to warring nations. These were intended to prevent the United
States from becoming embroiled in these conflicts by demanding freedom of the seas, just as it had in World War
I. Even though the Spanish Civil War saw a democratic republic fighting a fascist dictator, the United States and
other governments imposed an arms embargo on both sides, effectively allowing Germany and Italy to help
Franco overwhelm Spanish government forces.
War in Europe
At Munich in 1938, Britain and France capitulated to Hitler’s aggression. In 1939, the Soviet Union proposed an
international agreement to oppose further German demands for territory, but Britain and France, distrusting Stalin
and seeing Germany as a fortress that would check communist power in Europe, declined. Stalin soon signed a
non-aggression pact with Hitler, his former enemy. Hitler immediately invaded Poland. Britain and France, allied
with Poland, now declared war on Germany. Within a year, the Nazi blitzkrieg (lightning war) overran Poland and
much of Scandinavia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. By June, 1940, German troops occupied Paris. Hitler now
dominated Europe and North Africa, and in September 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan formally created a military
alliance known as the Axis.
For one year, Britain, led by a resolute prime minister, Winston Churchill, alone resisted Germany, heroically
defending its skies from German planes and bombers in the Battle of Britain. The Germans’ bombs devastated
London and other cities with massive, but the German air campaign was eventually repulsed
Fighting World War II
Toward Intervention
Though Roosevelt considered Hitler a direct threat to the United States, most Americans simply wanted to avoid
war. After fierce debate, Congress in 1940 approved plans for military rearmament and agreed to sell arms to
Britain on a “cash and carry” basis—Britain would pay in cash for arms and transport them in British ships. But
Roosevelt, mindful of the presidential election, went no further. Opponents of American intervention mobilized, and
included such prominent individuals as Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, and Charles A. Lindbergh. In that 1940
election, Roosevelt broke precedent by running for a third presidential term. He faced Republican candidate
Wendell Wilkie, a Wall Street businessman, lawyer, and amateur politician. Little differentiated the two, as both
supported the first peacetime draft law, passed in September 1940, and New Deal social legislation. FDR won the
election by a decisive margin.
In 1941, the United States became closer to the nations fighting Germany and Japan and Roosevelt declared
America would be a “great arsenal of democracy.” With Britain close to bankruptcy, Roosevelt had Congress pass
the Lend-Lease Act allowing military aid to countries who promised to repay it after the war.
Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, Japanese plans launched a surprise attack from aircraft carriers bombed the U.S. naval
base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The assault killed more than 2,000 American soldiers and destroyed much of the
base and the U.S. Pacific Fleet—except for crucial U.S. aircraft carriers, which helped win critical subsequent
victories. Roosevelt, calling December 7 a “date which will live in infamy,” asked Congress to declare war on
Japan, which it did nearly unanimously. The next day Germany, in turn, declared war on America and the United
States had finally entered the largest war in history.
Fighting World War II
The War in the Pacific
Although in retrospect it seems that America’s robust industrial capacity assured its victory over the Axis, success
was not sudden. The United States initially experienced a series of military disasters and watched Japan take
more territory in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including Guam, the Philippines (capturing tens of thousands of
U.S. troops, thousands of whom died on the way to and within prisoner camps), and other Pacific islands. But the
tide of the war changed in the late spring of 1942, with American naval victories at Coral Sea and Midway Island.
These successes allowed the United States to begin a step-by-step “island-hopping” campaign to reclaim vital and
strategic territories in the Pacific.
In November 1942, British and American forces invaded North Africa and, by May 1943, forced the surrender of
German forces there. By this time, the Allies had also gained an advantage in the fight in the Atlantic Ocean
against German submarines. While Roosevelt wanted to liberate Europe, most American troops stayed in the
Pacific. In July 1943, American and British forces invaded Sicily and began the liberation of Italy, whose
government, led by Mussolini, was overthrown by popular revolt. Fighting continued against German forces there
throughout 1944.
The War in Europe
America’s fight in Europe began on June 6, 1944—D-Day. On this date, nearly 200,000 American, British and
Canadian soldiers led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower invaded Normandy in northern France. More than a
million troops soon followed them, in the largest sea-land operation in history. The Germans resisted but retreated,
and by August, Paris had been liberated. The most significant clashes, however, took place on the eastern front,
where millions of Germans and Soviet troops faced each other in very costly battles, and particularly at Stalingrad,
where a German siege ended in a German surrender to the Soviets, a decisive defeat for Hitler. Other Russian
victories marked the end of Hitler’s advance and the beginning of the end of the Nazi empire in eastern Europe. A
full 10 million of Germany’s nearly 14 million casualties were inflicted on the eastern front, and millions of Poles
and Russians, many of them civilians, perished.
Map 22.1 World War II in the Pacific, 1941-1945
Give Me Liberty!: An American history, 3rd Edition
Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
The Home Front
Mobilizing for War
Within the United States, the war transformed the role of the federal
government. Roosevelt established new wartime agencies such as the War
Production Board, War Manpower Commission, and Office of Price
Administration to control labor distribution, shipping, manufacturing quotas,
and fix wages, prices, and rents. The number of federal workers rose from 1
million to 4 million, and unemployment, at a rate of 14 percent in 1940,
virtually disappeared by 1943. The government built housing for war
workers and forced civilian companies to produce material for the war effort.
Auto plants now made trucks, tanks, and jeeps for the army. The gross
national product more than doubled to $214 billion during the war, and
federal wartime spending equaled twice the amount spent in in all previous
150 years. The government sold millions in war bonds, hiked taxes, and
starting taking income tax from Americans’ paychecks. By 1945, the number
of Americans paying taxes increased
The Home Front
Business and the War
Ties between corporations and the federal government grew much closer during World War II. With business
executives taking key positions in federal agencies supervising war industries, Roosevelt gave incentives to
increase production. Most federal spending went to the largest companies, which sped up a long-term trend
toward economic concentration, and by the war’s end, the 200 biggest industrial firms represented nearly half of all
corporate assets in the nation. Wartime production was gargantuan in scale and shocking in its intensity, not only
making military equipment by the millions, but also leading to inventions such as radar, jet engines, and early
computers. The war helped restore the reputation of big business that the Depression had tarnished. Federal
funds restored old manufacturing areas and fostered new ones—on the West Coast in places like southern
California, home to steel and aircraft production, and in the South, where out-migration and military-related
factories and shipyards shifted employment from agriculture to industry. This raised the South’s incomes but did
not end its deep poverty, sparse urbanization, or undeveloped economy, which still depended on agriculture,
extractive industries (mining, lumber, oil) or manufacturing linked to agriculture, such as cotton textiles.
Organized labor saw the war as a struggle for freedom that would expand economic and political democracy at
home and secure its influence in politics and industry. During the war, unions were part of a three-sided
arrangement with government and business that allowed union membership to rise to unprecedented numbers. To
win industrial peace and stabilize war production, the federal government forced resistant employers to recognize
unions. In turn, union leaders promised not to strike and recognized employers’ right to “managerial prerogatives”
and “fair profits.”
Labor in Wartime
By the war’s end, unions were entrenched in many economic sectors and nearly 15 million workers—a third of the
non-farm labor workforce—were union members, the highest proportion in U.S. history. But labor was a less
powerful partner in the war than business or government. The New Deal’s decline continued during the war, and
Congress became thoroughly dominated by a conservative alliance between Republicans and southern
Democrats, who retained Social Security but ended programs allegedly controlled by leftists, such as the Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). Many workers protested demanding
wartime conditions and the freeze on wages, imposed by the government even while corporate profits soared.
Map 22.3 War Time Army and Navy Bases and Airfields
Give Me Liberty!: An American history, 3rd Edition
Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
Table 22.1 Labor Union Membership
Give Me Liberty!: An American history, 3rd Edition
Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
The Home Front
Fighting for the Four Freedoms
World War II came to be remembered as the Good War, in which the nation united behind noble
aims. But all wars need the mobilization of public opinion, and freedom was a prominent theme in
efforts to “sell” the war. Roosevelt believed the Four Freedoms represented essential American
values that could be universalized across the globe. Freedom from fear meant a desire not only
for peace, but for long-term security in a chaotic world. The importance of freedom of speech and
religion seemed self-evident, but their prominence emphasized the new significance of First
Amendment protections of free expression. During the war, the Supreme Court’s judges,
contrasting American constitutional liberty with Nazi tyranny, upheld the rights of religious
minorities to refuse to salute the American flag in public schools, in contrast to the coercive
patriotism of World War I.
Freedom from Want
Freedom from want seemed the most ambiguous of the Four Freedoms. Through FDR first used it
to refer to eliminating barriers to trade, he soon linked this freedom to guaranteeing a standard of
living for American workers and farmers by preventing a return of the Depression. FDR argued
this would bring “real freedom for the common man.”
The Home Front
The Office of War Information
The Office of War Information (OWI), established in 1942 to foster public support for the war,
shows how political divisions created by the New Deal shaped efforts to promote the Four
Freedoms. Liberal staff at the OWI tried to portray the war as a “people’s fight for freedom” against
fascism and tyranny, giving it an ideological meaning while trying to avoid nationalist hysteria.
Images of America standing for liberty in a world overrun by tyranny and slavery recalled the
American Revolution and emancipation during the Civil War, but critics charged that FDR was
promoting freedoms as realized in New Deal social programs, not just American values. Congress
cut most of its funding.
The Fifth Freedom
With the OWI’s demise, mobilizing public opinion fell to private advertising firms that urged
Americans to buy war bonds and take other patriotic actions. These advertising firms, which sold
manufactured goods for big business, worked with the National Association of Manufacturers and
other companies to suggest that Roosevelt had missed a fifth freedom—“free enterprise.” Their
message about the benefits of capitalism was reinforced by a new explosion of mass consumer
goods that became available during the war, despite rationing. Advocates of free enterprise told
Americans to expect postwar abundance if government controls over the economy were removed.
The Home Front
Women at War
War mobilization sparked an unprecedented growth in women’s employment to fill industrial jobs
left by men. Government and private ads celebrated the independent women worker with images
like Rosie the Riveter, the female industrial labor painted by Norman Rockwell as a muscle-bound
and self-reliant woman. With 15 million men in the military, women in 1944 were one-third of the
civilian workforce, and 350,000 women served in auxiliary military units. Women filled industrial,
professional, and government jobs previously barred to them, such as aircraft manufacturing and
shipbuilding, and they forced some unions like the United Auto Workers to confront issues like
equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, and childcare. Many women who had a “taste of
freedom” working men’s jobs for male wages hoped to remain in the workforce after the war.
Women at Work
Yet government, employers, and unions saw women’s work as only a temporary wartime
necessity. Though ads told women working in factories that they were “fighting for freedom,” their
language promoted victory, not women’s rights or independence. After the war, most women war
workers, especially those in high-paying industrial positions, lost their jobs to men. Indeed, war
ads informed Americans that their work would help secure the “American way of life” after the
war—traditional families, with the women at home and men at work, enjoying household
appliances and consumer goods.
Visions of Postwar Freedom
Toward an American Century
Dreams of postwar prosperity united New Dealers and conservatives, business and labor, and they were promoted by two of
the most famous roadmaps for the postwar world. The American Century, published by magazine magnate Henry Luce in
1941 to mobilize Americans for an imminent war, asked Americans to prepare “to become the dominant power in the world,”
and distribute to “all peoples” their “magnificent industrial products” and “great American ideals,” particularly their “love of
freedom.” Luce believed that American power and values would secure unprecedented prosperity and abundance, all
created by “free economic enterprise.” The idea that America had a mission to spread democracy and freedom had its
origins in the American Revolution, but this idea traditionally saw America as an example to be emulated, not an active agent
imposing an American system on others.
To some left critics, Luce’s appeal seemed a call for American empire. Henry Wallace, a liberal New Dealer, former
secretary of agriculture for FDR, and FDR’s vice-president beginning in 1940, responded with “The Price of Free World
Victory,” an address in May 1942. Wallace anticipated that Allied victory would establish a “century of the common man” and
that the “march of freedom” would continue after the conflict. Wallace argued the globe would be governed by international
cooperation, not any single power, and governments would “humanize” capitalism and redistribute economic resources to
end hunger, illiteracy, and poverty. Luce and Wallace defined freedom differently. Luce envisioned a world of free enterprise,
while Wallace sought a global New Deal. But they also both believed America should intervene in the world by spreading
abundance and posing a model to other nations, and they ignored other nations’ visions of the postwar world.
“The Way of Life of Free Men”
While Congress dismantled parts of the New Deal, liberal Democrats and their left-wing allies planned for a postwar
economy that would enable all Americans to enjoy freedom from want. In 1942 and 1943, the National Resources Planning
Board (NPRB) outlined a peacetime economy based on full employment, a larger welfare state, and an American standard of
living. Emphasizing economic security and full employment, the NPRB called for a “new bill of rights” that would include all
Americans in Social Security and guarantee education, health care, adequate housing, and employment. Liberal New
Dealers, labor, farmer and civil rights groups, and churches welcomed the NPRB’s plan, whose promise of full employment
and fair income distribution seemed to one liberal magazine to represent “the way of life of free men.” The reports showed
that liberals were moving away from trying to reform capitalism to attaining full employment, social welfare, and mass
consumption without much direct government intervention in the economy. They were influenced by John Maynard Keynes,
who argued government spending best fostered economic growth. Although war production had ended the Depression in a
kind of military Keynesianism, the NPRB proposed a continuation of Keynesianism in the postwar period. An increasingly
conservative Congress opposed the NPRB plan and cut the agency’s funding.
Visions of Postwar Freedom
An Economic Bill of Rights
In 1944, FDR, who knew that most Americans wanted a guarantee of employment after the war, called for an
“Economic Bill of Rights.” While the original Bill of Rights limited government power to secure liberty, this
expanded government power to secure full employment, a minimum income, medical care, education, and decent
housing for all Americans. FDR declared that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and
independence.” But his replacement of vice-president Henry Wallace by Henry Truman of Missouri suggested that
he did not want to confront Congress over social policy, and Congress never enacted the Economic Bill of Rights.
In 1944, Congress did enact the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, or GI Bill, which extended to millions of returning
veterans benefits such as unemployment, educational scholarships, low-cost mortgages, pensions, and job
training. The GI Bill greatly shaped postwar America. It prevented postwar economic disruptions and sparked a
boom in education and housing which led to massive suburbanization. But Congress went no further. A proposed
Full Employment bill that would have been a “GI Bill” for non-veterans, guaranteeing employment and requiring the
federal government to increase spending if the economy itself did not produce full employment, was watered down
before it passed in 1946 and did not require full employment.
The Road to Serfdom
The bill’s failure confirmed the political stalemate initiated in the 1938 elections and marked the return of
respectability for the idea that economic planning endangered freedom. In 1944, Friedrich A. Hayek, an Austrianborn economist, published The Road to Serfdom, in which he argued that government planning threatened
individual liberty and “leads to dictatorship.” When war production seemed to have restored capitalism and fascism
showed the dangers of combining economic and political power, Hayek’s book gave a new justification to
opponents of the activists state. Hayek claimed that no person or set of experts could ever know enough to
intelligently direct a complex, modern economy, and that the free market’s scattered and partial knowledge more
effectively ran economic life. While Hayek accepted some social policies such as minimum wage and maximum
hour laws and a social safety net that guaranteed minimal citizen welfare and opposed traditional conservatism’s
love of authority, he helped establish modern conservatism by equating fascism, socialism, and the New Deal and
associating economic planning with a loss of freedom.
The American Dilemma
• Patriotic Assimilation
World War II changed Americans’ vision of themselves as a people. The fight against the Nazi
empire and its theory of a master race discredited ethnic and racial inequalities. The cultural
pluralism of ethnic and racial minorities in the 1920s and the Popular Front in the 1930s was now
promoted by the government. It argued that the United States differed from its enemies in its
commitment to the principle that Americans of all races, religions, and national origins could enjoy
the Four Freedoms. Racism was the doctrine of the enemy, while Americanism meant tolerating
diversity and equality. By the war’s end, the new immigrants had been accepted as loyal “ethnic”
Americans, rather than members of “inferior races.”
World War II brought the new immigrants and their children together with other Americans,
drawing millions from urban ethnic neighborhoods and rural areas and mixing them in factories
and the military. This “patriotic assimilation” was a stark contrast to the coercive Americanism of
World War I, in which the Wilson administration made Anglo-Saxonism a cultural norm. Roosevelt
embraced cultural pluralism as a basis of harmony in a diverse society, and the government
promoted Americanism as equality, in opposition to Nazi intolerance. Public officials rewrote the
past to define American identity as free or racial or ancestral considerations. Repulsed by Nazi
ideas of inborn racial differences, biological and social scientists discarded the belief that race,
culture, and intelligence were linked. Even Hollywood depicted soldiers as a motley force of men
from diverse regional, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who placed national loyalty above other
identities. Bigotry certainly remained part of American life; anti-Semitism still contributed to the
government’s refusal to offer refuge to more than a handful of European Jews escaping the Nazis.
But the war made millions of ethnic Americans feel fully American for the first time.
The American Dilemma
The Bracero Program
The war had a less definite meaning for non-white groups. Before Pearl Harbor, racial barriers
were still intact. Southern blacks were confined by segregation, and Asians could not emigrate to
the United States or become naturalized citizens. Mexican-Americans had been deported during
the Depression, and most American Indians still lived in deep poverty on reservations. But the war
started changes that would impact the postwar period. Under the bracero program launched in
1942, tens of thousands of contract laborers migrated from Mexico to the United States to work as
domestic and agricultural workers. The program, designed as a temporary war measure, lasted
until 1964, and brought a total of 4.5 million Mexican workers into the country. The braceros were
assured decent housing and wages, were not citizens, and could be deported at any time. The
war also offered opportunities to second-generation Mexican-Americans to move and find work,
and contributed to the making of a new “Chicano” culture that fused Mexican heritage and
American experience.
Mexican-American Rights
Yet, the “zoot-suit” riots of 1943, in which sailors and police attacked Mexican-American youths
wearing flashy clothing in Los Angeles, showed the extent of wartime tolerance. But the contrast
between discrimination and wartime rhetoric of freedom and pluralism inspired civil rights activism
among Mexican-Americans, such as protests against employment discrimination. Roughly half a
million Mexican-American men and women served in the military. Even Texas, which long
discriminated against Mexicans, passed a “Caucasian Race-Equal Privileges” resolution
recognizing Mexicans as white (but saying little of non-whites).
The American Dilemma
Indians during the War
The war also drew into the nation’s mainstream many American Indians, thousands of whom served in the army,
left the reservations for war work (not all of whom returned), and took advantage of GI Bill benefits. In contrast,
Asian-Americans’ experience was a paradox. More than 50,000 children of immigrants from China, Japan, Korea,
and the Philippines fought in the army, mostly in all-Asian units. With China as an ally, Congress in 1943 ended
exclusion and established a very small quota for Chinese immigration. But many Chinese moved out of ethnic
ghettos to work alongside whites in war industry.
Asian-Americans in Wartime
Japanese-Americans had a very different experience. While many Americans viewed the war in Europe as an
ideological conflict with Nazism, Americans and Japanese viewed the Pacific war as a racial war. Japan’s
propaganda portrayed America as contaminated with ethnic and racial diversity, as opposed to the racially “pure”
Japanese, while the attacks at Pearl Harbor stirred long-standing anti-Asian prejudice. Government propaganda
depicted the Japanese as animalistic and subhuman and blamed Japan’s aggression on racial or national
characteristics. Most Japanese-Americans in the mainland United States worked on farms in California, and while
one-third were first generation immigrants, the majority were nisei—American-born citizens, many of whom spoke
only English and had never been to Japan. Though the government mobilized German- and Italian-Americans in
the war effort and arrested few of the non-naturalized among them, it viewed every person of Japanese ethnicity
as a potential enemy.
Japanese-American Internment
The military, facing an explosion of anti-Asian sentiment and fearing an invasion, persuaded Roosevelt to issue an
order in early 1942 that expelled all persons of Japanese descent from the West Coast. 110,000 men, women,
and children—two-thirds of whom were American citizens—were removed to internment camps far from home,
where they were confined in an environment of military discipline and surveillance. Internment demonstrated how
easily war erodes basic civil liberties. No court hearings, due process, or writs of habeus corpus challenged the
internment, which was supported almost universally by the press, the Congress, and public opinion. The Supreme
Court upheld the policy, arguing that an order applying only to Japanese was not based on race. Yet internees
were asked to buy war bonds, sign loyalty oaths, and consent to being drafted into the army.
Map 22.4 Japanese- Americans
Give Me Liberty!: An American history, 3rd Edition
Copyright © 2011 W.W. Norton & Company
The American Dilemma
Blacks and the War
In contrast to the treatment of Japanese-Americans, wartime rhetoric of freedom helped spark
significant changes in the status of blacks. While Roosevelt denounced theories of racial mastery,
Nazi Germany cited American segregation to support its own policies. Yet segregation and racial
violence persisted. The war stimulated a massive migration of blacks from the rural South to cities
in the North and West, but they faced intense hostility, especially in Detroit, where a 1943 fight led
to a race riot that killed thirty-four people and led to a “hate strike” of white workers against black
employment at a war production plant. Lynching continued unabated.
Blacks and Military Service
Nevertheless, more than 1 million blacks served in the armed forces in segregated units, limited
mostly to construction, transportation, and other non-combat duties. Many northern black draftees
were sent to the South for military training, where they resented the discrimination they faced and
the better treatment given to German prisoners of war. When southern black veterans sought the
benefits of the GI bill, they faced discrimination that sharply limited their access. While the GI Bill
did not discriminate in its health, college tuition, job training, or other benefits, local administrators
in the South curtailed, eliminated, or segregated these benefits to blacks’ disadvantage.
The American Dilemma
Birth of the Civil Rights Movement
The modern civil rights movement was born during the war. Resentful of the nearly complete
exclusion of African-Americans from jobs in the booming war industries, black labor leader A.
Philip Randolph in July 1941 called for a March on Washington to demand defense jobs, an end
to segregation, and an anti-lynching law. Randolph, who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car
Porters and fought the racism of unions and employers, criticized Roosevelt’s inaction by using
FDR’s rhetoric, declaring racial discrimination “undemocratic, un-American, and pro-Hitler.” The
march idea alarmed Washington officials, and to prevent it, Roosevelt issued an executive order
that banned discrimination in defense jobs and created a Fair Employment Practices Commission
(FEPC) to track compliance. Armed only with investigative powers, the FEPC could not enforce
the anti-discrimination order. But its creation signaled an important shift in public policy. The
FEPC was the first agency since Reconstruction to fight for equal opportunity for blacks, and it
helped obtain jobs for black workers in industrial factories and shipyards. By 1944, more than 1
million blacks worked in manufacturing.
The Double-V
During the war, the NAACP’s membership rose from 50,000 to 500,000. The Congress of Racial
Equality, founded in 1942 by an interracial group of pacifists, held sit-ins in northern cities to
integrate restaurants and theaters. In early 1942, the Pittsburgh Courier used the phrase that
embodied black attitudes during the war—the “double-V.” Victory over Germany and Japan, it
argued, must be accompanied by victory over segregation in America. Black newspapers and
black critics identified the gap between the Roosevelt administrations’ celebration of American
ideals and the reality of race.
The American Dilemma
What the Negro Wants
• During the war, a left-based but broad coalition called for an end to
racial inequality in America. African-American and Jewish groups
campaigned against discrimination in employment and housing.
Despite resistance from many white workers, CIO unions, especially
those influenced by leftists and communists, tried to organized black
workers and win skilled positions for them. Although AFL unions
continued to discriminate, CIO unions were far more racially
• Progress Comes Slowly
The American Dilemma
An American Dilemma
The new interest in the status of black Americans was evident in An American Dilemma,
published in 1944 and written by Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal. While his book depicted
an America deeply affected by racism in law, politics, economics, and social behavior, Myrdal also
showed appreciation for what he termed “the American Creed”—a belief in equality, justice, equal
opportunity, and freedom. He argued that the war exposed to Americans more than ever the
distance between this Creed and racial inequality. By urging the federal government to follow
American principles by banning racial discrimination, Myrdal established the liberal position on
race relations in postwar America. By 1945, racial justice was integrated in a liberal-left agenda
that sought full employment, civil liberties, and a larger welfare state. Many liberals now
demanded anti-lynching laws, an end to segregated schools and housing, and the expansion of
Social Security programs to cover agricultural and domestic workers.
Black Internationalism
The internationalism of black radicals in the early nineteenth century was revived in the early
twentieth century, partly in reaction to a new global rule of white supremacy across national lines.
Garveyism, and the meeting of five Pan-African Congresses between 1919 and 1945 that brought
together black intellectuals from across the world to denounce colonialism in Africa, helped foster
this new global consciousness. Black American leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson
met future leaders of African independence movements, such as Kwame Nkrumah, in trips
abroad. Together they identified the struggles of black Americans with black freedom struggles
throughout the world. They argued that racism had started in the slave trade and slavery and
persisted in colonialism. Freeing Africa from colonial rule, they thought, would foster freedom in
The End of the War
• “The Most Terrible Weapon”
In early 1945, Allied triumph seemed inevitable. Hitler momentarily pushed the Allies back in
France with a surprise counterattack that created a huge bulge in Allied lines. Though the Battle of
the Bulge was the largest single battle ever fought by the U.S. Army and inflicted 70,000 American
casualties, the German assault failed, and by March, American troops had crossed into Germany.
Hitler killed himself, Soviet troops took Berlin, and on May 8, V-E Day (Victory in Europe), the war
against Germany ended. U.S. forces in the Pacific moved closer to Japan after retaking Guam
and the Philippines in 1944 and a decisive naval victory at Leyte Gulf.
In the 1944 presidential election, Roosevelt defeated Thomas E. Dewey, Republican governor of
New York, and won an unprecedented fourth term. But FDR died on April 12, 1945, before the
Allies secured victory. His successor, Harry S. Truman, immediately faced an extraordinary
decision—whether to use the atomic bomb against Japan. Truman, not knowing about the
weapon project before becoming president, was told by the secretary of war that the United States
had built “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history.” The bomb was the product of
Einstein’s theory of relativity, which led scientists to use uranium, or man-made plutonium, to
create an atomic reaction that could generate enormous power, which could be used for peaceful
purposes or to generate a colossal explosion. Fleeing Germany for the United States, Einstein
warned Roosevelt that the Nazis were trying to build an atomic weapon and urged Roosevelt to
do the same. FDR launched the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program in which scientists
during the war developed an atomic bomb, which was first tested in New Mexico in July 1945.
The End of the War
The Dawn of the Atomic Age
On August 6, 1945, a U.S. plane dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. It virtually destroyed the entire
city and killed 70,000 immediately (140,000 more died from radiation by the end of 1945, and thousands more died
in the next five years). Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki that killed 70,000.
The same day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. Japan quickly surrendered. The
catastrophic number of civilian casualties caused by the bombs have ever since made them controversial.
Japanese forces fiercely resisted America’s advance in the Pacific, and Truman’s advisors warned him that an
American invasion of Japan may cost the lives of 250,000 or more American troops. But the United States did not
plan to invade until 1946, and there were signs that Japan was close to surrender. Japan indicated that it would
surrender if Emperor Hirohito retained his throne, but this did not meet Allied demands for unconditional surrender
(in the end, the Allies let him stay). Some scientists who developed the atomic bomb asked Truman to use it just to
show its power to other nations. Truman never hesitated to employ it.
The Nature of the War
The use of the atomic bomb represented a logical endpoint to the way in which World War II was fought, namely,
at great cost to civilian life. Compared to World War I, in which 90 percent of deaths were military personnel, in
World War II 20 million of the 50 million who died were civilians. The Nazi regime had systematically killed its
enemies, including millions of Jews, and bombed London and other cities. The Allies in turn bombed German cities
such as Dresden, where 100,000 civilians perished. In March 1945, nearly the same number died in the U.S.
bombing of Tokyo. Although the war and government propaganda led many Americans to dehumanize the
Japanese and few criticized Truman’s use of the bomb, public criticism aroused by images of civilian suffering
The End of the War
• Planning the Postwar World
During the conflict, meetings between Allied leaders outlined the architecture of international relations in the
postwar period. Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met in Iran in 1942 and at Yalta in the Soviet Union in 1945 to
develop agreements. The last “Big Three” conference occurred at Potsdam, outside Berlin, in July 1945 and
involved Stalin, Truman, and Churchill. There Allied leaders created a military administration for Germany and
agreed to try Nazi officials for war crimes. None of the three great Allied powers entirely trusted each other, and
each vied for geostrategic advantage. The Allies’ decision to delay the invasion of Europe cost many Russian lives
on the eastern front and incited Soviet resentment, but their sacrifice persuaded Britain and the United States to
allow the Soviet Union to dominate eastern Europe.
At Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill barely protested Stalin’s plans to control areas of eastern Europe that had been
part of the Russian empire before World War I. Stalin agreed to enter the war on Japan later in 1945, include noncommunists in the pro-Soviet Polish government, and allow free elections there. But Stalin intended to make
eastern Europe communist, and soon the Allies disagreed over the region’s fate.
Yalta and Bretton Woods
Churchill also resisted U.S. pressure to move toward national independence for India and other British colonies,
and he made separate, private deals with Stalin to split southern and eastern Europe into separate spheres of
influence. Britain also fought American efforts to control the postwar global economy. Delegations from forty-five
nations that met at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in July 1945 replaced the British pound with the U.S. dollar as
the main currency for international exchange. During the Depression, FDR took the United States off the gold
standard, but Bretton Woods again forged a link between the dollar and gold and set other national currencies at a
fixed rate in relation to the U.S. dollar. The meeting also created two U.S.-dominated financial institutions. The
World Bank would provide money to developing nations and help rebuild Europe, and the International Monetary
Fund would prevent government from devaluing their currencies for trade advantages. Bretton Woods created the
structure of the postwar global capitalist economy that made goods and investment more free and recognized
American dominance of world finance. American leaders asserted that free trade would encourage world
economic growth, an assumption that continued to govern U.S. foreign policy.
The End of the War
• The United Nations
In 1944, near Washington, D.C., the Allies also founded a successor organization to the League of Nations. The
new United Nations (UN) would consist of a General Assembly of nations where each member nation had an
equal voice and a Security Council tasked with maintaining world peace and security. The Security Council had six
rotating members and five permanent ones—Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States, each
with the power to veto resolutions. In June 1945, fifty-one countries meeting in San Francisco adopted the UN
Charter, which outlawed force or its threat as a means for settling international disputes, and the next month,
Congress endorsed it.
The war radically redistributed world power. The major military powers of Japan and German were defeated.
Britain and France were weakened. While only America and the Soviet Union could still project their own power on
the international stage, the United States essentially became the dominant nation in the world. But international
harmony did not follow the peace. Soviet occupation of eastern Europe soon helped spark the Cold War, and the
atomic bombs inspired much fear across the globe.
Peace, but Not Harmony
Allied rhetoric of freedom was not always followed in postwar policy. In 1941, Winston Churchill and FDR issued
the Atlantic Charter, which assured that Nazi Germany’s defeat would be followed by free trade, self-government
for all nations, and a global New Deal. It specifically embraced freedom from want and freedom from fear, but left
out the other two of the Four Freedoms in deference to British colonial rule in India, where Britons preferred not to
grant freedom of speech and worship. The Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter were intended to solidify world
opposition to the Axis powers. But it also laid the foundation of human rights and inspired colonized peoples to
adopt the language and ideals of freedom and national self-determination and use them in their struggles against
the victorious Allied countries—causing more conflict and war in the future
Additional Art for Chapter 22
One of the patriotic war posters issued by the Office of War
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A draft of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech of 1941
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The immensely popular Office of War
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This Hand Guides the Reich
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In a 1940 cartoon, war clouds engulf Europe
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A newsreel theater in New York’s Times
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Walt Disney’s program cover for the October 1941
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The battle shipsWest Virginia and Tennessee in flames
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Some of the 13,000 American troops forced
to surrender to the Japanese
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Members of the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard
taking part in an amphibious assault
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Ben Hurwitz, a soldier from New York City
who fought in North Africa
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Map 22.2 World War II in Europe, 1942-1945
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Prisoners at a German concentration camp
liberated by Allied troops in 1945.
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A list of jobs available in Detroit in July 1941
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M-5 tanks on the assembly line at a Detroit Cadillac plant
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In this recruitment poster for the Boy Scouts
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Patriotic Fan
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In this patriotic war poster issued by the Office
of War Information
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In this advertisement by the Liberty Motors and
Engineering Corporation
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A female lathe operator in a Texas plant that produced
transport planes.
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This print, part of the America in the War exhibition shown
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Unlike the lathe operator on the previous page, the woman
operating industrial
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Despite the new independence enjoyed by millions of women
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Ben Shahn’s poster, Our Friend, for the Congress
of Industrial Organizations’
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Arthur Poinier’s cartoon for the Detroit Free Press
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On the one-year anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack
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In this 1942 photograph by Dorothea Lange
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During World War II
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The segregated army: recruits training with their rifles
at the U.S. Marine
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This Is the Enemy, a 1942 poster by Victor Ancona and
Karl Koehler,
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This 1943 cartoon from the Chicago Defender
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World War II reinvigorated the movement for civil rights.
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Paul Robeson, the black actor, singer
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On August 10, 1945, the day after the detonation
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The Big Three—Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill—at
their first meeting,
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In this 1941 photograph, three boy scouts—Hispanic
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Norton Lecture Slides
Independent and Employee-Owned
This concludes the Norton Lecture Slides
Slide Set for Chapter 22
Give Me Liberty!
Eric Foner