The United States and World War II

De Baripedia

We will talk about the Americas during the Second World War and we will see that while the war enriched and destroyed Europe in particular, it enabled the Americas to emerge from the great depression economically and socially.

What we must also see is that this relative isolation of the American continent during the war allows the Americans to consolidate their imperialism in the Americas.

While some Latin American countries will maintain an illusion of autonomy, the post-war launch of the Cold War by the United States destroys social, political and economic gains.

U.S. Entry into World War II[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

A few points of reference[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The United States was economically and politically active in Latin America in the 1920s and 1930s. Together with Europe, it opted for a policy of neutrality throughout the decade following the crash.

Aerial view of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 that decided the United States' entry into the war.

The Japanese attack causes 2400 deaths, but does not really destroy the American base, however it acts as a detonator in the American public opinion. In the United States, the idea of war must be approved by the population in order to start a war.

It is not for nothing that this event can be linked to the event in Maine with the declaration of war against Spain for Cuba, or to the attack on the twin towers in New York where many Americans made the connection with Pearl Harbour.

On December 7, 1941, the vast majority of Americans wanted war against Japan; the United States immediately declared war on Japan and the Axis forces while the American Congress voted to mobilize all able-bodied men between the ages of 20 and 44.

American troops advancing in the water at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

During the first part of the war, the United States focused on the war in the Pacific, and in 1942 after overtaking Japan, Roosevelt's United States turned its attention to Europe, which was the priority.

Churchill decides to land on the coasts of France prematurely first in North Africa while the USSR pushes the Germans back to Stalingrad.

In July 1943 the allies landed in Sicily and made Mussolini surrender, the resistance was strengthened in France and in June 1944 it was the Normandy landings, 156,000 men landed, half of them Americans. This landing resulted in 10,000 casualties, including 1,500 Americans.

This was followed by the liberation of France, followed by deadly bombings of German cities and an occupation of Germany, which capitulated in May 1945 just one month after Roosevelt's death.

Japan still resists, but has lost most of its fleet. The United States under Truman's presidency wanted a quick end to the war and to limit American deaths. They first bomb Tokyo with napalm, test the atomic bomb in Mexico and launch two atomic bombs in August 1945 on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So far, only the United States has used it.

Overall assessment of the Second World War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is a war that causes between 40 and 50 million deaths throughout the world and especially in Europe, that is four times more than the First World War; the USSR pays the heaviest price with a loss of 10% of its population.

On the ground it is Europe that is the most affected and which was already the theatre and victim of the First World War.

American territory, the civilian population and infrastructure are not affected, but there are still 12 million American soldiers and marines taking part in the war. That is a significant figure for a population of 132 million, or 12% of the population, including 100,000 women.

There are 405,000 Americans dead and 670,000 wounded. It is not the deadliest war for the United States, the deadliest war was the Civil War of 1861-1865, in which 620,000 people died.

The United States during the War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

No institutional or political change, but an extraordinary economic boom[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Trois hommes en costume debout devant plusieurs personnes à l’arrière-plan
Joseph Staline, Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill in Potsdam in July 1945.

What is interesting to see is that the United States and the USSR are the only countries where there are not major institutional and political changes after the war and during the war. Roosevelt remained president until his death in April 1945, Truman replaced him and was elected in 1948 while in the USSR Stalin remained the sole leader.

Economically, the United States experienced a spectacular boom, due in part to the enormous amount of energy Americans put into producing during the war.

It is a much stronger boom than the 1920s and much stronger than the New Deal had allowed. It's with the war that the unemployment curve goes down, from 1938 - 1939 there's a decrease in unemployment.

This revival will mainly benefit the biggest and richest, just as was the case with the New Deal policy. It is a boom that favours the arms industry. It is also a boom that will accelerate the transformations of American society that had already begun since the 1920s.

This economic boom is accompanied by enormous internal migration. In the 1920s, out of 132 million Americans, or 15% of the population, moved internally to meet economic needs. This strong migration is of great benefit to California and it is notably through California that all the soldiers who are sent to Asia Pacific pass.

It is important to see this context of economic recovery and large migrations.

19 states, especially the central and rural states, are losing half of their inhabitants, the federal state declares the Selectif Service Act exempting farm workers from military service.

Increasing the role of the federal government[modifier | modifier le wikicode]


With all this war effort, we have an increased role for the federal state.

Just after Pearl Harbour, Roosevelt declares the War Production Board, which turns civilian production for military purposes; production is multiplied by 3.[8][9][10]

The federal government signs contracts with companies that guarantee the payment of production costs plus a surplus X; companies are guaranteed to earn this for a total of $175 billion; 2/3 of these contracts go to the hundred largest companies, including General Motors, which receives 8% of the contracts, in return ½ small companies have to close their doors because they can no longer access raw materials that are taken over by the large companies; there is a concentration of production that has already taken place in the last two decades.

With the universities, the federal state signs major research contracts with MIT, Harvard and the University of California, including a secret contract divided among a few universities for $4 billion to develop the atomic bomb. Einstein is rejected from the American project because he is considered "too peaceful" and "Zionist" to be judged "a man of confidence".

Increase in the number and influence of industrial workers and members of major unions (AFL, CIO)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The number of workers is growing in large companies and with the increase in workers comes the growth of unions, which see the number of members double during the war that will be the peak of unionization in the United States.

It is these unions that raise the money and the electorate that allows Roosevelt to be re-elected for his fourth term as president; it is the longest in U.S. history and since then Republicans have passed a law that allows a person to serve no more than two terms as president.

During this period, unions made enemies among Republicans and conservative Democrats who began dominating Congress in 1948, passing laws that limited workers' rights.

Growth of large mechanized farm businesses[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Farming is starting up again, but it is the large mechanised farming business financed by banks and insurance companies that is picking up the contracts. It is the big mechanized agriculture that wins this war at the expense of small family businesses, which explains, among other things, the great migration, especially of small farmers who can no longer manage to get by.

Multiplication of debt[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The federal government controls a large part of the economy and finance, in particular through bond issues.

Between 1941 and 1945, US debt increased fivefold to $260 billion.[12][13]

US federal debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP, from 1790 to 2013, projected to 2038.

The great transformations of American society during the war[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Industrial workers[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Industrial workers are generally doing quite well, prices are up 28% and wages are up 40%, there is a huge need to produce. Industrial workers are increasing their purchasing power, their economic and political power over society while the weight of small farmers continues to decrease.

Increasing the economic and social role of women with the war economy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In many nations women were encouraged to join female branches of the armed forces or participate in industrial or farm work.

The war has positive effects for many women, especially white women, but also African-American women. The economy needs women's paid work, 6 million women are joining the labour force while 60% of women work.

Women are no longer single women, but married women with children and older; they are no longer confined to the "female" professions, but have access to physical work as road workers, woodcutters, police officers, taxi drivers, etc.[14][15]

At the same time, 400,000 African-American women are leaving their domestic jobs to work in factories with better wages, greater autonomy and unionization.[16][17]

In the aeronautics industry, the number of women employed rose from 320,000 to 410,000. In a society where the laws of Victorian morality dominate the media and public opinion stop mocking women workers to support their benefit to the population.

However, we are a long way from equality between men and women, for equal work a woman earns 65% of a man's salary. There are practically no crèches or canteens to bring up women with children, for example.

It is a great change of mentality that is taking place, women are becoming more autonomous, women whose husbands are at the front, the return will require a lot of adjustment and will be very complicated, because many men would like to return to the situation before they leave for war.

A turning point for African-Americans[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 332nd Fighter Group attends a briefing in Italy in 1945.

The war is a real turning point, because they are participating fully in the national effort. One million of them are mobilized in the army and the navy. At the same time, more than a million of the segregated southerners leave the countryside to go either to northern cities like Chicago or to the east like Washington to work in the war industry.

These people experience new conditions and stay in touch with the blacks who remain in the rural south. Their migration is often very poorly received by the population; the U.S. military is still segregated with African Americans billeted in separate regiments, but they can become pilots and move up the ranks while many distinguish themselves and receive medals.

The fact that there is racial segregation in the U.S. military becomes very embarrassing for the image of the United States as a defender of civilization and democracy in the face of Axis forces. They make a crusade against fascism and Nazism while in their army there is segregation.

African-Americans are asked to be patriotic, but they cannot vote. The Nazi propaganda will use these contradictions to force Congress to pass the Soldier Voting Act[18] which allows soldiers in the armed forces to vote as well as black Southerners participating in the war effort.

In 1944, the War Department banned segregation in army transport and recreation facilities. These legal changes did not prevent many attacks against black soldiers in the army and in the southern states.

There were also tensions in the North and East where there was immigration of blacks; they joined unions and there were riots, particularly in Detroit in 1943, which resulted in 34 deaths between whites and blacks. However, many changes were made.[19][20]

All this shows the changes that took place during the war and which will spread with great force afterwards; at the same time, there is the development of trade unionism, especially for the black soldiers of the South, the experience of the war and the welcome they will receive in France as liberators will give them a new pride and the strength to take up the fight again in the face of the strong reaction of the whites of the South.

Braceros Agreement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

For Mexican Americans, the years of war in the United States do not bring great hope for change.

During the Great Depression there was the mass deportation of Mexican workers forced to return to Mexico.

During the war there is a need for migrant workers for agriculture. Roosevelt agreed to the arrival of dozens of seasonal Mexican workers called "braceros" to work in agriculture, but others found work in the shipyards of the West.[21][22][23][24][25][26]

They are victims of segregation, race riots and lynchings; unlike African-Americans, they are ill-prepared to respond.

Internment in Japanese-American concentration camps[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The ethnic group that suffered the most during the war were the Japanese Americans. In 1940, there were about 130,000 of them, mainly along the Pacific coast, and they were small fruit and vegetable growers; they had always been victims of racism, especially when migration from Asia was banned.

After Pearl Harbour, there are no more limits, the population thinks that simply because of their race they are internal enemies even if some of them serve in the American troops.

In 1941 Roosevelt ordered the internment of all first and second generation Japanese in concentration camps in the middle of the desert in Arizona and Texas.[27][28] At the same time, the government seized their land and property to the value of $500 million.

It is a story that has recently resurfaced and the federal government acknowledged its mistake in 1989 in compensating survivors.[29]

Conclusion[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In conclusion, the war brings the United States out of the Great Depression, but does not resolve its internal contradictions; the small ones get smaller and smaller and the big ones get bigger and bigger.

Certain ethnic groups are particularly discriminated against, but the war marks the full entry of women into the labour force and the renewal of the struggle of blacks for their rights.

The war also continues the process of increasing federal state involvement in the economy that began with the New Deal.

After the Second World War, the United States was the only superpower facing only the USSR.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • Editors. “American Women in World War II.”, A&E Television Networks, 5 Mar. 2010,

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

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  8. Executive Order 9024 - Establishing the War Production Board (January 16, 1942)
  9. Herman, Arthur (2012). Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  10. Industrial Mobilization for War: History of the War Production Board and Predecessor Agencies: 1940-1945. United States Bureau of Demobilization, Civilian Production Administration. 1947. pp. 961–962.
  11. .Photo : Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board du fonds historique de la National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  12. Hall, George J., and Thomas J. Sargent. 2011. "Interest Rate Risk and Other Determinants of Post-WWII US Government Debt/GDP Dynamics." American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 3 (3): 192-214.
  13. Hall, George J., and Thomas J. Sargent. A history of us debt limits. No. w21799. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015
  14. Campbell, D'Ann. Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Patriotic Era. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  15. Weatherford, Doris. American Women during World War II. United Kingdom, Routledge, 2010.
  16. Anderson, Karen Tucker. "Last hired, first fired: Black women workers during World War II." The Journal of American History 69.1 (1982): 82-97.
  17. Honey, Maureen, ed. Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II. University of Missouri Press, 1999.
  18. The Soldier Voting Act of 1942 represented the first legislation guaranteeing military members a vote in presidential and congressional elections during wartime, even when away from their homes of record, Brunelli said. It extended that right regardless of registration and poll tax requirements, as long as the voter met state qualifications; Servicemembers to Follow Long Absentee Voting Tradition By Donna Miles American Forces Press Service
  19. Capeci, Dominic J., Jr., and Martha Wilkerson (1991). Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 0-878-05515-0.
  20. Sitkoff, Harvard. "The Detroit Race Riot 1943," Michigan History, May 1969, Vol. 53 Issue 3, pp 183–206, reprinted in John Hollitz, ed. Thinking Through The Past: Volume Two: since 1865 (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005) ch 8.
  21. Fred L. Koestler, "Bracero Program," in Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association, February 22, 2010.
  22. Barbara Driscoll De Alvarado, The Tracks North: The Railroad Bracero Program of World War II. Austin, TX: CMAS Books/Center for Mexican American Studies, the University of Texas at Austin, 1999.
  23. Otey M. Scruggs, "Texas and the Bracero Program, 1942–1947," Pacific Historical Review (1963) 32#3 pp. 251–264 in JSTOR
  24. Michael Snodgrass, "The Bracero Program, 1942–1964," in Beyond the Border: The History of Mexican-U.S. Migration, Mark Overmyer-Velásquez, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 79–102.
  25. Michael Snodgrass, "Patronage and Progress: The bracero program from the Perspective of Mexico," in Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History, Leon Fink, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 245–266.
  26. Bracero History Archive (Archivo histórico del Bracero)
  27. Hirasaki National Resource Center : « Resources – Frequently Asked Questions », sur le site du Japanese American National Museum,, consulté le 28 octobre 2009.
  28. Élise Prébin, « Mémoire des camps américains. L’exemple japonais », Ateliers, n° 30, « Ethnographies japonaises », avril 2006, p.251-282, mis en ligne le 8 juin 2007, consulté le 28 octobre 2009.
  29. Daniel Sabbagh, « Le statut des « Asiatiques » aux États-Unis – L’identité américaine dans un miroir », Critique internationale no 20, juillet 2003, p. 77-78, sur le site, consulté le 28 octobre 2009.