American History Series: On the Home Front During World War Two
Americans worked to help the war effort and support the troops. Transcript of radio broadcast:
06 December 2006
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''Rosie" the riveter served as an example of women aiding the war effort by taking industrial jobs. Norman Rockwell's painting on the May 29, 1943, Saturday Evening Post.
THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
The United States entered the Second World War late in nineteen forty-one after a surprise attack by Japanese forces on Hawaii.
The time and the place of the attack was a surprise. But American military and political leaders had believed that the United States, sooner or later, would be pulled into the fighting. And they began to prepare for war.
President Franklin Roosevelt had been assistant aecretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War One. He remembered how American troops were not ready for that war. Now that he was president, Roosevelt wanted to be sure that the United States would be ready when it had to fight.
Throughout nineteen forty-one, Roosevelt urged American industries to produce more arms and military goods. And he established new government agencies to work with private industry to increase arms production.
Some business leaders resisted Roosevelt's efforts. They felt there was no need to produce more arms while the United States was still at peace. But many others cooperated. And by the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the American economy was producing millions of guns and other weapons.
This still was not enough to fight a war. After the Japanese attack, Roosevelt increased his demands on American industry. He called for sixty thousand war planes, forty-five thousand tanks, and twenty thousand anti-aircraft guns. And he wanted all these within one year.
One month after the Pearl Harbor raid, Roosevelt organized a special committee to direct this military production. He created another group to help companies find men and women for defense work. And he established a new office where the nation's best scientists and engineers could work together to design new weapons.
These new government organizations faced several problems. Sometimes factories produced too much of one product and not enough of another. Sometimes tools broke. And some business owners refused to accept government orders. But the weapons were produced. American troops soon had the guns and supplies they needed.
Factory worker making a parachute in 1942
The federal government had to expand its own workforce rapidly to meet war needs. Federal spending increased from just six thousand million dollars in nineteen forty to eighty-nine thousand million in nineteen forty-four. This was a fifteen hundred percent increase in just five years.
In fact, total spending by the federal government during the war was twice as much as the government had spent since its beginning in seventeen eighty-seven.
Roosevelt had to take strong steps to get the money for all this spending. He put limits on wages. He increased taxes to as high as ninety-four percent of pay. And he asked the American people to lend money to the federal government. The people answered with almost one hundred thousand million dollars.
The great increase in public spending raised the threat of economic inflation. There was much more money in the economy just at the time that factories were producing fewer goods for people to buy. More money and fewer goods usually makes prices rise rapidly.
Roosevelt was able to prevent this problem by using taxes and borrowing to reduce the amount of money that people had. But he also created a special office with the power to control prices. Many Americans agreed with the idea of price controls. But everyone wanted somebody else's prices controlled, not their own. Federal officials had to work hard to keep prices and supplies under control. They restricted how much meat and gasoline and other goods people could buy.
The price control program generally worked. Its success kept the American economy strong to support the troops fighting in Europe and Asia.
One reason these strong economic steps worked was because the American people fully supported the war effort. One can look at photographs of people of those times and see in their faces how strongly they felt.
In one photograph from the state of North Carolina, a group of men are standing in front of old rubber tires collected from automobiles. They are planning to give the tires to the Army to be fixed and used for army vehicles.
Another photo shows a woman visiting a hospital. She is singing a song to a soldier to lift his spirits.
Still another photo shows a man who owns a small food store. He is placing special signs on his meats and cans of food to tell people how much they are allowed to buy.
Radio cannot show the faces in the pictures. But you can get an idea about their feelings by the names of some of the popular songs of the period. One of the most famous was "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." Another was "He Is One-Aye in the Army, and He's One-Aye in My Heart." And one of the most hopeful songs was "When the Lights Go on Again All Over the World."