World War II: A Changed America

American World war II war brides
Figure 1.--OLne of the benefits of peace of course was that the boys came home and with them came many new Americans. Adding to the diversity of American society were the war brides arriving after the War. American soldiers married local women in the various countries they had saved and where they were stationed. The caption to this press photo read, "Yanks return with Australian families: Two American soldiers with their Australian families, arrive in SAn Francisco, Sept. 24, aboard the liner "Lurline". Sgt. Joseph C. Wyhs, wife Lorna, and daughter Yvonne, 15-months old. are at left. At right is T/4 Oskar Birkhofer, his wife and daughter. Wyhs are enroute to St. Charles, Md., and the Birkhohfers to Guerneville, Calif." The photograph was taken September 24, 1945, only a few weeks after the War..

World War II changed peoples lives in a myriad of ways. The pattern varied from country to cuntry. In many of the major combatant countries, the coinsequences werehorebndous. This was not the case in America. Many Americans paid a terrible price. About 0.4 million Americans were killed and many others greviously wounded. For most Americans, however, the War brought new experiences and opportunities. The war finally ended the Depression. Employment opportunities expanded dramatically, including opportunities for blacks and other minorities that had been previously been unable to obtain good paying jobs. And opportunities for women also opened up which would in part lay the fondation for the post-War woman's movement. Americans who had never traveled much beyond their immediate neigboirhood were all of the sudden involved in military operations in virtually every corner of the world. Than after the War, American of all classes through the G.I. Bill obtained access to higher education. The experiences of blacks in the armed frces and in defense industries played a role in the developing civil rights movement as did the reaction to NAZI racism. And adding to the diversity of American society were the war brides that arrived with the returning soldier.

Casualties

World War II changed peoples lives in a myriad of ways. The pattern varied from country to cuntry. In many of the major combatant countries, the coinsequences werehorebndous. This was not the case in America. Many Americans paid a terrible price. About 0.4 million Americans were killed and many others greviously wounded. As the United States mainland was not directly attacked, few American civilians were killed or wounded.

Jobs and Income

For most Americans, however, the War brought new experiences and opportunities. The war finally ended the Depression. American became as President Roosevelt described, the Arsenal of Democracy. American at the time of the War was the greatest industrial power in the world, although the factories because of the Depression were not being fully utilized. The United States not only brought closed factories back to full operation, but built vast new productive facilities. The increases in production suroprised American industrialists and far beyonfd what either the Germans or Japanese thought possible. American war production was a central factor in winning the War. And of course to produce workers were needed. The NAZis used slave labor to man their factories. Britain and the Soviet Union mobilized women. America also mobilized women as well as minorities that had previously been largely excluded from good paying factory jobs. Employment opportunities expanded dramatically, and most Americans experienced substantial increases in their incomes.

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Movement began before the War, but was still largely under the radar. The New Deal was not overtly active in Civil Rights, but it did take some important steps. Many of teFederal Judges appointed by President Rioosevlt hd liberl orientations. And many relief programs benefitted Back American who were especially hard hit by the Depression. The United States fought the War with a segregaed miklitary, but there were important advances during the War. There were experimentlpriogras in the military promoted by Mrs. Roosevelt. The most famous was the Tuskeege Airmen. The expanded job opportunities included access to good job for minorities. The Federal Governmen issured a non-descriminatory provision in war contracts. While this was not always enforced, it was sufficently enforced to ebnsure that many blacks got a share of the job openings. Black servicemen spoke of the Double-V, victory over the Axis abroad and racism at home. nd many returning servicemen reyurning home were determined to purse civil rights at home. This and the War experiences played an important role in the developing civil rights movement. The NAZI example of racism helped to descredit all forms of racism in America. Japanese-Americans were interned during the War, but after the War, job opportunities opened up for all Asian Americans as many begn attending college. .

Women's Movement

Job opportunities for women also opened up during the War. There was such a need to increase production that women were hired in large numbers by factories, shipyards, and other industrial concerns. This would in part lay the fondation for the post-War woman's movement.

Experiences

Americans who had never traveled much beyond their immediate neigboirhood were all of the sudden involved in military operations in virtually every corner of the world. Suddenlt tiny isolated dots oin the map that few Americans had heard of assumed such importance that thousands of men died in the struggle for them. Something similar occurred in World War I when Americans were sent overseas, but hen it was mostly to France. In World War II, Americans were sent all over the world. Here there were consequences, both to Americans and the people they came in contact with in countless foreign countries.

Educational Opportunities: The G.I. Bill

Than after the War, American of all classes through the G.I. Bill obtained access to higher education. The last great action set in motion by the New Deal was the G.I. Bill of Rights which provided the financing for returning service men to obtain a college education. A huge wave of studebnts descebded on American colleges and universities. The schools resorted to all sorts of makeshift housing for World War II vets, their wives, and small children - the Baby Boom was underway. Old photos show young families living in trailers or buildings that had been converted into living facilities. A reader writes, "My dad told me that when he went back to college (1946 - 47) that classes were huge. Early morning and late night classes weren't uncommon. Ah, 'reconversion', as it was called, from wartime to peacetime economics had finally come to America." Before the War most American college graduates were the potestant descendents of the early American colonists. After the War. Americans with ancestries reflecting 19th century immigration (Irish, Italian. German, Polish, Scandinavian, and many other countries) began appearing in American universities--many with Catholic backgrounds. For the most partv they were first members of their family to enter college. Many of their parents had not completed their secondary education. This was to lead in fundamental changes in American society.

War Brides

Adding to the diversity of American society were the war brides arriving after the War. American soldiers married local women in the various countries where they were srationed. This was especially true when there was no active combat operatrions. Thus large numbers of marriages occurred in Britain both during the War and after the war when Americans were stationed in Britain. There were fewer marriahes in France because the United States did not maintain large bases there after the Liberation. There were also large numbers of marriages in Germany during the occupztion following the War. There were also marriages in New Zealand and Australia, but smaller mumbers because of the relatively small populations in those countris. We have only scattered reports on the numbers of marriages involved. One source estimates that in Australia there were about 15,500 marriages and in New Zealand 1,500. Another source estimates that there may have been as many as 300,000 marriages in Britain and Continental Europe during World War II and the immediate post-War period (1942-52). About 100,000 came from Britain. Most from continental Europe came from Germany during the occupation. These estomates appear to include marriages to Canadian sericemen. Many of these brides brought children with them. There were "warbride ships," including the Queen Mary, Leticia, or Mauretania.






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Created: 12:28 AM 4/30/2007
Last updated: 11:40 PM 2/6/2013