*** war and social upheaval: World War II

World War II: The Home Front

World War II home front
Figure 1.--Here Queen Elizabeth and King George tour Bath during 1942. There are many images of Hitler with the German people during the good times. Once the War turned for the worse, Hitler never appeared in public.

Although not as dramatic as the major military campaigns, in large measure, it was on the home front that the War was decided. Combatant countries took different appraoches to the home front and the need for increased production to supply the fighting men. The Germans believing the War had been won, actually scaled back war production in 1940-41 and delayed critical work on weapons development (such at jet aircraft). Hitler was very concerned with maintaining German civilian consumption levels and that mothers not be taken out of the home to work in factories. German women were not mobilized for War work, rather slave labor was brought in from occupied countries to work in factories and on farms. The hard-pressed British in 1939-40 completely reorganized the economy for war production which included the use of large numbers of women and youths. America after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 also reorganized the economy producing staggering quantities of weapons and other war materials that the Axis could not match. The Russians managed to move many war-plants beyond te Urals Mountains out of reach of the Geramsn and as a result maintained war-production. During the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians were actually continued building T-34 tanks in a vast factory even after the Germans had entered part of it. Youth groups also played important roles in the War, although this varied among countries.


Although not as dramatic as the major military campaigns, in large measure, it was on the home front that the War was decided. Germany and Japan could achieve military victories by striking before their advesaries were prepared. And Germany suceeded in defeating and occupying the small countrues of Western Europe. Once their adversaries prepared for war the huge inbalance in industrial capacity and natural resources doomes the Axis. And to further inblance the calculation, the Axis countries did not mobilize womdn gor the war effort. The Germans launched the War with the incredibly unfounded belief that they had the ability to make far superior weapons than other countrie. Reich Marshall G�ring sneered, 'The Americans only know how to make razor blades." The same G�ring 5 years lter seeing P-51 Mustangs over Berlin realized that the War was lost. The Germans certainly could make excellent weapons, but their initial successes were due primarily to the fact that Allied military budgets were very low and the German military had developed highly effective tactical doctrine. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Allies could replicate both, in fact the industrial capacity of the United States enabled the Allies to finance a war effort that Hitler could only dream about. Combatant countries took different appraoches to the home front and the need for increased production to supply their fighting men. The American home front was a war production center unparalled in humn history. Often neglected in World war II histories is that it was he productive capacity created by free market and the energies of a free people that created the Arsenal of Democracy. And it proved to be the British not the Germans tht geared for total war, 3 years before Giebels first used the term. The Axis cointries believed that democracies could not mount major war efforts. France failed on the home front, Britain nd America did not. And at the end of theWAr, few Germans an Japanese looking up from destroyed cities dounted the war-making capacity of democracies.


World War II histories do not focus on food. Rather there are huge discussions of weaonry and tactics, along with a focus on the major bsttles. This is understandable. Itb is waht military historians do. And it is what the pubic want to read about and see on the silver screen. Food had, however, ahuge impact on wars. nd this has been the case since the dawn of histiory. As impressive as Roman armies were, many victories were achiueved by starvation. It was how Ceasar won his great victory--conquring the Gauls. And this continues to modern times. The formerly high regard toward Germany, was firever tarnished, when the German Army seized the Belgian civilian food supply and ignoring the potential starvation of the Belgian people (1914). The Germans won many battles during World War I, especailly in the Eastern Front. It was on the Home Front that Germany lost the War. And the primary reason was food shortages. The combatants rationed food, vutv the Ayutraib-Hungarian, German, and Russian system were poorly conceuived. After the War, Anerican food aid saved the Europeans fromm starving. Hitler undrstood that the German Wiorkd War I war effort collapsed becuse the Home Front collapsed,m primarily because of food shortages. And he only relutantly approved cuts in rationing. The German resonse in World War II was to export privation and this was carefully planned before launchin the War. The NAZI Agriculture Minstry even developed the genocidal Hunger Plan. This and other German policvies is gy son mny civilisns perrisghed in the War. An imprtant of the German U-boat campaign in World War I and II was to starve out the British. The Allies ere in a different situation. The United states was not only the Arsenlm of Democracy, but the greatest producer of food in the world with Canada adding imprtant quntities as well as Latin American countries, especially Argentina. The British did not go hungary in World War II because of an effective rationing system, aly=hough the cduet was rather biring. The Soviet Union was also an important agicultural country, despite Stalin badly damaged harvests by murdering the peasntry. But Operation Barbasrossa wjile failing to desroy the Red Army, suceeded in occupying much of the Soviet agricultural areas, almost suceeded in starving the Soviets. Food was an important pat of American Lend Lease. Starving the Japanese was an option available to the Americans who ultimaely chose to use nuclear weapons (1945). Many criticise America for this on humanitarian grounds. We fail to see how condening millions of Japanese civilanmd to starvation was a more humanitarian choice. As in World War I, American food aid saved the Europeans from starving after the War.


The War required such a gargantian national effort on the part of the principal combatents that it was necessary that everybody did what was in their power to support the war effort. The most prominent way most countries accomplished this was by rationing. Rationing was a method used by the government to ensure that everybody was able to receive equal amounts of raw materials. This way, enough material was used for the war effort, but the public could still have access to these items. To circumvent rationing and price controls, World War II black marketeers traded in clothing and liquor in Britain and meat, sugar, and gasoline in the United States.


One interesting question concerniung World War II is wghat was going on in the schools of the various combatant countries. Here we are interested in what went on the schools leading up gto the War. We are interested in what the children were told in the schools about the War. We recall some children recalling teachers who kept maps in their classroom to mark the various locations were battle took place. The schools in Britain and Germny were used to organize evacuar=tion of children because of the strastegic bombing campaiogns. The NAZIs in some occupied countries closed the schools and arrested teachers. Here we have countries in which there was a free press, but of course restrictions on how the War news was reported. There were also schools in countries without a free press. Then there were sdchools in countries occupied by both the Axis coubntries and the Soviets. There were a variety od activities in schools. School children were used to collect material needed in the war effort. American schools sold War Stamps as part of the effort to finance the War and dampen inflation. Our information here is very limited, but we are interested in collecting information on this subject. We would be very interested in any inforfmation readers may have.


A good deal has been written about the dogs that were used by the various military services during World War II. Much less has been written about family pets. Some countries did not have a string tradition of family pets, including China, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Other countries had very strong traditions, such as America, England, France, and Germany. Some families turned their dogs over for war service, but most attempted to keep them. Pets in America were not significantly affected by the War, but in many other countries there were significant consequences. The principal problem was food. A factor here is that the pet food industry was not well developed at the time of Workld War II. There was a pet food inudstry in America, but most pes were fed with table scraps even in the United States. This was even more so in Europe. Food during the War, especially meat, had to be rationed, even in the United States. The food shortages were especially secere in the countries occupied by the Germans where the Wherrmacht approprisated food supplies and shipped food needed in the occupied countries back to the Reich. Many occupied countries, such as Greece, experieced food shortages. In Greece people starved. The Germans also created a famine in the Netherlands at the end of the War. Urban residents were the most affected. Families which could barely feed themselves could hardly feed their pets. Wrenching decesions had to be made over treasured family pets. Another interesting topic is the pets kept by notable figures. Pergaps the two most famous was President Roosevelt's Fala and Hitler's Blondie.

Youth Groups

Youth groups played important roles in the War. This varied substantially among the different beligerant countries. Generally youth groups were involved on the home front in a range of support activities. The Hitler Youth went far beyond this. Several different youth groups were involved. The group most involved in the War was the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth was designed from the outset to prepare boys for War. Both the activities and ideological preparation was oriented toward War. Mesured on this basis, the NAZIs were very effective. After boys apptraoched miklitary afe, the HJ was organized so as to direct boys into the various service branchs. While still HJ members the boys played a variety of direct and support roles in the War. One SS armored division was formed from HJ boys. The Italian Balilla seems to have been far less effective. Other Fascist youth groups modeled on the HJ were organized in NAZI-occupied Europe. The Soviet Young Pioneer Movement was much less developed at the time of the war. Scout Movemrents existed in most other countries and played a variety of support roles in te countries not occupied by tghe Soviets or NAZIs. The NAZis usually just prohibited Scouting. The Soviets in some cases actively sought out adult Scout leaders and arrested them.



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Created: May 29, 2004
Last updated: 11:19 PM 5/26/2023