Table of Contents
In January 1941, while addressing the Congress, President Roosevelt foresighted a future founded on what he termed as “essential human freedoms” – freedom of from fear, freedom from want, freedom of worship, and freedom of speech. These freedoms embodied the rights to be enjoyed by men of every race and creed irrespectively of their geographical distribution. The changes that drove the Americans into the war efforts created a platform upon which the late 20th century social and economic trends were founded. In particular, America’s mobilization for the Second World War extended the scope and size of the federal government as well as energizing the economy. World War II strengthened the country’s international relations through alliances that globalized American culture and its hemispheric trade; and led to the founding of federal agencies that expanded the federal government. Economic boost and expanded federal government increased the rate of employment as well as resources for establishment of many factories.
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Impact on the Economy
The Great Depression was conquered through reduced rates of unemployment and an increase in the country’s gross national product by more than two-fold. The nation’s social geography was permanently changed as increased demand for labour drew majority of the rural women into the industrialized cities of the West and North. During the WWII, about 30 million Americans joined the military service and/or took up new jobs (Foner 174).
The Second World War helped America to gain a lasting global recognition. The American security achieved an international role, being recognized for its global scope through strengthened promotion of America’s core values. Economic development of both the West and South expanded significantly because of government military spending in these regions. These led to the rise of the modern Sunbelt. In addition, World War II created a relationship between a militarized federal government and big business – referred to as a “military industrial complex” – that lasted even after the war.
President Roosevelt’s administration recognized the role of international relations in economic empowerment. Departing from several provisions of the foreign policy, President Roosevelt exchanged ambassadors with the Soviet Union to stimulate American trade. This Presidential move was in view of the American’s preoccupation of economic crisis in the 1930s. Accordingly, President Roosevelt formalized the “Good Neighbor Policy” that gave the United States the power to militarily intervene in Latin American countries’ internal affairs. The President, through these strategies, felt comfortable partnering with the undemocratic governments that were loyal to America’s global business interests. Overall, the policy stimulated the country’s recognition of sovereignty by her neighboring countries such as Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
During the 1930s’ international crisis, the Roosevelt government expanded the country’s hemispheric trade and promoted the respect for American culture. These steps were taken to counter the German influence in the Latin America countries. Mobilizing for the war saw at least 10 million Americans inducted into military. This demonstrated how the war united the American society. For instance, young men drawn from both native-American and immigrant communities with different cultures, outlooks, and ethnic backgrounds fought side-by-side in the war.
The Second World War positively transformed the national government. For instance, the Roosevelt administration founded federal agencies – War Manpower Commission, War Production Board, and Office of Price Administration – to oversee labor allocation, define manufacturing quotas, fix prices, rent, and wages, and control shipments. As a result, the number of federal employees increased to 4 million from a previous value of 1 million. This significantly reduced the unemployment rate from 1940’s 14 per cent to 2 per cent in three-year’s time.
War production saw an upheaval of corporate executives flooding the federal agencies. As a result, President Roosevelt provided incentives to boost the production. These included tax concessions, low-interest loans, and contracts with guaranteed profits. In particular, a great deal of the federal funding was channeled into largest corporations, offering long-term investment towards economic concentration. Towards the end of the Second World War, almost half of the country’s corporate assets belonged to about 200 biggest industrial companies.
Wartime achievements in manufacturing were marvelous. New product lines like synthetic rubber were founded, replacing the natural resources that were previously under Japanese control. Also, government-sponsored scientific research advanced, seeing the invention of radar, early computers, and jet engines that helped the country to win the war, with a positive post-war bearing of American society’s life. Further, these achievements restored economy’s reputation that had been hit by the Great Depression. New industrial centers emerged following the federal funds’ strengthening of the established manufacturing areas. For example, the West Coast developed into a focal center for military-industrial production. Lots of dollars were channeled into development of shipyards of Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle as well as steel factories and aircraft factories in Southern California following WWII (Foner 893-894).
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Government investment in military shipyards and plants as well as rural out-migration shifted employment from agriculture to industrial sector in the South. Consequently, per capita income in the South mounted to 70 per cent from 60 per cent of the national average during the war.
Impact on Sociopolitical Life
Unlike World War I, WWII diversified the American nationality boundaries. The war led to the government’s recognition of the early 20th century immigrants and their children, regarding them as loyal Americans. Since the Reconstruction era, it was not until the end of World War II that the Black Americans’ second-class status attained prominence on the nation’s political agenda. However, since America was warring with Japan, more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were moved into internment camps from their homes by the federal government.
World War II, through the essential human freedoms, led to a language of national unity. However, the unity obscured inherent divisions within the American society that had been intensified by the war as laid out in debates about freedom. Accordingly, the war paved way for the formulation and enactment of the modern Civil Rights Movements. These rights strengthened the Americans’ commitment to preserve the racial order that existed (Foner 874).
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Traditional gender relations were challenged by the post-war movement of women into labour force. This resulted in women breadwinning for their families as much as men are traditionally accustomed. However, both men and women yearned for the reinstitution of the family order in which the women were responsible for the home while males were breadwinners.
Commenting about gender roles, the writer Norman Cousins wrote:
There are approximately 10,000,000 people out of work in the United States today. There are also 10,000,000 or more women, married and single, who are job- holders. Simply fi re the women, who shouldn’t be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment. No relief rolls. No depression (Foner 179)
War workers received free housing built by the national government. The civilian industries were forced to redesign and equip themselves for war production. For example, Michigan’s auto factories started producing tanks, trucks, and jeeps for military use. The federal government’s expenditure doubled the previous 150-years’ total while the country’s gross national product rose to $214 billion from $91 billion by 1944. In addition, the American government increased taxes, sold war bonds worth billions of dollars, and withheld weekly paychecks’ income tax. This increased the number of taxpayers from four to forty million by 1945. The overall effect was a transition from “class taxation” to “mass taxation”. (Foner 874).
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During the wartime, labour forces entered a 3-sided agreement with the business and government – allowing union membership to rise to levels never recorded before. In this accord, reluctant employees were forced by the federal government to recognize the unions as a strategy aimed at stabilizing war production and secure industrial peace (Foner 875).
The Second World War presented numerous opportunities for the Americans ranging from socioeconomic to political realms. The country’s unity was established across different ethnic and cultural boundaries as young men jointly volunteered to register for military. Gender roles were diversified as women ventured into war production industries to facilitate the war. The government stimulated its economic development through trade partnerships with its neighboring countries. Overall, WWII laid the foundation for the America’s modern infrastructural and economic position.
- Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History (Vol. 2) Fifth Seagull Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.
- Voices of Freedom: a Documentary History (Vol. 2). 5th. Vol. II. New York and London: WW Norton & Company, 2016.