Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.
The Home Front in World War II
We tend to think of the Second World War as a series of battles fought throughout Europe and the Pacific. This is not necessarily incorrect, but World War II was also so much more. It was an event that affected the very fibers of societies all over the world. In this lesson, we're not concerned with battle strategies, machine guns and tanks, or which side had the best generals. Instead, we will be learning how the war impacted society.
We will be learning about the impact of the war on the home front. Maybe you've heard this term before. Home front simply refers to the civilian populace at the time of war. In a war, the 'front' is the region where the two sides meet to engage in combat. By contrast, the home front is the region where the civilian population responds to the changes and challenges brought about by their nation at war. In order to get a full understanding of World War II, we need to learn about not only the major battles of the war (like Pearl Harbor and Stalingrad), but also how the war impacted society.
Impact of the War on European Society
The Second World War began in Europe, so we'll begin by looking at its effects on European societies. After the war broke out in response to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, the governments of European countries launched major campaigns aimed at influencing public opinion. To do this, they made widespread use of propaganda. Propaganda is any genre of media used to influence a person's attitude about a particular topic or theme. Music, film, art, and speeches can all be used as propaganda. One of the most popular forms of propaganda during World War II was the poster. The governments of nearly all major countries created propaganda posters. Some were intended to boost morale, others to demonize the enemy. In Nazi Germany, anti-Semitic posters portraying Jews in a negative light were produced under the leadership of the Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. And yes, that was his actual title! Sometimes the word 'propaganda' has a dirty connotation. Remember, not all propaganda was necessarily deceitful or 'bad.' Propaganda posters were often aimed at getting women to join the workforce, or saving resources like scrap metal and oil for the war effort.
During the Battle of Britain, the people of London played a major role in maintaining morale through their determination to withstand Germany's strategic bombing. During 'the Blitz,' as it was often called, civilians were forced to take shelter underground. London's metro system, nicknamed the tube, was a popular source of underground shelter for British civilians. The civilian population also responded with enthusiastic mobilization. Auxiliary organizations like the Home Guard and the Air Raid Precautions sprang up to deal with the challenges of German bombing.
Most European countries (and even the United States) were forced to resort to various systems of rationing to deal with food shortages. Also, with men fighting on the front, increasingly, women were being called upon to enter the workforce. These changes were generally true across the board, among all countries during the war. In the Soviet Union, women were even called upon to serve in combat roles right beside of men.
Impact of War on American Society
The United States was tremendously fortunate to be insulated by the vast expanses of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Nevertheless, the war brought about drastic changes within American society. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, America's industrial might was turned on almost overnight. Factories that had once turned out automobiles, were now turning out tanks and planes at an unbelievable rate. Detroit, Michigan was an especially important industrial center. With men overseas, female factory workers became common. One of the most enduring symbols of the American home front is Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character based upon real-life female factory workers. By the mid-1940s, female war workers were often nicknamed 'Rosie'. One of the most well-known American propaganda posters features a 'Rosie,' with the text 'We Can Do It!' above her.
In response to rationing, many American families grew victory gardens, which were just personal gardens christened with the word 'victory,' implying a patriotic duty. Victory gardens were also common during the First World War, and in both America and Great Britain. Scrap metal drives and car-pooling also became opportunities for Americans to show their support for the war effort. Even 'pin-up' girls took on an air of patriotism!
Just as in Europe, propaganda was an important aspect of the American home front. American propaganda posters often encouraged citizens to buy war bonds, conserve resources, or refrain from spilling government secrets.
One unfortunate aspect associated with the home front was the internment of Japanese Americans. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to war relocation camps, where they often lived under meager conditions. Many of these Japanese Americans were U.S. citizens. This government-sponsored program reflected widespread anti-Japanese racism among Americans.
Long-Term Effects of World War II
Even after World War II ended, its effects on society remained. The sudden influx of women in the workforce helped plant the seeds for the feminist movement of the 1960s. Also, the erosion of traditional standards of sexual behavior during the war helped give rise to the Sexual Revolution. With the end of the war, America's industrial power was turned toward peaceful ends, fostering widespread prosperity throughout the 1950s. Technological advances followed, making life more comfortable for the average American. Following the war, the United States took on a more interventionist foreign policy approach.
Let's review. In contrast to a battle front, the term home front refers to the civilian populace at the time of war. Propaganda was a common feature of the home front. Propaganda is the use of various forms of media to influence a person's attitude about a particular theme. One of the most popular types of propaganda during World War II was the poster.
In the United States, Rosie the Riveter emerged as a popular symbol for real-life female war workers. Female war workers were often nicknamed 'Rosie.' Families in Great Britain and the United States planted victory gardens in order to deal with food shortages. This was also a way of showing one's patriotism. The internment of Japanese Americans throughout the war involved the forced relocation of over 100,000 Japanese Americans.
The purpose of this video lesson is to help you to:
- Detail the use of propaganda during WWII
- Discuss the effect of the war on America's industrial climate
- Recall Americans' use of victory gardens as a show of patriotism
- Understand the long-standing social impact of WWII
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