U.S. Military Mobilization Efforts During WWII

Instructor: Logan Thomas

Logan has taught college courses and has a master's degree in history.

When the first battles broke out, the United States was relatively unprepared for World War II. In this lesson, we will learn how the country mobilized for the largest conflict in human history.

An Entire World at War

The world had already been at war for years when the Japanese carried out a surprise attack on the United States naval forces based on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. President Franklin Roosevelt swiftly called for a declaration of war on the Empire of Japan, and the United States officially entered World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Roosevelt

Although Roosevelt had taken steps in the months and years before Pearl Harbor to ensure the United States had the military required in the event of war, the armed forces still had plenty of preparation ahead. They needed human resources for the military forces, the means to construct the immense war material required, and devoted support from the home front.

Drafting Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen

Knowing the United States might soon get drawn into the massive conflict taking place throughout the world, the government created the Selective Training and Service Act on September 16, 1940. The act required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft. Those selected would serve at least a year in the armed force. When the U.S. officially entered the war in December of 1941, the terms of service extended until the end of the conflict.

An example of a recruitment poster seen in the United States during World War II.

Why did the United States do this in 1940 when it was not involved in World War II?

In the late 1930s, the majority of Americans wanted to remain isolated from the conflict brewing throughout the world. The population had no interest in becoming mired in another potentially devastating conflict like the 'Great War' in 1914 to 1918.

By the end of 1940, however, the incredible power of the German armed forces had conquered much of Europe, and many thought Great Britain would fall next. In East Asia and the Pacific Ocean, Japanese troops had captured numerous islands and territories. The United States military at the time was unprepared for such a conflict should it be required to fight. The national opinion began to shift toward creating a draft in case war broke out.

U.S. soldiers training for battle.

The draft, combined with the initial patriotic fervor of volunteers at the start of the conflict, was successful in growing the United States military. Approximately 10 million American men would serve by the end of the war in 1945.

Constructing a Military

Enlisting soldiers was just the beginning. Having enough people would mean nothing without the equipment to get them to the battlefields and fight.

In May of 1940, Roosevelt ordered increased production of military equipment and supplies. The awesome industrial power of the United States was converted into making supplies for war, from vehicles to munitions. America would eventually produce more war material during World War II than the rest of the world combined and contributed to also arming the Allies. Roosevelt called it the 'Arsenal of Democracy.'

With millions of male workers serving in the U.S. military, thousands of women entered the work force as welders, electricians, and other positions, laboring in countless factories to help create the Allied arsenal. These workers, symbolically known as 'Rosie the Riveter,' churned out the means for the Allied forces to emerge victorious in World War II while taking a significant step toward equality in the workplace long after the war ended.

Women worked in factories, earning the nickname Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie the Riveter

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