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Home Front

HOME FRONT


Home front is a term that describes domestic civilian activity during times of war. During World War II (19391945) the U.S. home front was marked by a national purpose that united Americans behind the efforts of the Allied Powers (United States, Great Britain, Russia, and China, among others) to defeat the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan). Sacrifice and patriotism of average Americans combined with the dynamism and flexibility of private enterprise to galvanize domestic war production. More than 7 million of America's 8 million unemployed persons in 1940 returned to work by 1944. Nearly 3.5 million of the newly employed were women. The popular image of Rosie the Riveter working on planes, tanks, and ships embodied the contribution made to industrial war production by female laborers. Jobs were paying both sexes 25 percent more at the end of the war than they had at the beginning. However, inflation was spiraling upward so rapidly that the federal government placed a ceiling on prices, wages, and rents. Congress also established the nation's modern tax structure during the war, imposing a steeply graduated income tax that for the first time covered most middle-income and lower-income groups. As a result, the number of families paying income tax quadrupled, and the amount of tax they paid increased twenty-fold.

Governmental rationing of scarce and valuable commodities, such as gasoline, rubber, meat, sugar, and leather, also tested the resolve of civilians on the home front. But the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit behind America's capitalistic system helped civilians look past the daily inconveniences to see the bigger picture. For example, the Allies had to devise an efficient way to transport personnel, vehicles, and equipment across the oceans in order to invade Europe, Africa, and the South Pacific. Andrew Higgins, a Louisiana boat manufacturer, convinced reluctant Navy officials to turn production of transport vessels over to him. He integrated a workforce of 30,000 blacks, women, and men, and paid top wage without regard to sex or skin color. A huge sign hung over the assembly lines: "The Man Who Relaxes is Helping the Axis." Higgins' factory produced more than 20,000 transport vessels in four years. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969) later credited Higgins and his workers with winning the war.

Hundreds of other American industries also converted civilian business to wartime manufacturing, churning out 44 billion rounds of ammunition, 20 million small arms, 2.5 million trucks, 300,000 planes, 100,000 tanks, and 90,000 ships. But single-minded zeal was not always an asset. To minimize domestic sabotage and espionage, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) issued an executive order in February 1942 authorizing the forcible removal of approximately 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent. There were transferred from strategic locations around the country to inland relocation camps, where they were detained like prisoners without a hearing or trial. Despite their mistreatment many of the detained Japanese Americans maintained their patriotism, raising the Stars and Stripes every morning at camp and singing the national anthem. Some detainees contributed to the war effort, helping develop a synthetic rubber to augment the Allies dwindling supply of natural rubber. More than 17,000 Japanese Americans were released from detention to join the U.S. Army. During one campaign in Italy Japanese-American soldiers earned 3,000 Purple Hearts, 810 Bronze Stars, 342 Silver Stars, and 47 Distinguished Service Crosses in the field of battle. Although the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the forcible relocation and detention, in 1988 the federal government issued an apology for the episode and offered to pay money damages to the victims and their families.

Topic overview

Americans were patriotic during the war, and more united than ever before. To increase productivity factories stayed open for a second or third shift, and workers added long hours of overtime. Roosevelt's promise in 1940 to build 50,000 aircraft was received with amazement. In the end 300,000 were built. The gross national product doubled from $101 billion in 1940 to $214 billion in 1944. Egalitarianism was the rule in the war years, reinforced by rationing, shortages, price controls, and the universalism of the draft.

oxford companion to world war ii, 1995

See also: Liberty Ships, Rationing, Rosie the Riveter

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