On the Home Front
On the Home Front
By: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Date: October 12, 1942
Source: Roosevelt, Franklin D. "On the Home Front." Fireside chat delivered on October 12, 1942.Miller Center of Public Affairs. <http://millercenter.virginia. edu/scripps/diglibrary/prezspeeches/roosevelt/fdr_ 1942_1012.html> (accessed May 30, 2006).
About the Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) served as the thirty-second president of the United States. He tackled the Great Depression of the 1930s and led the nation through World War II. He was the only U.S. president to be re-elected three times.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The surprise assault was a great tactical victory. Most of the fleet was sunk or disabled. Unfortunately for the Japanese, Pearl Harbor also ended the long debate between American isolationists and interventionists. Furious Americans immediately began mobilizing all of the might of one of the world's greatest industrial powers to defeat Japan and its allies, Germany and Italy. Overnight, Franklin D. Roosevelt shifted from fighting the Great Depression to trying to win World War II.
Homefront sacrifices ultimately made American victory possible. People at home had a range of sponsored activities that linked them to those on the battlefields and to one another in a common cause. An American too young, too old, or too frail to fight could still help beat Hitler of Germany, Mussolini of Italy, and Tojo of Japan. Rationing programs that began with rubber and gasoline soon spread to greatly desired foods, including meats, coffee, and butter. Scrap drives, waste fat collections, blackouts, and numerous Red Cross activities were also part of dayto-day wartime life, serving as constant reminders of the war. The new American motto became "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."
One of the most dramatic changes in wartime society involved changes in the labor force. Men aged eighteen to forty-five were subject to the draft, with very few exceptions. As a result, most healthy young men found themselves in the military. Over the course of the conflict, 15 million men and more than 200,000 women served in the armed forces. Roosevelt had begun his administration in 1933 with the problem of finding jobs for people. During WWII, he had to find people for jobs. African Americans left the South in droves for abundant jobs at high wages in urban areas of the West, Midwest, and North. For the first time, women were encouraged to enter the work force and take jobs that had previously been reserved only for men. The number of women in the workforce jumped by fifty percent over the course of the war, with the numbers of women in manufacturing rising by 110 percent. As Roosevelt noted, the American people were united as never before and willing to do whatever was required to achieve victory and save the world for democracy.
My fellow Americans:
As you know, I have recently come back from a trip of inspection of camps and training stations and war factories.
The main thing that I observed on this trip is not exactly news. It is the plain fact that the American people are united as never before in their determination to do a job and to do it well.
This whole nation of one hundred and thirty million free men, women and children is becoming one great fighting force. Some of us are soldiers or sailors, some of us are civilians. Some of us are fighting the war in airplanes five miles above the continent of Europe or the islands of the Pacific—and some of us are fighting it in mines deep down in the earth of Pennsylvania or Montana. A few of us are decorated with medals for heroic achievement, but all of us can have that deep and permanent inner satisfaction that comes from doing the best we know how—each of us playing an honorable part in the great struggle to save our democratic civilization.
Whatever our individual circumstances or opportunities—we are all in it, and our spirit is good, and we Americans and our allies are going to win—and do not let anyone tell you anything different.…
With every passing week the war increases in scope and intensity. That is true in Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and on all the seas.…
There are now millions of Americans in army camps, in naval stations, in factories and in shipyards.
Who are these millions upon whom the life of our country depends? What are they thinking? What are their doubts? (and) What are their hopes? And how is the work progressing?
The Commander-in-Chief cannot learn all of the answers to these questions in Washington. And that is why I made the trip I did.…
In one sense my recent trip was a hurried one, out through the Middle West, to the Northwest, down the length of the Pacific Coast and back through the Southwest and the South. In another sense, however, it was a leisurely trip, because I had the opportunity to talk to the people who are actually doing the work—management and labor alike—on their own home grounds. And it gave me a fine chance to do some thinking about the major problems of our war effort on the basis of first things first.
As I told the three press association representatives who accompanied me, I was impressed by the large proportion of women employed—doing skilled manual (work) labor running machines. As time goes on, and many more of our men enter the armed forces, this proportion of women will increase. Within less than a year from now, I think, there will probably be as many women as men working in our war production plants.
I had some enlightening experiences relating to the old saying of us men that curiosity—inquisitiveness—is stronger among woman. I noticed (that), frequently, that when we drove unannounced down the middle aisle of a great plant full of workers and machines, the first people to look up from their work were the men—and not the women. It was chiefly the men who were arguing as to whether that fellow in the straw hat was really the President or not.
So having seen the quality of the work and of the workers on our production lines—and coupling these firsthand observations with the reports of actual performance of our weapons on the fighting fronts—I can say to you that we are getting ahead of our enemies in the battle of production.
And of great importance to our future production was the effective and rapid manner in which the Congress met the serious problem of the rising cost of living. It was a splendid example of the operation of democratic processes in wartime.
The machinery to carry out this act of the Congress was put into effect within twelve hours after the bill was signed. The legislation will help the cost-of-living problems of every worker in every factory and on every farm in the land.
In order to keep stepping up our production, we have had to add millions of workers to the total labor force of the Nation. And as new factories come into operation, we must find additional millions of workers.
This presents a formidable problem in the mobilization of manpower.
It is not that we do not have enough people in this country to do the job. The problem is to have the right numbers of the right people in the right places at the right time.
We are learning to ration materials, and we must now learn to ration manpower.
The major objectives of a sound manpower policy are:
First, to select and train men of the highest fighting efficiency needed for our armed forces in the achievement of victory over our enemies in combat.
Second, to man our war industries and farms with the workers needed to produce the arms and munitions and food required by ourselves and by our fighting allies to win this war.
In order to do this, we shall be compelled to stop workers from moving from one war job to another as a matter of personal preference; to stop employers from stealing labor from each other; to use older men, and handicapped people, and more women, and even grown boys and girls, wherever possible and reasonable, to replace men of military age and fitness; to train new personnel for essential war work; and to stop the wastage of labor in all non-essential activities.
There are many other things that we can do, and do immediately, to help meet (the) this manpower problem.
The school authorities in all the states should work out plans to enable our high school students to take some time from their school year, (and) to use their summer vacations, to help farmers raise and harvest their crops, or to work somewhere in the war industries. This does not mean closing schools and stopping education. It does mean giving older students a better opportunity to contribute their bit to the war effort. Such work will do no harm to the students.
People should do their work as near their homes as possible. We cannot afford to transport a single worker into an area where there is already a worker available to do the job.
In some communities, employers dislike to employ women. In others they are reluctant to hire Negroes. In still others, older men are not wanted. We can no longer afford to indulge such prejudices or practices.
Every citizen wants to know what essential war work he can do the best. He can get the answer by applying to the nearest United States Employment Service office. There are four thousand five hundred of these offices throughout the Nation. They (are) form the corner grocery stores of our manpower system. This network of employment offices is prepared to advise every citizen where his skills and labors are needed most, and to refer him to an employer who can utilize them to best advantage in the war effort.
Perhaps the most difficult phase of the manpower problem is the scarcity of farm labor in many places. I have seen evidences of the fact, however, that the people are trying to meet it as well as possible.
In one community that I visited a perishable crop was harvested by turning out the whole of the high school for three or four days.
And in another community of fruit growers the usual Japanese labor was not available; but when the fruit ripened, the banker, the butcher, the lawyer, the garage man, the druggist, the local editor, and in fact every able-bodied man and woman in the town, left their occupations, (and) went out gathering(ed) the fruit, and sent it to market.
Every farmer in the land must realize fully that his production is part of war production, and that he is regarded by the Nation as essential to victory. The American people expect him to keep his production up, and even to increase it. We will use every effort to help him to get labor; but, at the same time, he and the people of his community must use ingenuity and cooperative effort to produce crops, and livestock and dairy products.
It may be that all of our volunteer effort—however well intentioned and well administered—will not suffice wholly to solve (the) this problem. In that case, we shall have to adopt new legislation. And if this is necessary, I do not believe that the American people will shrink from it.
Franklin Roosevelt did not live to see the end of World War II. Weakened by advanced age and years of difficult public service, he died on April 12, 1945. He did survive long enough to see the nation emerge from the darkness of the Great Depression when war spending boosted the economy.
Some of the other changes brought by the war were not so clearly evident in 1945. While women had been encouraged to work in factories and on farms, men remained in supervisory positions. Returning servicemen forced women out of the workplace, but women had gained a sense of independence that did not disappear so quickly. Years later, many of these women would become involved in political movements, including the women's rights movement. African Americans who had fought Nazis in Europe were no longer willing to tolerate storm trooper tactics at home. The African American civil rights movement is another legacy of World War II.
World War II was the most destructive global war ever fought. Much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins after the fighting stopped in 1945. Warfare, concentration camps, starvation, and atom bombs killed over fifty million human beings, the majority of whom were civilians. Only one percent of the dead were Americans, however. The United States, alone among the major belligerents, emerged from the war with almost no physical damage to its cities and towns. This helped America to become a superpower and the leader of the free world for the remainder of the twentieth century.
Adams, Michael C.C.The Best War Ever: America and World War II. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
O'Brien, Kenneth Paul, and Lynn Hudson Parsons.The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1995.