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Service on the Homefront

Service on the Homefront

Poster

By: Anonymous

Date: March 3, 1942

Source: Library of Congress. "By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936–1943." 〈http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaposters/wpahome.html〉 (accessed July 23, 2006).

About the Author: The United States Library of Congress is the nation's official library, with responsibility for collecting and organizing historically significant documents, photographs, and digital media.

INTRODUCTION

In 1940, Europe was consumed with war. Under the Lend-Lease Act signed in March 1941, the United States provided arms to its allies in Europe. However, the nation continued its isolationist foreign policies adopted after World War I. Remnants of the Great Depression still permeated American society as approximately eight million people were still unemployed. In addition, the U.S. military in 1939 was the eighteenth largest in the world and not prepared for a large-scale conflict. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on U.S. bases in the Pacific. The most damaging attack was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; the two-hour attack dealt a blow to the military arsenal housed there by damaging eighteen warships, destroying 164 aircrafts, and killing 2,400 service members and civilians. On December 8, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Following the declaration, the allies of Japan, Germany, and Italy declared war on the United States, thus leading to a two-front war—one in the pacific and one in Europe. In an address on December 9, 1941, President Roosevelt stated, "We are not at war. We are now in it—all the way. Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American History.

PRIMARY SOURCE

SERVICE ON THE HOMEFRONT

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

Roosevelt's philosophy of a total war meant that all aspects of society and all levels of the economy needed to be mobilized in order to out-produce and overwhelm the enemy. As such, the U.S. economy shifted into a war production economy and the majority of resources were channeled into war production. Existing industries began to support the war by changing production to assist in the speedy raising, arming, and outfitting of the U.S. military. Roosevelt called the nation an "Arsenal of Democracy" and the government began campaigns to handle the shortages caused by the war. In 1942, the Food Rationing program began and farmers, families, and individuals were admonished to use spare land to develop victory gardens.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Burma. By gaining control over the southeast Asian country, the Japanese effectively cut off the major resource for rubber. The shortage of rubber, as well as the need to mobilize and arm the military quickly, led to salvage and recycling campaigns beginning in 1942. Everyday trash had a value to the war effort and the government encouraged Americans to cut back on certain consumer goods and recycle other materials. Metal, paper, rubber, and old rags were used in war production. Shortages of copper, needed for assault or communication wire on the battlefield, led to pennies being made out of steel. The shortage of nickel affected the production of the five-cent piece. Steel and aluminum that was salvaged from old cars, bed frames, radiators, pots, and tins were used to make everything from ammunition to ships. Even household waste fat was recycled to use the glycerin, a key ingredient in explosives ammunition.

In October 1942, the Conservation Division of the War Production Board created a program to mobilize school-aged children to participate in the salvage program, "Get in the Scrap." Communities were encouraged to activate "junior commandos" to scour their assigned areas for scrap metal that could be used to keep the war factories running. The greatest need was for iron and steel to make guns, tanks and jeeps. Rubber was also a necessity and could come from old tires, tubes, and garden hoses. The War Production Board announced that one tire could provide the rubber needed to make twelve gas masks. One pail could provide three bayonets and one copper pot made eighty-four rounds of ammunition for the automatic rifle.

From 1940 until the Japanese surrender in 1945, the United States produced 300,000 aircrafts, 86,000 tanks, and 12.5 million rifles. The shipyards were stocked with 107 aircraft carriers and 352 destroyers. As a result of the massive mobilization of the American economy into war production, the United States supplied a great majority of the war supplies used by the Allies in the war and produced twice the amount of materials as the Japanese, Germans, and Italians. Initiatives such as the salvage and recycling programs allowed civilians to feel that they played a vital role in the victory.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Web sites

National World War II Museum. "History of World War II." 〈http://www.ddaymuseum.org/education/history_war.html〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Southern Methodist University. "Victory Garden Insect Guide 1944." 〈http://digitallibrary.smu.edu/cul/gir/ww2/pdf/p0025.pdf〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Southern Methodist University. "Victory Garden Leader's Handbook 1943." 〈http://digitallibrary.smu.edu/cul/gir/ww2/pdf/p0159.pdf〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

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