Impacts of World War II on America
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The WWII was a worldwide conflict that every major power in the world got involved in from 1939-1945. The two sides formed, were generally the Axis and Allies. In 1939, America was behind in terms of war preparation as compared to its enemies, who had been preparing themselves for almost ten years (Kennedy, 1999, p. 1929-1945). However, four years into the war, the United States earned the title of “military super-power”. The American industry largely, almost entirely, provided the Allied military with about two-thirds of all their equipment during the war-193,000 artillery pieces, 297,000 aircraft, 2,000 army trucks, and 86,000 tanks (Kennedy, 1999, p. 1929-1945). This saw the American industrial production, then the world’ largest, doubled in size. Moreover, the production of the machine-tools for making weapons trebled in a span of three years. Consequently, the balance between the United States and its adversaries changed almost overnight. Many Americans forecasted that this war would have a significant bearing on their future, but the outcome of the war presented far-reaching effects than most Americans had predicted. America’s involvement in the war was more beneficial than detrimental to its social, political, and economic structures.
Compared to other prime combatants, both the Allies and the Axis, the United States was did not get any damage physically. In fact, its economy experienced an unprecedented economic rejuvenation (Winkler, 2000). In addition, its loss of about 400,000 soldiers in combat was visually downplayed and less, compared to other nation’s losses, and Americans had to imagine the consequences of the war. In order for this to be achieved, they projected the consequences of World War I into the future. America still felt the weight of World War I, suffered from the great depression, and felt threatened by world enemies in the precipitating WWII. Most Americans perceived the impacts of the war as rising steadily during hostilities, and then falling sharply. However, this perception changed when the reality of the effect of about 16 million war veterans returning to civil life dawned on them that these veterans’ readjustment was to be the nation’s responsibility (Winkler, 2000). The post-war economy carried mixed feelings of hope and fear that thrived on the previous depression and propaganda of promises of reward for those who sacrificed during wartimes.
Contrastingly, few Americans foresaw the social consequences the war would bring. In fact, WWII transcended the then existing racial system by expanding federal power to the Jim Crow South, effectively inspiring the expectations and policies of African Americans and restructuring national priorities (Kennedy, 1999). The efforts of progressive black men, such as A. Phillip Randolph, made many leaders to view racial discrimination as a leftover that wasted resources that were vital for wielding power overseas and it mocked United States’ allegation of defending freedom against communist oppression and fascism. Though the US stepped cautiously on the matter of racism, it showed efforts towards strengthening its morale and unity by denouncing the theories it was fighting abroad at home. In the pursuit of this goal, President Harry S. Truman signed an order in 1948 that banned discrimination and segregation in the military, which also eroded ethnic and religious barriers (United States History, n.d). During the WWII, sexuality and gender systems experienced complex changes. The wartime culture prized both women’s contribution and male virtue and set the stage for the virtual invention of the ‘traditional family’. This, however, worked to the disadvantage of many homosexuals and women. Regardless of how varied their influences were, social groups had something common: America’s global power coupled with the government’s additional authority shaped their fate. At the end of the war, the transition into the cold war, this change that initially, perceiving it as temporary, became a lasting one, against many people’s anticipation.
During the WWII, Americans had the knowledge that they were a superpower and, therefore, expected it to play the role of one, with a few yearning for the isolationism that had allegedly led to the culmination of WWII (Winkler, 2000). Axis antagonism, the Great depression, as well as hitherto unprecedented technological advances, all gave the illusion of a disintegrated postwar world that presented a myriad of threats to the U.S’s economic and military wellbeing. Consequently, the view of many American leaders was that it would be prudent for the country to mobilize power even during peace times in order to counter all the external and internal threats. America’s victory in the war provided the leaders with the most needed confidence and assurance that they had the capacity to do so, either solely or by the help of the newly formed United Nations in 1945. Gen. George C. Marshall warned that, the extensive ocean distance that used to protect America had evaporated, and America’s reliance on such obsolete factors was likely to jeopardize the freedom and treasure of the nation (Kennedy, 1999).
Economically, WWII brought unprecedented improvements in the U.S, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to America to become the ‘arsenal of democracy’. This came about six months after the fall of France to the Axis armies and one year before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which ultimately brought the U.S into the war (Kennedy, 1999). Roosevelt suggested an annual production of 50,000 planes, an overly ambitious figure that even some of his economists thought was unrealistic. However, by the fall of 1944, the U.S produced more than 96,000 naval and military aircraft, surpassing the combined production of Japan, Germany, and Britain (Kennedy, 1999). With this, America’s industry had achieved a groundbreaking superiority in equipment production in a way that no any other country had bone before, a call promoted by the President at the beginning of 1942. The President attributed this stunning achievement to all Americans, the uniformed and civilians, with the most obvious contributor being the factories, both government-owned and privately owned (Kennedy, 1999).
From the foregoing, WWII had far-reaching effects on America, as a nation, and as a society in general. Wartime mobilization dealt a major defeat on the Axis and ended the Great Depression in the United States. This dual victory provides a solid explanation why WWII is ‘Good War’ for the American population (Winkler, 2000). Just before the onset of WWII, precisely in 1939, employment in the U.S stagnated at Depression levels, but the mobilization saw the rate of unemployment fall sharply (Jeffries, 2003). Hitherto unemployed men and women joined the military and moved to enormous, new-built and/or expanded military training bases. Yet millions more found places industries, where they, for the first time since 1929, made good money, especially from overtime hours to augment their paychecks. The WWII was really the ‘Good War’ for Americans, because it was encouraged by the government, those who worked in the industries and gained new skills shifted to better jobs, and then joined labor unions in unprecedented numbers. Consequently, the WWII helped blue-collar workers gain recognition and status (Jeffries, 2003).
Undoubtedly, the WWII brought unfathomable shifts in all spheres of the U.S; politically, economically, socially, and even religiously. Notably, the boom in employment raised people’s living standards, considering that they had just suffered the menace of the Great Depression. The rise in production and enrolment in the armed forces by most men saw employers (often encouraged by the government), turn to women, the elderly, African Americans, and other groups left out in the pre-war economy so that they could fill jobs (these jobs had relatively high pay and status) (Winkler, 2000). The war was a blessing in disguise for women in the U.S society because most of them found new employments in the factories as well as in clerical and secretarial jobs. After the war, most of these women moved quit the labor force for different reasons. Nevertheless, the wartime changes in women’s attitudes regarding their own capabilities extended to cover the post-war period, and indeed today (Winkler, 2000). African Americans and other minorities took wartime labor shortages, as a leverage to protest against discriminatory handling, in order to secure new and higher job positions in defense industries. As a result of the war, many young and unemployed men and women, white and black found opportunities, experience and training in military bases. In addition, the G.I Bill provided home-ownership, education, among other benefits to those who took part in the war, a huge number indeed. The WWII ended in mid 1945 with the fall of the Axis under the Allies, leaving a trail of horror in its wake; more than 55 million people died in the war, property worth of billions of dollars destroyed, devastated infrastructure, among other monumental losses. It was, and still is, the most expensive war in the history of the world, with estimates put between $1 and $2 trillion and loss of property amounting to $239 billion (United States History, n.d). The United States’ spending alone was about 10 times more than it had spent cumulatively on its previous wars. In addition, it national debt increased from $42billion in 1940 to a staggering $260 billion in 1946. Immediately after the war, the cold war ensued between the Allies (democracies) and the Axis (Soviets), notably between the United States and the U.S.S.R, led by Russia (United States History, n.d).
In the U.S, than in any other nation, the war brought considerable positive changes in the political, economic, social, and religious circles. The war literally got the United States out of the Great Depression by invigorating the U.S’s production capacity and consumption, especially in the production and sale of military equipment to the Allies, which saw its production industry double in a span of about three years. Prior to the war, especially in the period covering the Great Depression, the rate of unemployment soared in the U.S, the youth being the most affected group. However, in the build-up to the war and during the war, employment opportunities arose in production factories as well as in the military. The U.S was, therefore, able to solve its troubling employment problem. Gender imbalances in the society regarding employment were also under the discussion, courtesy of the Second World War. In the pre-war American economy, women, especially African Americans and other minorities, were grossly under-represented in the employment world, but the WWII opened up new and well-paying opportunities for them, thereby raising their living standards. The American society also gained a fundamental milestone in the fight against racial discrimination, with blacks from the south enrolling in the military and appointment to other high-profile job positions. The combination of all these factors led to the prosperity of the American economic, social, religious, and political structures of the American society. However, the U.S lost a large number of its uniformed citizens in the war, but not as many as other countries lost. The war was also the most costly in history, and it overextended U.S Government expenditure at the same point in time raising its national debt by almost fifth-fold in just about two years. At the end of the war, the United States came out victorious, both at home and abroad. The Cold War ensued right after the WWII between the democracies and the soviets. The war was, as much as it suffered several setbacks, therefore, a blessing in disguise to the United States.
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