American Identity

Due to the draft, many men became soldiers during WWII. The government used propaganda to entice young men to enlist. The men were put through eight weeks of basic training and then shipped overseas.(15) They faced incredibly difficult situations while serving overseas, and many lost their lives. When the war was over, the Baby Boom generation was born due to the return of soldiers, husbands, fiancés, and boyfriends.

During the 40’s, women became more independent and important members of society. As the men went off to war, the women became the laborers. Moreover, women became more involved in sports with the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943 and all girls golf tournaments.(14) Eleanor Roosevelt became the delegate for America after the U.N. was established. Women planted Victory Gardens in their yards. Some women even went overseas as soldiers and as nurses.


During the 1940s, laborers became more unionized due to the shortage of workers caused by the war.(16) In 1942, the National War Labor Board (NWLB) was created by FDR to handle labor disputes during the war.(17) Many labor organizations promised to avoid striking during the war.(17) After the war, though, several essential industries went on strike and Truman stepped in. He ordered a government seizure of the coal mines when they were on strike and threatened striking railroad laborers with being drafted.(14) IN 1948, the Taft-Hartley act prohibited union-only work places, restricted striking, gave the government more power to stop strikes, and prevented union funds from being used for political purposes. Overall, labor in the 40s became more unionized and also more restricted and valued.

American Diversity

Immigration and Foreign Policies- The Alien Registration Act requires the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens in the United States over the age of 14. The act classifies Korean immigrants as subjects of Japan. Also, Filipinos are reclassified as U.S. citizens, making it possible for them to register for the military. Executive Order 9066 authorizes the military to evacuate 112,000 Japanese Americans from the Pacific coast and placed them in ten internment camps. The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed. By the end of the 1940s, all restrictions on Asians acquiring U.S. citizenship are abolished. Congress creates the Bracero Program a guest worker program bringing temporary agricultural workers into the United States from Mexico but the program ends in 1964. In the case of United States v. Korematsu, the Supreme Court upholds the internment of Japanese Americans as constitutional. The Displaced Persons Act permits Europeans displaced by the war to enter the United States outside of immigration quotas. (21)

Advancement of African American Population

African Americans continued to migrate from the rural South to the urban North to improve their economic status One of the most dramatic instances occurred in 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black to play major league baseball in the 20th century. In 1949 Wesley A. Brown became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. (22)
external image jackie-robinson-hof.jpg

Whites reacted violently to the wartime movement of blacks to urban areas in the North and the West. By the late 1940s, as the black percentage of city populations increased, more and more whites moved to the new suburbs that often restricted black residence. Conflicts between black workers and white workers over housing and jobs developed in some cities. In Detroit in 1943, for example, 25 blacks and 9 whites died in a race riot before federal troops restored order. (22)


Films were a huge form of entertainment for most Americans in the days before TV caught on. For 25 cents one could see a film and maybe even a double feature. There were usually some news stories, a cartoon, a serial western or cliff hanger, then the feature film. Your movie experience could last from 2-6 hours - and 10 cents more would buy a soft drink and popcorn. A few film important hits of the era included: Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley, Sergeant York, Suspicion, Grapes of Wrath, Gunga Din, Dumbo, Fantasia, Bambi. (18)
-1941 winner of the Kentucky Derby was Whirlaway ridden by Eddie Arcaro

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-1941 saw the Chicago Bears as Pro Football champs and Texas was the top college team
-Baseball was THE American pastime. Football was popular of course, especially in college but baseball was the king of American sports. (18)
There were only a few ways to listen to music including: radio, a 78-RPM record player, juke box, or best of all - live whule swing music was the most popular listened to for the generation fighting the war with Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Charlie Barrnet, Artie Shaw. Other popular music was Jazz, with some of the most popular artists being Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway Duke Ellington (with Ella Fitzgerald), Count Basie, and Flecther Henderson. (18)
On January 31, 1933 the first broadcast of the greatest radio western began. It originated from station WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan and ran until August 31, 1955. The program was broadcast 3268 times over that time span and spread to over 400 radio stations across the United States. (18) Radio was the lifeline for Americans in the 1940's, providing news, music and entertainment, much like television today. Programming included soap operas, quiz shows, children's hours, mystery stories, fine drama, and sports. (19)
Fads and Styles
In 1940s fashion you had major shortages in fabric. Women had dresses down to their knees or a little below. The broad and square shoulders were in during that time because of the influence of military clothes. (20)
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Art and Literature
Also, art seemed to change since Adolf Hitler eliminated artists whose ideals didn't agree with his own, many emigrated to the United States, where they had a profound effect on American artists. The center of the western art world shifted from Paris to New York. To show the raw emotions, art became more abstract. Jackson Pollock was the leading force in abstract expressionism, but many others were also influential (19)
external image painting_jackson_pollock.jpg

Also, The decade opened with the appearance of the first inexpensive paperback. Book clubs proliferated, and book sales went from one million to over twelve million volumes a year. Many important literary works were conceived during, or based on, this time period, but published later. Thus, it took a while for the horror of war and the atrocities of prejudice to come forth. Shirley Jacksonwrote The Lottery to demonstrate how perfectly normal, otherwise nice people, could allow something like the Holocaust. In the Human Comedy, William Saroyan tackles questions of prejudice against the setting of World War II. Richard Wright completed Native Son in 1940 and Black Boy in 1945, earning acclaim, but government persecution over his communist affiliation sent him to Paris in 1945. Nonfiction writing proliferated, giving first-hand accounts of the war. The first edition of Dr. Benjamin Spock's Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care is considered by some to have changed child rearing. (19)

Economic Transformations

The 1940’s were a period of economic rebound from the great depression.


War fueled the economy during this decade. At the very beginning, America was simply a supplier for other nations involved in the war, but as the conflict grew, Americans started to produce goods to prepare for America’s entry into the conflict. After the Americans were at war, to ensure the government was amply supplying its troops, the government become more involved with business and even took over some companies.(10) After world war II was over, Americans started to produce supplies for the Cold War.(10)


While the men were fighting as soldiers in Europe or on the Pacific front during WWII, women took over their jobs in the factories. “Rosie the Riveter” became a popular icon of an American woman working in the factories supporting the War effort.
Rosie the Riveter



Taxes during the ‘40s were the major source of income for the government. Due to WWII, the rates of many taxes had to be raised. During this decade the individual income tax was expanded upon. Rates were increased and in 1943, the employer began deducted the tax directly from the salary of the worker.(11) Tax deductions were added or increased for married couples and for people with dependents.(11)

Victory gardens, Scrap drives, Rationing

During World War II, the American government was worried about having enough supplies to sustain people on the home front and the troops overseas. Many citizens grew “victory gardens” to help reduce their own reliance on the nation’s food supplies. Several organizations held scrap drives in the hopes of recycling old items into new items that could be used in the war effort. Drives for steel and iron were the most beneficial.(13) Rationing was used to ensure enough materials were saved to supply the troops with.


GI Bill

Seeing that when the soldiers returned from the front, unemployment would once again become an issue in American, Congress passed the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944. This act provided each soldier with money for tuition for college along with other school supplies, housing, and unemployment insurance.(12) Without this act, the economy could have spun into another recession.
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The GI Bill



During the 1940's it is known to be part of the "third great awakening," where there was an attack on corruption of big business and the right; labor reforms; civil rights and women's rights movements; belief in equality of condition (principle that equality is to be achieved primarily by government programs aimed at raising wages and transferring income from rich to poor through income taxes and finance welfare programs); rise in belief that poverty is not a personal failure but a societal failure; expansion of secondary and higher education; attack on religious and racial barriers to equal opportunity (leading to later attacks on gender-based assumptions of behavior and discrimination based on sexual orientation). (23)
Return to Churches
After a long period of decline during the Depression, American churches experienced a revival—unique among the belligerents—following World War II. Church membership skyrocketed, and thousands of new congregations were formed. About 43 percent of the public attended church before the war; by 1950 more than 55 percent were members of religious groups. Pollsters in 1947 revealed that the public held religious leaders in greater esteem than political figures and businessmen. (24)

Politics and Citizenship


World War II

During the 1940’s, two presidents served for the American people. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his third term in 1940, and his fourth term in 1944. Soon after being inaugurated in 1945, FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage.(2)His death spurred the creation of the 22nd amendment to the Constitution which limited a President to two full elected terms. Harry S. Truman, FDR’s vice president, then became President of the United States after only serving a few weeks as vice president and receiving little to no briefing on the issues by Roosevelt.(3)
Politics in the 1940s were dominated by foreign policy. By 1940, the Germans were in control of France and England was under siege.(3) FDR was trying to support the Allies, especially England, in any way he could without entering the war.(2) In 1941, the Lend-Lease Act was passed in Congress allowing the US to lend England ammunition and weapons because England had no more money.(4) On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the next day Congress declared War against Japan.(4) { [http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrpearlharbor.htm] FDR’s famous infamy speech regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor. }Germany and Italy then declared war on the U.S. on the 11th. The United States was part of the Allied Powers, along with namely the Soviet Union and England. They were fighting against the Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan. Stalin (USSR), Roosevelt (U.S.), and Winston Churchill (Eng) met in Iran in November of 1943 to plan D-Day. On June 6, 1944, Allied forces stormed the northern beaches of France and gained a foothold in Normandy.(6)
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Map of the planned D-day invasion


Near the end of World War II in Europe, Allied leaders met at Yalta. There they “redrew the world” and decided that once there was Allied victory in Europe, the USSR would declare war against Japan. In 1945, in San Francisco, the United Nations conference was held and the United Nations Charter was signed.(7) This created an organization to deal with international disputes.(7) Allied leaders later met at Potsdam to decide how to put the ideas from Yalta into use.
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Signing of UN Charter in San Francisco

General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, P.I., October, 1944.

Victory in Europe day was celebrated on May 8th, 1945 with the German surrender by the President of Germany because Adolph Hitler had committed suicide just eight days before.(8) (Audio clip from VE day: http://hearitnow.umd.edu/1945.htm)

Victory in Japan day was in the more distant future. President Truman had to make the difficult decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. They were dropped in August of 1945, first on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki three days after.(4) VJ day was celebrated on August 14, 1945. (Primary sources about the atomic bombs: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm)
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The blast of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.


After VJ Day


The War also affected the citizens on the home front. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was signed by FDR and instituted the first draft during peacetime in American history(4) . This act provided about 10 million soldiers if the U.S. ever got involved in the foreign conflict(4) . Once involved in the war, Hollywood was enlisted to produce numbers of propaganda films, the government, in hopes of creating new weapons, supported research, and the Labor Disputes Act of 1943 was passed, which stated that the government could take over businesses that were should to affect national security.(4) Consumer goods were rationed and scrap metal drives were held to support the war effort.(4)

(http://www.history.com/minisites/worldwartwo/viewVideoGallery?minisiteId=1327 WWII video footage)

After World War II and the Cold War

After WWII, communism became an increasingly important issue in American politics. Once the USSR and the United States stopped fighting on the same side in WWII, they became enemies in cold war. This war pitted communism against capitalism, but never actually resulted in fighting. After the war, the Soviet Union and the U.S. were the two major superpowers remaining and they were competing for entry into healthy economies. The USSR was trying to increase its domain by threatening to takeover Turkey and Greece. President Truman issued the Truman Doctrine in 1947, saying that the U.S. must protect other nations that wish to remain free.(4) (Truman Doctrine: Audio and Video- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmQD_W8Pcxg&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideosearch%3Fhl%3Den%26q%3Dtruman%2520doctrine%26cts%3D1240952028036%26um%3D1%26ie%3DUTF-8%26sa%3DN&feature=player_embedded)
This later became the U.S. policy known as containment where the United States would not go to war with the USSR, but would protect other countries in danger of a Soviet takeover.(4) The US also chose to support the nationalist government in China during the Chinese revolution, where eventually, Mao Zedong’s communist party won.(4)
Truman giving Truman Doctrine speech


Fear of Communism
Throughout history, American’s have been against communism. Due to the fear Americans felt of the USSR, a communist nation, new programs were established. The National Security Council was a group of advisors on foreign affairs for the president and the Central Intelligence Agency was the spy network for America.(4) Truman, in 1947, ordered that millions of federal employees be searched for any connection to communism, giving way to a movement known as McCarthyism.

Rebuilding After WWII
The Marshall plan, named for the Secretary of State, appropriated some $12 million to help rebuild Europe. In return for the aid, Americans expected these nations to become their allies.(4) Germany had been split into four sections, one each for the U.S., England, the USSR, and France. Everyone except the USSR planned to merge their sections, but the USSR refused and instated what is known as the Berlin Blockade for more than a year. (4) Truman made sure to continue supplying the city, and eventually the Soviets gave up. America was also involved in the rebuilding of Japan.



Due to the war with Japan, Japanese-American citizenship was on the line. The Supreme court had ruled that in times of war, civil liberties may be shrunken or even violated.(4) Many people feared that anyone who was Japanese, even those born in the U.S., would become a spy for Japan.(4) Many Japanese Americans, especially those on the west coast, were sent to internment camps from 1942-1945.(4) FDR signed Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which told the Army to designate areas where certain person may be excluded.(5) (full text: http://www.asianamericanmedia.org/jainternment/ww2/eo9066_text.html) “Japanese Americans had no charges brought against them, there was no hearing; they did not know where they were going, how long they would be detained, what conditions they would face, nor what would happen to them.”(5) Upon entering the camps, the Japanese lost most of their possessions and homes or businesses.(4) The U.S., while cooperating with some Latin America nations, placed some Japanese Latin Americans in U.S. internment camps and used them as bargaining chips when bargaining with Japan for U.S. prisoners.(5).
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Map of Japanese Internment Camps

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Children in a Japanses Internment Camp. t the camps, living conditions were very poor.


During World War II, the Army was still segregated based on race. African Americans were the subject of much racism, especially in the South. Their right to vote was often restricted by poll taxes. President Truman created a progressive plan for civil rights, which called for ending segregation, poll taxes, and enforcing antilynching laws more strictly.(4) Truman created the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. During this time period, some important court cases about school and busing segregation were decided and Jackie Robinson became the first black major league baseball player.(4)



After World War II the United States was clearly a superpower nation. US troops were stationed across Europe, and American industries were supplying the rebuilding of Europe. America’s economy was one of the few healthy ones at the end of World War II. Americans depended on foreign markets to export their products to and increasingly depended upon foreign imports of metals to drive American industries.(4)
Americans had helped to develop the United Nations, which immersed them even further into international affairs.
NATO was formed in April of 1949 and is an alliance of several democratic North Atlantic countries.(9) Its purpose was to act as an organization where common concerns and international issues can be discussed.(9)

Short Essay Question

How did America become an international superpower during the 1940s?

Multiple Choice

1.Many Japanese Americans were interned because
a. they had taken part in planning the attack on Pearl Harbor
b. Americans thought they would be traitors to America
c. their businesses were becoming too competitive
d. they were going to return to Japan to fight for Japan against the Americans

2.The U.S. government tried to stop the spread of communism in which nation by providing military enforcements?
a. Greece
c. China
d. Turkey

3. Franklin Roosevelt served how many full terms as president?
a. 1
b. 2
c. 3
d. 4

4. Harry S. Truman supported:
a. Mao Zedong’s party in China
b. Communism
c. labor strikes
d. the desegregation of America

5. The fear of Communism led to
a. the Cold War
b. McCarthyism
c. Containment

d. All of the Above


1 http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade40.html
2 http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt/
3 http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/harrystruman/
4 “Cracking the AP History Exam.” The Princeton Review
5 http://www.asianamericanmedia.org/jainternment/ww2/pearl.html
6 http://www.army.mil/d-day/
7 http://www.un.org/aboutun/unhistory/
8 http://hearitnow.umd.edu/1945.htm
9 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-E0E83FF5-B44EDD43/natolive/what_is_nato.htm
10 http://www.bookrags.com/history/america-1940s-business-and-the-economy/
11 http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/legislation/1940.cfm
12 http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=76#
13 http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2395/were-wwii-scrap-drives-just-a-ploy-to-boost-morale
14 http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/womenofthecentury/decadebydecade/1940s.html
15 http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/us_soldiers_01.shtml
16 http://www.enotes.com/1940-business-economy-american-decades/unions-heyday-organized-labor
17 http://www.answers.com/topic/national-war-labor-board-world-war-ii

18 http://www.29thdivision.com/research/culture.html
19 http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade40.html
20 http://www.usd230.k12.ks.us/espictt/fashion/fashionhome.htm
21 http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/immigration_chron.cfm
22 http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761595158_8/african_american_history.html
23 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/256626.html
24 http://www.enotes.com/1940-religion-american-decades