World War II Part 2 – The Homefront: Crash Course US History #36


In which John Green teaches you about World War 2, as it was lived on the home front. You’ll learn about how the war changed the country as a whole, and changed how Americans thought about their country. John talks about the government control of war production, and how the war probably helped to end the Great Depression. A broader implementation of the income tax, the growth of large corporations, and the development of the West Coast as a manufacturing center were also results of the war. The war positivelychanged the roles of women and African Americans, but it was pretty terrible for the Japanese Americans who were interred in camps. In short, World War II changed America’s role in the world, changed American life at home, and eventually spawned the History Channel.

Transcript Provided by YouTube:

00:00
Episode 36: World War II (2) – the war at home
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Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course U.S. History and today we’re going to discuss
00:04
how World War II played out at home and also the meaning of the war.
00:08
Mr. Green, Mr. Green, so is this going to be, like, one of the boring philosophical
00:11
ones, then?
00:12
Oh, Me From the Past, I remember when you were idealistic.
00:15
I remember a time when all you cared about was the deep inner meaning of … mostly girls.
00:22
But, you’ve changed, Me from the Past, and not in a good way.
00:27
intro So anyway World War II brought about tremendous
00:36
changes in the United States, in many ways shaping how Americans would come to see themselves
00:40
and how they would want to be seen by the rest of the world.
00:43
Some of these ideological changes were a continuation of the New Deal, others were direct results
00:47
of the war, but one thing we can say is that by the end of the war, the country was very
00:52
different.
00:53
For starters, World War II strengthened the federal government of the United States.
00:56
This always happens when a country goes to war, but World War II brought about even more
01:00
governmental intervention and control than we had seen in World War I.
01:03
It was like the New Deal on steroids.
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Like federal agencies, like the War Production Board, War Manpower Commission and Office
01:10
of Price Administration took unprecedented control of the economy.
01:14
There was massive rationing of food and supplies, entire industries were completely taken over
01:18
by the government.
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The federal government fixed wages, rents, prices, and especially production quotas.
01:23
Like, if you’re looking to buy a 1942 model Ford, or Chrysler, good luck because there
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weren’t any.
01:30
The government told those car makers not to create new models that year.
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So basically FDR was president for life and controlled all the industries.
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I mean, how did this Communist end up on the dime?
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Well the answer is that while it might have sucked not to have a 1942 Ford, most people
01:43
were just happy to be working after the Great Depression.
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Unemployment dropped from 14% in 1940 to 2% in 1943.
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Of course 13 million Americans were serving in the military in some capacity, so that
01:54
helped employment.
01:55
But in general the war kicked the American economy into overdrive.
01:57
Like, by 1944 American factories were producing an airplane every five minutes and a ship
02:02
every day.
02:04
U.S. Gross National Product went from $91 billion to $214 billion during the war.
02:10
Why did this happen?
02:11
Well that’s controversial, but primarily because of federal spending.
02:14
Government expenditures during the war were twice the amount they had been in the previous
02:19
150 years.
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Combined.
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Although a lot of this was financed with debt, much of the war was paid for with taxes.
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Like, the federal government began the practice of withholding taxes from paychecks, for instance,
02:30
a practice I first became familiar with when working at Steak N Shake discovering that
02:34
instead of being paid I don’t know, like, $100 a week, I was being paid -$30 a week
02:39
because I had to declare my tips.
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Because my dad made me.
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Before World War II only 4 million Americans even paid federal income taxes; but after
02:47
the war 40 million did.
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Also big business got even bigger during the war because of government contracts.
02:53
Cost-plus contracts guaranteed that companies would make a profit, and the lion’s share
02:58
of contracts went to the biggest businesses.
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So, by the war’s end the 200 biggest American corporations controlled half of all of America’s
03:05
corporate assets.
03:06
And all this government spending also spurred development, like defense spending basically
03:10
created the West Coast as an industrial center.
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Seattle became a shipping and aircraft-manufacturing hub.
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And California got 10% of all federal spending.
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And Los Angeles became the second largest manufacturing center in the country, meaning
03:22
that it was not in fact built by Hollywood, it was built by World War II.
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All of this was pretty bad for the South, by the way, because most of this industrialization
03:29
happened in cities and the South only had two cities with more than a half a million
03:33
people.
03:34
And organized labor continued to grow as well, with union membership soaring from around
03:37
9 million in 1940 to almost 15 million in 1945.
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Besides union-friendly New Deal policies, the government forced employers to recognize
03:46
unions in order to prevent labor strife and keep the factories humming so that war production
03:50
would not decrease.
03:51
And, from a human history standpoint, one of the biggest changes is that many of the
03:55
workers in those factories were women.
03:57
You’ve probably seen this picture of Rosie the Riveter and while there wasn’t actually
04:01
a riveter named Rosie, or maybe there was but, she’s an amalgam.
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But by 1944 women made up 1/3 of the civilian labor force in addition to the 350,000 who
04:10
were serving in the military.
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And the type of women who were working changed as well.
04:14
Married women in their 30s outnumbered single women in the workforce.
04:17
But the government and employers both saw this phenomenon as temporary, so when the
04:22
war was over most women workers, especially those in high paying industrial jobs, were
04:26
let go.
04:27
This was especially hard on working class women who needed to work to survive and had
04:30
to return to lower paid work as domestics or in food services, or, god forbid, as teachers.
04:36
Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document?
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The rules here are simple.
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We use primary sources for learning as this is a serious show about history and then if
04:44
I guess the author wrong, I get shocked.
04:46
Okay, what do we got today?
04:47
Let’s take a look.
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Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic
04:52
problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor
04:56
in the world.
04:57
For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
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The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple.
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They are: Equality of opportunity for youth and for
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others.
05:10
Jobs for those who can work.
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Security for those who need it.
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The ending of special privilege for the few.
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The preservation of civil liberties for all.
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I mean, that’s some pretty hardcore New Deal stuff right there.
05:20
And, uh, the biggest New Deal-er of all was FDR, BUT I remember last time when I guessed
05:27
FDR and it was actually Eleanor Roosevelt.
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So.
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You wouldn’t do Eleanor Roosevelt twice.
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Or would you?
05:37
Hm.
05:38
No it sounds more like a speech.
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FDR.
05:40
YES!
05:41
So, I mentioned at the beginning of this video that World War II was an ideological war,
05:44
and nothing better encapsulates that idea than FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” which were:
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freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
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During the war the National Resources Planning Board offered a plan for a peacetime economy
05:57
based on full employment, an expanded welfare state and a higher standard of living for
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all.
06:03
In 1944 FDR even called for a new Economic Bill of Rights that would expand governmental
06:07
power in order to create full employment, and guarantee an adequate income, medical
06:11
care, education, and housing to all Americans.
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As FDR put it: “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and
06:19
independence.”
06:20
But that didn’t happen, largely because Southern Democrats in the House and Senate
06:23
didn’t want it to because it would have meant a larger role for unions and also extending
06:27
greater equality to African Americans, and they weren’t about to let that happen.
06:31
I mean, their jobs were literally dependent upon African Americans not being able to vote.
06:36
But, Congress did pass the GI Bill of Rights – officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment
06:40
Act — to attempt to prevent widespread unemployment for returning soldiers.
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It worked amazingly well, and by 1946 more than one million former soldiers were enrolled
06:49
in college and almost 4 million got assistance with mortgages, spurring a post-war housing
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boom.
06:55
Levittown and all the towns since that look like it came after the war.
06:57
So, we talked about FDR’s Four Freedoms, but big business added a fifth freedom – free
07:02
enterprise.
07:03
Advertisers helped on this front, trying to make the war about consumption, telling Americans
07:07
that they were fighting to “hasten the day when you … can once more walk into any store
07:12
in the land and buy anything you want,” according to an ad for Royal Typewriters.
07:16
And FDR’s vision of extending freedom wasn’t limited to the United States, like Henry Luce,
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the publisher of Time Magazine published a book called The American Century claiming
07:24
that the war had thrust upon the U.S. the opportunity to share with all people their
07:29
“magnificent industrial products” (that’s a quote) and American ideas like “love of
07:34
freedom” and “free economic enterprise.”
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Now, of course, there wasn’t complete agreement on this liberal, government-led vision of
07:38
freedom.
07:39
Like, Frederick Hayek in 1944 published the Road to Serfdom, claiming that government
07:40
planning posed a threat to individual liberty.
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And even though he claimed not to be a conservative because conservatives liked social hierarchy,
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Hayek’s equating New Deal planning with Fascism and socialism became a foundation
07:43
for later American conservatives.
07:44
The struggle against Nazism also helped re-shape the way that Americans thought of themselves.
07:45
Like, because the Nazis were racists, Americanism would mean diversity, and tolerance, and equality
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for all people.
07:48
The federal government supported this version of America.
07:50
FDR claimed that to be an American was “a matter of mind and heart,” not “a matter
07:55
of race or ancestry.”[1] Of course, it wasn’t a matter of race and
07:58
ancestry, we’d already killed 95% of the indigenous population.
08:01
This was also, not coincidentally, the period where American intellectuals began publishing
08:05
books debunking the supposed “scientific” basis of racism.
08:09
Now this didn’t mean that Americans suddenly embraced equality for all people.
08:12
Anti-Semitism still existed and contributed to the government’s not doing more to help
08:17
the Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
08:18
In fact, only 21,000 Jewish people were allowed to come to the U.S. during the course of the
08:23
war.
08:24
And white peoples’ fear over minority groups contributed to race riots in Detroit and the
08:27
Zoot Suit Riot against Mexicans in Los Angeles in 1943.
08:31
Not just a song by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, also a tragic moment in American history.
08:35
The war years saw a dramatic increase in immigration from Mexico under the Bracero program (which
08:40
lasted until 1964).
08:41
And about 500,000 Mexican American men and women served in the armed forces during the
08:46
war.
08:47
As did 25,000 American Indians although Indian reservations being largely rural, didn’t
08:51
really share in the wartime prosperity.
08:53
Asian Americans are probably the most glaring example of the failure to be adequately pluralistic.
08:59
Although things did improve for Chinese Americans because America couldn’t keep restricting
09:03
the immigration of its ally in the war, Japanese Americans suffered horrible racism and one
09:08
of the worst violations of civil liberties in America’s history.
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Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 expelled all persons of Japanese descent from the west
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coast.
09:19
70% of Japanese Americans lived in California and as a result of this order more than 110,000
09:24
people, almost 2/3 of whom were American citizens, were sent to internment camps where they lived
09:30
in makeshift barracks under the eyes and searchlights of guards.
09:34
A man named Fred Korematsu appealed his conviction for failing to show up for internment all
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the way to the Supreme Court, where he lost in yet another horrendous court decision.
09:44
Okay, let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
09:45
The group that experienced the greatest change during World War II was probably African Americans.
09:50
They still served in segregated regiments in the armed forces, but more than 1 million
09:54
of them answered the call to fight.
09:56
And just as important, continuing the Great Migration that had begun in the 1920s 700,000
10:01
African Americans left the south, moving to northern and especially western cities where
10:05
they could find jobs, even though these mass migrations often led to tensions between blacks
10:10
and whites and sometimes these tensions exploded into violence.
10:13
World War II also saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
10:15
Angered by discrimination in defense employment, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened
10:20
a march on Washington demanding access to defense jobs, an end to segregation and a
10:25
federal anti-lynching law.
10:27
He didn’t get all those things, but he did get Executive Order 8802 which banned discrimination
10:32
in defense hiring and created the Fair Employment Practices Commission.
10:36
The FEPC couldn’t enforce anti-discrimination but as a compliance agency it helped African
10:41
American workers obtain jobs in arms factories and shipyards.
10:45
By 1944 more than a million black people were working in manufacturing, and 300,000 of them
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were women.
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The rhetoric of fighting a war for freedom against a racist dictatorship wasn’t lost
10:56
on African Americans and many saw themselves as engaged in the double-V campaign, victory
11:01
over the Axis powers abroad and over racism in the United States.
11:06
The war saw ending segregation and black equality become cornerstones of American liberalism,
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along with full employment and the expansion of civil liberties.
11:14
Eventually even the army and navy began to integrate, although the full end to discrimination
11:18
in the military would have to wait until well after the war.
11:21
Thanks Thought Bubble.
11:22
So if America was isolationist before the war – and I’ve argued that it actually
11:25
wasn’t really – after the war it certainly wasn’t.
11:28
FDR took a very active role in planning for a more peaceful and prosperous post-war world.
11:34
And conferences at Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam clarified war aims, and established the idea
11:38
that Germany would be divided and Nazis tried for war crimes.
11:42
These conferences also laid the foundation for the Cold War in allowing Soviet influence
11:46
in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, so that wasn’t such a good thing.
11:50
But, the 1944 conference Bretton Woods, in beautiful, freedom loving New Hampshire, established
11:54
America’s economic dominance as the dollar – which again would be backed by gold — replaced
11:59
the pound as the main currency in international transactions.
12:02
It also created World Bank to help rebuild Europe and also to help developing countries
12:06
and the IMF to stabilize currencies.
12:08
How well that’s worked is debatable, but this isn’t: the United States became the
12:12
financial leader of a global capitalist order.
12:15
The United States also took a leading role in establishing the United Nations at the
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Dumbarton Oaks conference in 1944.
12:21
Why do we not have a UN commission on improving the names of historical events?
12:26
And then America adopted the UN charter, which was endorsed by the Senate because apparently
12:27
we had learned our lesson after the League of Nations debacle.
12:28
The goal of the UN was to ensure peace, and the United States’s position as one of the
12:30
five permanent members of the Security Council signaled that it intended to take an active
12:35
and leading role in international affairs.
12:37
And we had to because by the end of the war only the United States and USSR were powerful
12:42
enough to have any influence.
12:43
So, World War II ended the depression and transformed America’s economy.
12:47
It cemented the new definition of liberalism established by the New Deal, and opened up
12:51
opportunities for diverse groups of Americans.
12:54
It also transformed definitions of freedom both at home and abroad.
12:57
I mean, even before the U.S. entered the war it issued the Atlantic Charter along with
13:01
Britain affirming the freedom of all people to choose their own government and declaring
13:06
that the defeat of Nazi Germany would help to bring about a world of “improved labor
13:11
standards, economic advancement, and social security.”
13:14
At home and abroad World War II became a war that was about freedom, but was also about
13:18
what Gunnar Myrdal called the American Creed – a belief in equality, justice, equal opportunity,
13:25
and freedom.
13:26
I want to be clear that we have done a terrible job of living up to the American Creed, but
13:29
the story of American history is in many ways the story of ideas pulling policy, not the
13:35
other way around.
13:36
American history is an economic and political and social history, but it is also a story
13:40
about the power of ideas.
13:42
And World War II helped clarify those ideas for America and for the world.
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Thanks for watching.
13:48
I’ll see you next week.
13:49
Crash Course U.S. History is made by all of these nice people and it exists because of
13:53
you and your support through Subbable.
13:55
Here at Crash Course, we like making educational content that’s free for everyone forever.
13:59
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14:05
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14:06
There are lots of cool perks, like signed posters over at Subbable, but the biggest
14:08
perk is that you get to keep watching this show.
14:11
So thank you for making it possible, thanks for watching, and as we say in my hometown,
14:15
don’t forget to be awesome…boom.
14:16
Oh god.
14:17
It was worse than I expected.
14:18
________________ [1] quoted in Foner Give me Liberty p. 927


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