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