The USA and the Second World War
After the First World War the USA had returned to Isolationism, but when war broke out in Europe in 1939,
President Roosevelt wanted to help Britain and prepare the USA for war against Germany.
Key Question: How did Roosevelt prepare the USA for war and try to help Britain?
In 1939 he asked Congress for $1,300,000,000 to build up the armed forces
In 1940 he signed the destroyers for bases deal with Britain.
1n 1941 he signed the Lend Lease Act with Britain. This allowed the US government to supply equipment to
Britain which could be returned or paid for at the end of the war
On 7 December Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour. Congress voted for war against Japan on 8
December and against Germany and Italy on 11 December.
Key Question: How did the war affect the lives of US citizens?
Unemployment fell rapidly, in early 1941 there were still 8,000,000 people out of work, despite the New Deal,
by the end of 1942 unemployment was at an all time low. By 1944 it was at 1.4%
16,000,000 US citizens served in the armed forces, many had never travelled before.
There were so many jobs available that many students left education to start work. The number of 1619
year olds at work increased 300%.
The number of working mothers also increased dramatically. This led to an increase in juvenile crime. Many
women found work in the defence industries. The percentage of women working rose from 27 to 37 between
1941 and 1945.
But at the end of the war many women were persuaded to give up work and return to family life.
Key Question: How did the lives and social status of women change during WW2?
Before the war few women followed careers. Most jobs for women were `traditional' roles such as nursing,
secretarial or caring jobs.
Women in industry
Millions of men joined the armed forces more workers were needed to fill their places in the
factories. This changed the traditional views of women. Job opportunities in munitions factories
for workingclass women allowed them to earn a much higher wage than before. Women
became machinists, lumberjacks, dockers and railway engineers. Attitudes changed people
supported these changes. In 1939 only 36 women were employed in shipbuilding. By 1943 the
number was 200,000.
Women in the armed forces
Some 300,000 women served in the army, navy and nursing corps and a quarter of these served
How did the role of women change?
Women were portrayed in the traditional `young and goodlooking' way in beauty parades for
women in the armed services. However images of working women were also used to help
change the stereotypes Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character used in propaganda and
news reports to encourage women to take up `man's work'.
Other pages in this set
Key Question: How did the lives and social status of Blacks change during World War Two?
Black people had suspended their civil rights campaign during World War One, believing they would
get improvements after the war. Nothing happened. Lynching and attacks by rightwing whites continued.
Roosevelt had ordered that blacks should get equal treatment under the New Deal, although in the CCC
they had to attend separate camps. The same policy continued during the Second World War.
In 1941, the army and air force refused to train black officers and pilots. The navy only employed blacks as
kitchen staff (messmen).Black blood could not be used for white casualties. No black women were employed at
Tuskegee Airmen Harriet Pickens & Frances Wills the first
black women in the USAF
As the war went on....
Due to campaigners, 600 black pilots (the Tuskegee Airmen) saw service by 1945. All three services had
black officers, including women.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) set up the New Deal in the 1930s. The
New Deal was the Federal (allstates) Government spending billions of dollars creating jobs, by building dams,
roads, schools and hospitals. Many rich people did not like this because it meant they had to pay more taxes.
The New Deal did not solve unemployment problems. In 1939 18% of American workers were jobless (9.5 million).
The war however did create more jobs (especially soldiers!) and unemployment dropped to 670,000 by 1944.
Some companies were encouraged to make their workers feel patriotic about going to work. They were made to
feel guilty if they were off sick, and were discouraged from asking for payrises. The $175 billion was obviously
not aimed at the worker! The main unions in America agreed not to go on strike during the war, waiting until 1945
to press for better pay.
The war brought the USA out of the Depression.
The USA also took up the challenge it saw from Communism, and the Cold War began. This made
Americans very suspicious of Communism and led to attacks on people suspected of being communists.
In 1947 President Truman announced the Truman
Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. To persuade Congress to vote for them, Truman talked of a Communist
threat to the USA and approved the Federal Employee Loyalty Program. This led to every Federal worker
being investigated for Communist sympathies.
alcoholism, teenage hooliganism and even war were because of women following careers
instead of being housewives and mothers. Kitchen and cleaning appliances like washing machines, fridges and
Hoovers were advertised as being `every woman's dream'.
The suburbs developed in the 1950s. Middleclass families left the cities to
live in new houses in large suburban estates. The husband would drive to
work in his car and the wife would stay at home and bake apple pies.
Key Films to Watch
`The Stepford Wives'(1975) Chilling horror film about a town where all the women are
typical 1950s wives or are they?
'Pleasantville'(1998) A great film starring Reece Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) and
Tobey Maguire (Spiderman) about the effects of the new ideas on a suburban 1950s
Key Question: What were
the effects of the
McCarthy Witchhunts in
The USA had always
had a hatred of
Communism. In the Cold
War this increased.
The McCarthy `Witch Hunts'
In 1950, McCarthy, a Republican Senator, claimed he had a list of 205 members of the
Communist Party of the US, who worked for the State Department. He never had any
evidence, but just waved his list for the cameras. The HUAC summoned 2,375 men and
women, which was enough to cost them their jobs.