World War II

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Digital History ID 3827

World War II

Interpreting Primary Sources

It seems to be unfortunately true that the epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading. When an epidemic of physical disease starts to spread, the community approves and joins in a quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease....War is a contagion, whether it be declared or undeclared....We are determined to keep out of war, yet we cannot insure ourselves against the disastrous effects of war and the dangers of involvement. We are adopting such measures as will minimize our risk of involvement, but we cannot have complete protection in a world of disorder in which confidence and security have broken down.

President Roosevelt, 1937

There can be no objection to any hand our government may take which strives to bring peace to the world so long as that hand does not tie 130,000,000 people into another world death march....We reach now a condition on all fours with that prevailing just before our plunge into the European war in 1917. Will we blindly repeat that futile venture? Can we easily forget that we won nothing we fought for then--that we lost every cause declared to be responsible for our entry then?

Senator Gerald P. Nye, 1937

Our whole program of aid for the democracies has been based on hardheaded concern for our own security and for the kind of safe civilized world in which we wish to live. Ever dollar of material we send helps to keep the dictators away from our own hemisphere. Every day that they are held off gives us time to build more guns and tanks and planes and ships.

President Roosevelt, May, 1941

We know that our fate is tied up with the fate of the democratic way of life. And so, out of the depths of our hearts, a cry goes out for the triumph of the United Nations. But...unless this war sounds the death knell to the old Anglo-American empire systems, the hapless story of which is one of exploitation for the profit and power of a monopoly capitalist economy, it will have been fought in vain. Our aim then must not only be to defeat nazism, fascism, and militarism on the battlefield, but to win the peace, for democracy, for freedom and the Brotherhood of Man without regard to his pigmentation, land of his birth or the God of his fathers....

White citizens...should [not] be taken into the March on Washington Movement as members. The essential value of an all-Negro movement as the March on Washington is that it helps to create faith by Negroes in Negroes. It develops a sense of self-reliance with Negroes depending on Negroes in vital matters. It helps to break down the slave psychology and inferiority-complex in Negroes which comes and is nourished with Negroes relying on white people for direction and support.

A. Philip Randolph, 1942, proposing a march on Washington

Questions To Think About

1. Did President Roosevelt try as hard as he could to avoid American involvement in World War II or did he actually seek American involvement?

2. Could American involvement in the war have been avoided?

3. Should the United States have been better prepared for war? Why wasn't it?

4. Would stronger American policies in the l930s have forced Germany, Italy and Japan to adhere to the principles of international law?

5. What should the American role be when other nations are threatened by military aggression?

6. Describe the status of black Americans during the war. Do you agree with A. Philip Randolph's proposal to limit leadership in a march on Washington to blacks only?

Impact of World War II

Interpreting Statistics

Distribution of Family Income 
  1941 1944
Wealthiest 5% 24 20.7
Wealthiest 20%  48.8 45.8
Second Wealthiest 20% 22.3 22.2
Middle 20% 15.3 16.2
Second Poorest 20% 9.5 10.9
Poorest 20% 4.1 4.9

Labor Force Participation 
  Males  Females 
1940  55 % 28 % 
1944   62 % 37 %
1947  57 % 31 %

Average Earnings 
1940  $1,300 
1944  $2,108 
1947  $2,589 

Personal Savings 
1940 $ 4.2 billion
1941 11.1 billion
1942 27.7 billion
1943 33.0 billion
1944 36.9 billion
1945 28.7 billion
1946 13.5 billion
1947 4.7 billion

Questions To Think About

1. What impact did World War II have on family income, the distribution of income, earnings, labor force participation, and savings?

2. What happened to women's participation in the labor force during and after the war?

Wartime expenditures

Interpreting Statistics

Percent of National Income Spent on Defense, 1937 
United States 1.5 % 
British Empire 5.7 
France 9.1 % 
Germany 23.5 %
Japan 28.2 %
USSR 26.4 %

Armaments Production, 1940-1943
  1940 1943
United States $1.5 billion $37.5 billion 
Britain 3.5 billion 11.1 billion 
USSR 5.0 billion 13.9 billion 
Germany 6.0 billion 13.8 billion 
Japan 1.0 billion 4.5 billion 

Federal Government Spending 
1940 9.1 billion
1941 13.3 billion
1942 34.0 billion
1943 79.4 billion
1944 95.1 billion
1945 98.4 billion
1946 60.4 billion
1947 39.0 billion

Questions to Think About

1. What happened to federal spending during the second world war?

2. Compare armaments production by the allied and axis powers.

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