On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the global conflict known as World War II. The impact of this war was felt by civilians as well as soldiers, as the nation transformed itself from a peacetime to a wartime economy. For some, the war brought opportunity; for others, it brought a challenge to their patriotism and a curtailment of their rights as citizens. And, when the war ended, the map of the world had been redrawn, both physically and diplomatically. The dominance of Europe in world affairs had ended and two new superpowers—the Soviet Union and the United States-- had emerged. The American domestic landscape changed as well: the postwar years saw the reinvigoration of an African American civil rights movement, the rise of anti-communist hysteria, and, by the 1960s, a new challenge to the status quo by American youth.
In this issue, leading scholars explore the war years and their aftermath. In “America’s Depression, America’s War: A Study in Contrasts,” Professor David M. Kennedy analyzes the role that war mobilization played in ending the Great Depression, and reminds us of the differences between an economic crisis and a military crisis. Professor Allan M. Winkler gives us a vivid description of “The World War II Home Front,” taking us into the homes and factories of the 1940s. In their essay, “Every Citizen a Soldier: World War II Posters on the American Home Front,” William L. Bird Jr. and Harry Rubenstein, Curators at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, provide an expert analysis of the visual propaganda that spurred support for the war. Professor Julie Des Jardins examines the tragic impact of the war on America’s citizens of Japanese origin. In “From Citizen to Enemy: The Tragedy of Japanese Internment,” she shows us the difficulties facing not only those who lived through internment but also those who sought to honor their memory. With his essay, “Patriotism Crosses the Color Line: African Americans and World War II,” Professor Clarence Taylor reminds us of the role African American soldiers played in the conflict—and the role their military service played in shaping the racial politics that followed in peacetime. Taken together, these essays help us appreciate the complexity of mobilization for modern warfare and drive home the impact of events on the world stage upon domestic affairs.
As always, History Now provides you with lesson plans for elementary, middle and high school classes. And Mary-Jo Kline provides a wealth of resources, on the web and in the libraries, that can be used to create your own lessons on the war. Don't miss the interactive feature for this issue: a slideshow of World War II propaganda posters, brought to you by our contributors from the National Museum of American History.
We wish you all happy holidays and hope you will turn to History Now again in March of 2008 when we will devote the issue to biographies of women, famous and little known, whose lives illuminate our American past and whose deeds helped shape our history.
Editor, History Now
Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence.