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10-08-2015, 17:08

THE HOME FRONT: THREE EXAMPLES

World War II was even more of a global war than World War I. Fighting was much more widespread, economic mobilization was more extensive, and so was the mobilization of women. And the number of civilians killed was far higher: almost twenty million were killed by bombing raids, mass extermination policies, and attacks by invading armies. The home fronts of the major belligerents varied with the local circumstances. World War II had an enormous impact on the Soviet Union. Two of every five persons killed in World War II were Soviet citizens. Leningrad experienced nine hundred days of siege, during which its inhabitants became so desperate for food that they ate dogs, cats, and mice. As the German army made its rapid advance into Soviet territory, the factories in the western part of the Soviet Union were dismantled and shipped to the interior—to the Urals, western Siberia, and the Volga region. Soviet women played a major role in the war effort. Women and girls worked in industries, mines, and railroads. Overall, the number of women working in industry increased by almost 60 percent. Soviet women were also expected to dig antitank ditches and work as air-raid wardens. Finally, the Soviet Union was the only country to use women as combatants in World War II. Soviet women functioned as snipers and also as air crews in bomber squadrons. The female pilots who helped defeat the Germans at Stalingrad were known as the “Night Witches.” The home front in the United States was quite different from those of its chief wartime allies, largely because the United States faced no threat of war on its own territory. Although the economy and labor force were slow to mobilize, the United States eventually became the arsenal of the Allied Powers, producing the military equipment they needed. At the height of war production in 1943, the nation was constructing six ships a day and $6 billion worth of war-related goods a month. Much of this industrial labor was done by American women, who, despite some public opposition, willingly took jobs in factories to replace husbands and brothers who had gone off to war. The mobilization of the U.S. economy caused social problems. The construction of new factories created boomtowns where thousands came to work but then faced shortages of housing, health facilities, and schools. More than one million African Americans migrated from the rural South to the industrial cities of the North andWest, looking for jobs in industry. The presence of African Americans in areas where they had not been present before led to racial tensions and sometimes even race riots. Japanese Americans were treated especially shabbily. On the West Coast, 110,000 Japanese Americans, 65 percent of them born in the United States, were removed to camps encircled by barbed wire and made to take loyalty oaths. Although public officials claimed that this policy was necessary for security reasons, no similar treatment of German Americans or Italian Americans ever took place. Eventually, President Roosevelt agreed to alleviate the situation for Japanese Americans, and by 1943, one-third of those interned had been released from the camps to work in factories or enter military service. In Japan, society had been put on a wartime footing even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. A conscription law was passed in 1938, and economic resources were placed under strict government control. Two years later, all political parties were merged into the so-called Imperial Rule Assistance Association. Labor unions were dissolved, and education and culture were purged of all “corrupt” Western ideas in favor of traditional values emphasizing the divinity of the emperor and the higher spirituality of Japanese civilization. During the war, individual rights were severely curtailed as the entire population was harnessed to the needs of the war effort. Japan was reluctant, however, to mobilize women on behalf of the war effort. General Hideki Tojo, prime minister from 1941 to 1944, opposed female employment, arguing that “the weakening of the family system would be the weakening of the nation. . . . We are able to do our duties only because we have wives and mothers at home.” 5 Female employment increased during the war, but only in areas, such as the textile industry and farming, where women traditionally worked. Instead of using women to meet labor shortages, the Japanese government brought in Korean and Chinese laborers.

 

 

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