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11-08-2015, 16:53

A VARIETY OF CHANGES AT HOME

In the United States wartime changes varied from the permanent to temporary to transitory. The swollen power of the federal government shrank back to its prewar size. The railroads, for example, returned to private management, and the War Industries Board was abolished. Nonetheless, the memory of government expanding to meet the needs of 1917 and 1918 remained—perhaps for use again in time of international or even domestic emergency. The blaclc migration to the industrial North forever changed the demographic landscape and the shape of American race relations; for one thing, African Americans now had a new political role that came from the relative ease with which they could organize and vote in regions outside the South. Women, however, despite their visible success in the political realm, saw only modest economic progress. Most of the jobs that opened up for them during the wartime period went back to male hands after the war had ended. For immigrants, the war signalled a major shift in national policy. Although immigration swelled to prewar levels immediately after the war, the nativism of 1917-1918 did not subside. Fearing an invasion of political and biological "contagions"—from communism to the flu—coming from Europe, and invoking the license to hate that the wartime "Hate the Hun" campaign and Americanization programs had fanned, nativists won a major victory in the various National Origins acts of the 1920s. These used supposed social science classifications of "national origins" to limit the number of southern, central, and eastern Europeans who could legally enter the United States. Thus, in many respects, the war provided a preview of future change. It would take another great conflict, in which the United States played an even more substantial role, to make some of the changes foreshadowed by World War I permanent. Looking back from a vantage point decades after World War II, one can see in the America of 1 9 1 8 suggestions of what was to come: the United States as international superpower, an American society in which women's roles differed drastically from the pattern of the nineteenth century, a racial distribution in which the problems and possibilities of blackwhite relations involved the entire country, and a federal government that played an ever widening role in American social and economic life. For Europeans, American power and American ideas had played an unprecedented role in the course of events on their continent. Little more than two decades after the end of World War I, in the circumstances of a still greater conflict, but in a fashion foreshadowed by events seen from 1914 through 1919, the United States would again assert its influence in immeasurably more potent and lasting fashion.

 

 

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