The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society

By Kenneth Paul O'Brien; Lynn Hudson Parsons | Go to book overview

In that speech FDR called for "a second Bill of Rights" and laid out a social agenda that the nation has not yet achieved. 41 The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war has produced numerous conferences, exhibits, and publications that will provide all of us with new insights into the war period, and that is, of course, all to the good. But the primary task of the historians of the World War II home front is not just to examine what happened during the war but to relate those events more closely to what had gone before and to what has followed. By the end of the present decade, we ought to have a new perspective, not just on the war years but on the entire "age of Roosevelt." Any evaluation of the changes wrought by Roosevelt made without taking into account the wartime years of his presidency is, at best, incomplete. What this brief survey of bad news from the good war suggests is that not all of those changes were positive.


NOTES
1.
Michael Howard, "Total War in the Twentieth Century," in B. Bond and I. Roy, ed., War and Society: A Yearbook of Military History ( New York: Holmes & Meier, 1975), 224-25.
2.
For a recent reexamination of the important wartime rhetoric of sacrifice, see Mark H. Leff, "The Politics of Sacrifice on the American Home Front in WW II," Journal of American History 77 ( 1991):1296-1318.
3.
Michael J. Anderson, "The Presidential Election of 1944," ( Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1990), elaborates on these and other aspects of that little- examined election. This work should see print soon.
4.
Arthur Marwick, "Problems and Consequences of Organizing Society for Total War," in N. F. Dreisziger, ed., Mobilization for Total War: The Canadian, American and British Experience, 1914-1918, 1939-1945 ( Waterloo, Canada: Wilfred Laurier Press, 1981), 3-4. Previously, the British social critic Richard Titmuss had observed that wartime social policy was largely determined by "how far the co-operation of the masses is essential to the successful prosecution of the war." See Richard Titmuss, "War and Social Policy" Essays on "the Welfare State" ( London: Allen and Unwin, 1958). Cf. Arthur A. Stein, The Nation at War ( Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).
5.
From Stein, Nation at War, p. 35, Table 4-2.
6.
The "Good War": An Oral History of World War Two ( New York: Pantheon, 1994). Terkel says that New York Times staffer Herbert Mitgang suggested the title.
7.
Harold M. Hyman, To Try Men's Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 329.
8.
Among the important topics not considered here or elsewhere in this volume is civilian defense. Robert E. Miller, "The War that Never Came: Civilian Defense, Mobilization, and Morale during World War II," ( Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1991), should see print soon.
9.
Historians have paid a good deal of attention to unionized workers--especially those in the Congress of Industrial Organizations--but little has been written about either American Federation of Labor workers, who were a majority of organized workers, or

-168-

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