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

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

5
"My Children Are My Jewels": Italian-American Generations during World War II

George E. Pozzetta

Although historians have long recognized war as an "engine of social change," remarkably little is known about the impact of war on ethnicity and ethnic group development. Anthony D. Smith of the London School of Economics noted this fact some years ago when he observed that a vast literature existed on both ethnic groups and warfare, but very scant analysis of the interrelationships existing between them had taken place. 1 With some notable exceptions, Smith's lament could still be taken as valid today.

Most studies of America during World War II either ignore white ethnic groups altogether or approach their inquiries from limited perspectives, usually emphasizing the foreign policy and political implications of ethnic loyalties. 2 Works that do engage ethnicity more broadly tend to take the view that World War II was "the fuel of the melting pot" for ethnic Amricans. 3 This conception of the war's impact pictures white ethnics as succumbing to the inexorable pressures of the war crisis--which placed heavy demands on loyalty, conformity, and patriotism--by abandoning their ethnicity and embracing the dominant culture. Some authors have recognized that in pursuit of wartime unity, the nation did take steps toward "opening up American society to the ethnics in its midst" by supporting pluralism, but the standard narrative continues to depict social change and assimilation as being essentially unilinear in direction, with ethnics passively accepting directions from above while attempting to cope with the broader political, economic, and social changes wrought by the war. 4 Thus, few studies have looked within white ethnic groups to determine precisely how individuals responded to war conditions and, equally important, how they influenced the larger society by their actions.

This study explores the war's impact on one aspect of the Italian-American experience--the group's generational dynamics. It is part of a larger effort to understand how the Italian-American population confronted World War II and responded to its multifaceted demands. It adopts an internal view of the group

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