Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

By William M. Tuttle Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10 The Fractured Homefront: Racial and Cultural Hostility

THERE WAS A central contradiction on the American homefront during the Second World War: Amidst enthusiastic national unity there existed deep racial, ethnic, and cultural animosities that occasionally exploded into violence. Although historians have recognized this contradiction in studies of the 1943 race riots and of the government's internment of 112, 704 Japanese- Americans, they have barely scratched the surface in exposing the fractures that rent the homefront. Buried have been countless stories of the hostility suffered by children because of their race, ethnic heritage, and religious beliefs. Suffering most were America's children of color, but also affected were its Jewish-American children, children of German and Italian descent, Mexican-American children, and children of religious pacifists and nonconformists.

This chapter exposes the persistence of prejudice during the war. The victims were children, but so too were many of the bigots. For these reasons, it is important to understand the influences that fostered hatred and meanness in wartime America. This chapter begins with six vignettes that are emblematic of the gap between lofty ideals and ugly realities on the homefront.

Wanda Davis and the Jehovah's Witnesses: Nine-year-old Wanda Davis experienced hurt and dismay in 1943. Her beliefs were those of a Jehovah's Witness. The Witnesses were unpopular, Wanda remembered, because they refused to "worship an emblem of the state" and thus would not salute the flag or pledge their allegiance to it. The Witnesses' enemies were legion: governments throughout the world, including Nazi Germany; Roman Catholic and Protestant clerics; the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars; vigilante mobs; and the police officers who openly sided with mobs assaulting the Witnesses. Attacks occurred as the Witnesses engaged in streetcorner distribution of the Watchtower magazine and even as they met in their Kingdom Halls to pray. 1

In Winnsboro, Texas, in December 1942, O. L. Pillars and a number of Jehovah's Witnesses were handing out magazines when a mob approached. As the

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