“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date that will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…”
On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, armed with those now famous words of his speech to Congress, asked them to declare war on Japan, hurling the United States into World War
II. War sentiment had been brewing, but with the attack on Pearl Harbor, we were now committed to take action.
World War II was unlike any war the United States had fought, especially on the home front. This war brought everyone together for a common purpose; to defeat the axis powers, which included
Germany and Italy, as well as Japan. The Italians that live in the United States were pretty much accepted in this country, as were the Germans; the Japanese, however were seen as sneaky and
ruthless little snakes in the grass. This was the reason the Japanese were put into internment camps during the war. This included Americans, who were of Japanese descent, like Margaret
“I was born in Japan. My mother was from Ireland and my father was from Japan… after Pearl Harbor we started to get worried… people were starting to get angrier… the day we were taken to the
camp we had to go to a designated place to get a bus.”
The Japanese were treated pretty unfairly, but because of the attack on Pearl Harbor Americans were scared and were in constant fear that the Japanese were going to bomb the mainland as well.
This brings to mind the days following September 11, 2001—another date that lives in infamy—with the treatment of Arabs and American of Middle Eastern descent. The anti-Japanese rhetoric was
rampant and it didn't help matters that elected officials were making comments like Congressman John Rankin who said,
“I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, or Hawaii, now and putting them in concentration camps… Damn them! Let's get rid of them now.”
Even the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, was making derogatory statements;
“Their (Japanese and Japanese Americans) racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese.”
The war certainly did change a lot of things, especially on the home front. People pulled together and sacrificed not just their lives, but also sacrificed items that were thought of as
luxurious, such as nylons and even necessary items like food. People were given stamps that would count towards the purchase of food, and stickers were also given out for gasoline. As for the
stamps for food, you would pay for your food, but you would also have to use the stamps as well. When you ran out of stamps you wouldn't be able to get more stamps until the next month, unless
you went through the black market, Mr. B as it was sometimes referred to.
As for gasoline, a lot of people lived close to their work and their food markets were within walking distance as well. People didn't drive as much as they do today; but if you did drive you
were given sticker for rationing gasoline. A-type stickers were given to people with cars, B-type stickers were given to people such as doctors and nurses and C-type stickers were given to
emergency vehicles. My mother, who lived during those war years, recalls that;
“You would save the grease or fat from when you were cooking and turned it in. They used it for making bombs, I think. You also had to save all your aluminum, including your
wrapping from gum and the foil in cigarette boxes. After you had a big ball you would bring it down to the redemption site. Your father was a Boy Scout and remembers doing all sorts of
drives: aluminum, rubber, paper, cans everything and anything.”
Every man who was of age, and some that were not, try to enlist. Women were enlisting too, and each branch of the military had a women’s branch, as well. Some of the men were not allowed to
enlist; their jobs being too important or they had medical problems. My uncle was 4-F, which meant you could not enlist, because of his hearing. It really did a number on him, not being able to
enlist, after all, his brother was going and it seemed everyone in the neighborhood enlisted. He had a hard time always having to explain why he was not in the service, after all he was a young,
healthy looking man; but, like everyone else that fell into that category he went to work in the factories and helps at all the drives. He even became an air raid warden. Defense precautions took
a big priority and armed guards were stationed at water pumping stations, factories, and electric light plants to name a few.
Yes, everyone pull together during the war and most everyone came home a hero and on VE day and VJ Day everyone wept and prayed. They dance in the streets from Times Square to Hollywood and
everywhere in between. When the soldiers came home they were greeted with open arms and were treated like Spartans returning from battle. They received many benefits when they came home, too.
Congress had just passed the G.I. bill allowing veterans to go to school and the government picked up the tab. Uncle Sam also handed out G. I. loans that most returning veterans took advantage
of. There was veteran housing in almost every city and town.
Some homecomings were very tough on the men were returning home, to their families, some of whom they have not seen in years. Their children were all grown up or the babies they didn't know they
had, were now toddlers. There were many happy reunions, but there were also many bitter divorces. The divorce rate in 1946 was at an all time record high. The woman who stayed home and work in
the factories were put out to make room for the returning GIs and some didn't want to leave. Women had gained a lot of independence during the war and that freedom had a sweet taste.
The United States was one of the only major countries in the world that was left standing after the war. With the exception of Pearl Harbor, and the Aleutian Island, in Alaska, which were not
states at the time, our country was not invaded. We had fewer casualties in comparison to the other countries fighting and most countries infrastructures were totally destroyed. The United States
had come out on top and the postwar economy flourished. People were getting a taste of the good life. They were buying things that before the war were considered luxury items. They were getting
educated and segregation was starting to take a turn. Isolationism was no longer going to be United States foreign policy and as The Second War to End All Wars ended, so began the next
one… the Cold War.