Don’t have time to read the books or watch the films? Newbury College professor Dan Breen to the rescue!
In these short interviews, Dan sketches a picture of America on the eve of World War II, through the DDay invasion that clinched the Allied victory over Germany, all the while shining a light on how the events of nearly 70 years ago, created the world and the country as we know it.
“America Goes to War”: Throughout the 1930’s, Americans watched with concern as Germany and Italy took over Europe, and Japan began its campaign of imperial expansion. Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America responded by supporting Britain’s opposition to Nazi Germany and by building up our own its military presence at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the U.S. territorial outpost in the Pacific. Reluctant to intervene in conflicts on “foreign soil”, and remembering the horrors of World War I, Americans were forced out of isolation and onto center stage when the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through absolute victory”. -President Roosevelt in his Address to Congress
Quincy resident and WWII veteran Jim Joyce: Everybody was joining up
“The Homefront”: By 1943, the Allies were producing nearly three times as much munitions as the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The effort on the American Home Front was the economic Juggernaut that helped tipped the scales of victory.
“Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much”. -President Roosevelt, fireside chat, 2/23/42
The Japanese American Experience in World War II: After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US government opened what would be a shameful chapter in its own history by ordering the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were forced from their homes into “permanent relocation centers”.
“How could such a tragedy have occurred in a democratic society that prides itself on individual rights and freedoms? I have brooded about this whole episode on and off for the past three decades…” -Milton Eisenhower, director of the War Relocation Authority
Mood Indigo: African Americans and the War: More than 1 million African Americans fought in World War II, in a military that would not be desegregated until 1949. They were often treated as second class citizens by military commanders, and the accomplishments of black WWII servicemen have been underestimated and under-reported. But on the field and on the battlefield as well as the homefront, the war sowed the seeds of the civil rights movement that later transformed this country’s political and social landscape.
“They battled Nazism and Fascism in the skies over North Africa and Europe, and racism on the ground back in the United States. They painted the tails of their P-51s bright red, and names like “Hammerin’ Hank,” “Creamer’s Dream,” and “‘Mo’ Downs” on the sides of their aircraft. But what really made the Tuskegee Airmen distinct was the fact that they never lost a bomber during some 200 escort missions during World War II.” – from Air Force News Service article, Aug 1995 by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe
Women Join the Workforce: During World War II, the number of women in the workforce increased by about 25%. Although many of these women left the workforce when American servicemen returned home, the second world war helped lay the groundwork for the feminist movement of the 1970s.
“The first thing to do to win your war is to lose your amateur standing. Girls and young women are needed badly and immediately for the daily jobs that must go on if our world is to go on…Somewhere, right near you, there is an empty job that must be filled; a job a man has left to go where he was told to go. He may have driven a bus, a taxi or a trolley; he may have worked in a bank, a drugstore or a telegraph office. If he can do what he is doing now, certainly you can do what he used to do. For God’s sake–are we women or are we mice?” -writer Dorothy Parker, in an article that appeared in the May 1943 issue of Mademoiselle magazine
The Experience of Combat: D Day, a documentary from PBS The American Experience “D-Day is told entirely with rare archival footage — much of it never shown before — and the voices of 43 people who were there. Produced by Charles Guggenheim, the film is also a centerpiece for the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. It should never be forgotten that, of all events of our tumultuous 20th century, perhaps the most important was the defeat of the Nazi empire; and for a long and very dark time, for nearly five years, that outcome was by no means certain. D-Day was the turning point. It was day one of the final drive to complete Allied victory.”
The first brief communique was electrifying — “London, Tuesday, June 6, 1944: Under command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.” The world caught its breath. Not since 1688 had an invading army crossed the English Channel, but now it was happening — Operation Overlord, D-Day, the all-out attack on Hitler’s fortress Europe. The first assault wave hit the beaches of Normandy at 6:30 a.m.
The place of the landing was the best-kept, most important secret of the war in Europe, and success depended on elaborate deception; but it was the individual valor of the men who went ashore in combination with the greatest marshaling of ships, planes and guns ever in history that were decisive. Never was America’s productive might so dramatically employed. The armada reached as far as the eye could see.” —from The American Experience
“At the edge of the cliffs, the wind is a smack, and D-day becomes wildly clear: climbing that cutting edge into the bullets.” — John Vinocur
End Note: A reporter from the Patriot Ledger newspaper who wrote a story about this website asked me about the importance of World War Two. I’m not an historian–I’m not even a very astute observer of politics or culture or finances. But the financial crisis that is now enveloping the US and other countries has an “end of the century” feel to it that entirely by coincidence makes the library’s ww2 programs and site feel as much like a farewell to the America created by that war as it does a remembrance.
The promise and sheer capital that the war generated seems to have been spent, and now we are again looking at tough times and looking for leaders who can help summon not just the policies of recovery, but a collective national will to re-imagine how we live and how we think.
“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” -Aristotle
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