A month after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt proclaims that victory over the aggressor nations is now our countries highest priority. F.D.R.’s “impossible” 1942 production goal of 60,000 aircraft, 45,000 tanks, 20,000 antiaircraft guns and 8,000,000 tons of shipping are intended to strike fear in the enemy and mobilize the home front.
In January 1942, the War Production Board is established to assist in the changing over of factories to war production. The military’s tremendous need for manpower and war material pulls the US from her economic doldrums. The unemployment lingering from the Great Depression is instantly erased. Millions of Americans leave their non-essential jobs and flock to war plants. Dormant factories are now operating at full production. The clatter of hammers and the clash of gears envelop the country. People from all professions and backgrounds turn their efforts to the consuming task of winning the war. Every sector of the American economy needs to work overtime. A mandatory 48 hour work week is put into place. Automobile plants are converted to make aircraft. By 1943 war production is in full swing. Shipyards run 24 hours a day to combat the great losses at Pearl Harbor. “Liberty Ships” are mass produced in sections at a rate of one every six weeks. From 1942 through the end of the war, American shipyards will produce over 75,000 ships. This stupendous effort makes the United States the world’s leading shipbuilder. Suddenly there are more jobs than workers to fill them. Teenagers, the elderly and even convicts are handed war related jobs but still more labor is needed.
July 1942 is a crucial month on the American home front. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, followed by a series of U.S. defeats in the Pacific leave many feeling demoralized. The Government, in desperate need of a plan to boost morale, looks to the Office of War Information. Essentially created to “sell the war” the O.W.I. turns to one of the oldest forms of mass media – posters. Government agencies, businesses and private organizations issue an array of poster images that unite the military front with the home front. Thousands are plastered across the country – in storefronts, factories and street corners. They ridicule the enemy and they call upon every American to get involved. When the O.W.I. tells Americans that the most urgent problem on the home front is the careless leaking of sensitive information to spies and saboteurs – radio programs, short films and the Army’s lovable foul-up, “Snafu” hammer home the message. The constant repetition of images and messages helps soothe America’s anxiety and makes winning the war the personal mission of every citizen.
The National Office of Civil Defense, established by F.D.R. springs into action following the events of December 7th. Americans are now willing to go to great length to protect themselves. Thousands of men who are not fit for active military service eagerly volunteer to become Civil Defense, or CD workers. They are asked to oversee and assist in activities designed to safeguard American citizens in their homes and in their communities. Their chief duties are to enforce mandatory air raid drills and blackouts. To better protect our seashores, coastal homes are supplied with black out curtains. People living or working in sensitive areas are asked to black out their windows. Windows everywhere are taped for protection against shattering glass in the event of an attack. Air raid drills, like the ones in New York City, are practiced all across the country. Drills in the classrooms are rehearsed constantly. Each town has a “plane spotter.” Armed with binoculars and enemy plane identification, these sky-pilots scan the skies for enemy aircraft. CD workers train to fight fires. And if and when the situation arises, CD workers are ready to help distribute gas masks to adults and children. Whatever duties the CD workers perform, Americans at home feel as if they are in a state of readiness. These home front volunteers are doing their part to win the war.
To help finance the military expenditures, the government turns to Hollywood. In 1943, major TV and film celebrities including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby make a whirlwind tour across the country. Its highlight, at the foot of the Washington Monument, is the biggest bond rally of the war. There is no shortage of Hollywood celebrities when it comes to raising funds: James Cagney, Olivia DeHavilland, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner, Bette Davis are among the many who pitch-in. Singer Kate Smith’s recording of Irvin Berlin’s “God Bless America” becomes the anthem for the war years and raises over $40 million dollars in just one 16-hour radio marathon. The USO, United Service Organization, provides entertainment for on-leave members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. The most popular USO are New York’s Stage Door Canteen and California’s Hollywood Canteen. Gaggles of celebrities can be seen nightly to support the war effort. By the end of the war, Americans have purchased an amazing $186 billion dollars in war bonds.
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