THE HOME FRONT DURING THE WAR
As previously stated, the federal government took actions even before the war began to prepare the American economy for war. Thousands of American businessmen also went to Washington to take on jobs relating to the war effort. These were called “dollar-a-year” men, as almost all still received their regular salary from wherever they worked.
The demand for workers increased dramatically during the war years, thus increasing wages for workers as well. Union membership increased during the war; unions generally honored “no-strike” agreements that were made in the weeks after Pearl Harbor. Beginning in 1943 some strikes did occur, especially in the coal mines.
The government needed money to finance the war effort. As stated previously, more money was raised by expanding greatly the number of Americans who had to pay income taxes. In addition, America followed a policy begun in World War I and sold war bonds.
During both wars various celebrities made public appearances to encourage the public to buy these bonds.
Average Americans were asked to sacrifice much during the war. Goods such as gasoline, rubber, meat, sugar, and butter were rationed during the war; American families kept ration cards to determine which of these goods they could still buy during any given period. Recycling was commonplace during the war, and many had to simply do without the goods they desired. Women, for example, were desperate for silk stockings; some took to drawing a line up the back of their legs to make it appear that they had stockings on. City dwellers had to take part in “blackouts,” where they would have to lower all shades to make any enemy airplane attacks more difficult. Men and boys both took turns at lookout stations, where the skies were constantly scanned for enemy bombers. Many high schools across the country eliminated vacations during the year; by doing this, school could end early and students could go off and do essential work. Many workers stayed for extra shifts at work, called “victory shifts.”
Popular culture also reflected the necessities of war. Many movies during the war were light comedies, designed to keep people’s minds off the war. Other movies, such as Casablanca, emphasized self-sacrifice and helping the war effort. “White Christmas” (sung by Bing Crosby) was a favorite during the war, evoking nostalgia in both soldiers abroad and those on the home front. Professional baseball continued during the war, but rosters were made up of players that had been classified 4-F by local draft boards (unfit for military service). The All-American Girls’ Baseball League was founded in 1943 and also provided a wartime diversion for thousands of fans.
Women also entered the American workforce in large numbers during the war. Many women working in “traditional women’s jobs” moved to factory jobs vacated when men went off to fight. The figure of Rosie the Riveter symbolized American working women during the war. In the 1930s women were discouraged from working (the argument had been that they would be taking jobs from men); during World War II many posters informed women that it was their patriotic duty to work. Problems remained for women in the workplace, however: For many jobs, even in the defense industry, they were paid less than men. It is also ironic that when the war ended women were encouraged that it was now their “patriotic duty” to return home and become housewives.