Week seven reading

Terkel, The Good War (108-165)    

This week we are returning home to look at the impacts of the war on the civilian population.  This is important to understand the full picture of the story and to remind us that World War II had a profound impact on the world, not just the military. 

Ron’s Response


1. What are some of the ways that women saw drastic changes during the war?  What role did they play in the wartime economy?  How did the wartime economy impact them?          
Women probably were the group that saw the most drastic changes during the war of any group in the United States, as well as around the world. With so many men off and fighting or supporting the war, the women were called upon to keep the factories rolling and supply the war. The United States pushed the Allies to win WWII because of our massive ability to supply the troops with weapons and supplies. The industrialized processes were hard at work and women provided much of the labor needed for this massive production effort. From the accounts in Terkel’s book as well as other accounts I’ve read, most of the women didn’t realize what was changing at the time. When they look back upon it they realize they felt an awareness, but when everything is flipped on its head you don’t know if it’s something different on a permanent basis or just temporary. Women suddenly were making their own incomes and they were incomes you could live off of, not just supplementary farm work. Women purchased items needed for their lifestyle and the survival of their families, but many also had disposable income enough for purchasing additional items. This set the scene for a post-war boom in consumerism and also gave women a reason to continue working once the war was over. When I teach this to my students, they always say it’s like a genie you let out of the bottle and can’t put it back. Men kept women out of the workplace for so long saying that they didn’t need to work, and once women got to work and earn their own paycheck—once they got to do work that was more than just chores-they discovered new freedoms and economic power that they would not easily give up on no matter how much people wanted things to go back to how they were before the war. The wartime economy fundamentally impacted the role of women in society and provided them the experience to see what a more gender equal world looked like fueling the feminist movement of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

2. In what ways were children and teenagers involved in the war effort?  How did it impact their daily lives?
It must have been very interesting to be a child or a teenager during the war because of the unique perspective of age not to mention the various ways in which you interpreted the information given to you. Watching the news reels at the movies of the war would have made it seem glorious and like something you wanted to go and participate in once you were old enough. It also would have inspired a lot of the home front efforts kids and teens were a part of including collecting scrap metal, household supplies and helping Mom manage the rationing coupons. Children and teens are very good at seeing through the B.S. spewed forth by adults as well and I found it very interesting to read the account of Mike Royko about how men and women were treated who were not off fighting. He spoke about what he saw from the perspective of an adult, but it was based on his childhood experiences and the things that stuck out in his mind. He was very tuned in to the social pressures put upon men and women stuck at home and how adults maintained social order in a time of extreme stress. Older teens often were called upon to work in factories or take care of younger siblings while their Moms went off to work. I don’t think that children and teens of the 1940s really saw the war as drastically impacting their life at the time, only as they look back. The Minnesota Historical Society has a great display on “The Greatest Generation” and so many of the accounts written by adults, thinking back to that time period, was that they didn’t know life any different so it didn’t seem weird to them until later on once they saw life without the war.  

Matti’s Responses
2. Peggy Terry said that World War II “gave a lot of people jobs.  It led them to expect more than they had before” (112).  What do you think these women’s expectations were?  To what extend were they realized during and after the war?
I think that women, many of them for the first times in their lives, finally began to see themselves as useful. They had a job, just like their husbands, they were good at them, they brought home money and still managed to put a decent dinner on the table. In the workplace, even if conditions were terrible, there was some form of respect for them. No longer would they need to be the subservient creatures of society, they could do it on their own and they for the first time experienced the feeling of being independent. These women once they had a taste, grew to expect this feeling of independence. They wanted to feel secure that if anything ever happened be it divorce, death or a war they wanted to be able to bread on the table and they began to expect they would always be able to. After the war women were expected to “go back to the kitchen”. Many women did but many of them did not. These expectations helped many women to fuel the coming women’s rights movement but for those who went back to their domestic work often found their psychological and daily expectations of being independent were not met.

2. In what ways were children and teenagers involved in the war effort?  How did it impact their daily lives?
The phrase it takes a village to raise a child in my opinion explains why WWII so drastically affected the generation of young children it produced. The values of war such as discipline, honor and respect, caused many a child to grow up faster than expected. It might have kept some out of trouble but it also stripped away much of the innocence of their youth. It took away their ability to learn from mistake rather than just grow up doing things because to not do something is dishonorable. The good guy bad guy point of view as well lead to many of the group defined problems such as the zuit-suit sailor conflicts. This culturally caused many of the children to grow up with this constant idea of its “us” and “them”. Many racial stereotypes, some that even remain today among the older generations  can be traced to this idea of “us” and “them.”



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