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A Nation Forged in War

How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along

Thomas A. Bruscino

Publication Year: 2010

World War II shaped the United States in profound ways, and this new book--the first in the Legacies of War series--explores one of the most significant changes it fostered: a dramatic increase in ethnic and religious tolerance. A Nation Forged in War is the first full-length study of how large-scale mobilization during the Second World War helped to dissolve long-standing differences among white soldiers of widely divergent backgrounds.

Never before or since have so many Americans served in the armed forces at one time: more than 15 million donned uniforms in the period from 1941 to 1945. Thomas Bruscino explores how these soldiers' shared experiences--enduring basic training, living far from home, engaging in combat--transformed their views of other ethnic groups and religious traditions. He further examines how specific military policies and practices worked to counteract old prejudices, and he makes a persuasive case that throwing together men of different regions, ethnicities, religions, and classes not only fostered a greater sense of tolerance but also forged a new American identity. When soldiers returned home after the war with these new attitudes, they helped reorder what it meant to be white in America.

Using the presidential campaigns of Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960 as bookend events, Bruscino notes a key change in religious bias. Smith's defeat came at the end of a campaign rife with anti-Catholic sentiment; Kennedy's victory some three decades later proved that such religious bigotry was no longer an insurmountable obstacle. Despite such advances, Bruscino notes that the growing broad-mindedness produced by the war had limits: it did not extend to African Americans, whose own struggle for equality would dramatically mark the postwar decades.

Extensively documented, A Nation Forged in War is one of the few books on the social and cultural impact of the World War II years. Scholars and students of military, ethnic, social, and religious history will be fascinated by this groundbreaking new volume.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xii

The Second World War transformed America’s relationship with the world, and the United States emerged as one of the preeminent superpowers. After victory over the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Americans embraced internationalism and the newly created United Nations. The Second World War reordered American...

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pp. 1-16

They are there, small tributes scattered across the country. Time has worn them away, pushed them into the gray routine of everyday life. They can be found in chapels in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Washington, Massachusetts, and New York, at the Pentagon and National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., at an elementary school...

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1. The America They Left Behind

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pp. 17-46

Most of the time—in everyday life—America’s prejudices stay hidden. Americans pass their lives working, spending time with family and friends, trying to get through the days within a comfortable and accepted order of things. But those prejudices lurk just below the surface, and they emerge when that comfortable...

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2. The Ethnic Army

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pp. 47-70

The U.S. Army came from American society. Its individual members harbored the same prejudices as any other Americans. In fact, many prominent military men were worse than the average American when it came to ethnic and religious tolerance. On the surface, there was no real reason to expect that the army would be the great engine...

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3. Introduction to the Army

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pp. 71-94

They came by the millions—men and boys, married and unmarried, fathers and the childless; those who had worked long on professional careers, those who labored in fields and factories, and many who had just finished school. They believed in God, went to church or synagogue, or had little use for religion. The tall and the short came, the skinny and stocky, the strong and the weak, with blond, brown, and red hair...

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4. Hours of Boredom

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pp. 95-126

Life continued amid the maelstrom. For all that happened in those epochal years, service in the army in World War II actually proved to be pretty boring most of the time. The boredom was especially acute after the shock and excitement of induction and training. Often the men did not train with a unit slated for regular service, so it was not until after basic that they would join their outfits for deployment overseas...

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5. Instants of Excitement and Terror

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pp. 127-150

The World War II army experience was more than a mass excursion of young Americans to visit distant lands and meet different people. All of the tedium of everyday military life—the drilling, routine, scrounging for food, waiting for letters—could make it easy to forget that the army had to attend to serious business. There was a war to be fought, a war on two broad fronts against determined and lethal foes...

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6. Coming Home, Taking Over

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pp. 151-176

America prepared for the returning veterans like no other time in its history. For once the country sought to learn the lessons from the aftermath of its earlier wars, especially World War I. The veterans of that conflict never felt they had been properly compensated for their efforts.1 They organized and filled veterans’ groups such as the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in part because they believed...

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7. The New Consensus and Beyond

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pp. 177-204

If the veterans of World War II were to spread the lesson of tolerance throughout the country, they had to do it within the framework of the major events of the time. The Cold War, the great contest between the United States and the Soviet Union, cast a shadow over what should have been jubilant postwar years. World War II veterans had a strong group response to the threat, which led to them having a key position...

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pp. 205-218

Observant Americans in the 1950s noted the trend toward ethnic and religious tolerance, but they remained unsure of its depth and permanence. They knew the greatest possible test would be the nomination of a minority candidate, probably a Catholic...

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pp. 219-222

I accumulated a great many personal debts in the course of writing this book. A number of archivists and librarians made the process much easier with their hard work on my behalf. Especially helpful were Mark Renovitch and Alycia Vivona at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library; Randy Lee Sowell and Dennis Bilger...


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pp. 223-300


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pp. 301-336


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pp. 337-348

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337794
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572336957

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2010