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chapter six THE OUTSIDERS q Q Sentimental myths and heroic images often obliterated not only the tragic dimensions of the war but the sordid reality of racism and discrimination within America itself. When the nation went to war, it was forced to ask minorities to put aside their many grievances to join the e=ort to defeat foreign enemies. This request, of course, raised serious questions for both the white male majority that dominated the nation’s politics and military and the members of minority groups themselves. National leaders had to find ways to integrate segregated people into the campaign for victory. Those consigned to forms of second-class citizenship, however, wondered how they could be expected to fight for liberal ideals abroad when they were denied fair treatment in their own country. Long before Pearl Harbor they had already found numerous reasons to be suspicious of authorities and to question righteous descriptions of the nation they inhabited. Despite grounds for cynicism, the democratic rhetoric of the war years encapsulated in the promises of the Four Freedoms did have the e=ect of raising expectations among many minorities that their wartime sacrifices would translate into greater measures of equality and justice. Many minority leaders clearly saw the war not only as a dangerous period but as an opportunity that would allow them to make powerful claims for democratic rights in the postwar era. In time, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and women would invoke a remembrance of their wartime contributions to secure greater measures of equality and respect. Indeed, they worked, not to cover up critical memories of their unfair treatment and losses in wartime, but to resurrect them as a tactic in the long civil rights revolution that marked America in the postwar decades . Like street marches and pivotal court cases, war memories became valuable devices in helping minorities gain equality and claim space in the mythical community of World War II heroes.1 t h e o u t s i d e r s 167 AFRICAN AMERICANS America’s longstanding racial problems did not evaporate during the massive mobilizations for World War II. To a remarkable extent racial violence and discrimination pervaded both military and domestic life during and after the war. Racism, in fact, permeated American thinking in a number of ways as the nation fought. John Dower has explained how racial hatred on the part of Americans and Japanese drove both sides to fight with a particular level of ferocity in the Paci fic theater. At home racism inflamed passions as well, as millions of people moved from traditional homes into wartime jobs and military bases throughout the world. Tension around army camps or in booming cities frequently resulted in violent confrontations. African Americans, like other minorities, were quick to see that patriotic service o=ered the prospect for long-term gains in civil rights. They noted the irony of being asked to sacrifice for America and being subjected to hostility and segregation at the same time. It was for this very reason that black leaders mounted the “Double V” campaign during the war that called upon blacks to fight for America in order to gain leverage in their quest for justice at home. As early as 1940, for instance, a black newspaper like the Pittsburgh Courier initiated a series of articles calling for an end to segregation among America’s military forces. Some one million blacks served in the military during the war, and another million moved from the rural South to wartime industrial plants throughout the nation . The result of this contribution was, to say the least, substantial. Yet for most African Americans, their collective sacrifice would be meaningless if it did not help to end segregation and their inferior status in both military and civilian life.2 The mass movement of the black population not only proved to be disruptive but sometimes provoked e=orts to minimize racial conflict both in factories and in military installations. In a study of wartime race relations, Daniel Kryder found evidence of new attempts to calm racial anger because such rifts threatened national unity and production goals. In looking at the files of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, he discovered that the government actually gave blacks opportunities to vent their frustrations over discriminatory hiring practices. Over time, attention to such grievances helped to assimilate them into the workforce, although clearly racial divisions were still incredibly powerful once the war ended...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781421400020
Related ISBN
9780801896675
MARC Record
OCLC
794700405
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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