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chapter one WARTIME q Q For the United States, World War II precipitated not only a military struggle but a cultural one as well. The problem revolved around the meaning of the war. President Franklin Roosevelt had already staked out the high ground of humanitarianism before Pearl Harbor when he implied that the next war would be a contest to ensure human rights throughout the world. The outlooks that ordinary Americans held in their homes and hometowns, however, were not so simple or honorable. Certainly, many Americans a;rmed the value of underwriting the political and economic rights of people everywhere. Yet most citizens did not want to go to war in 1941, and, among those that did, their motives were often based more on anger and revenge for Pearl Harbor than on the president’s idealism . Once the battle broke out, moreover, attitudes and feelings became even more complex. Men and women quickly realized that the war brought new opportunities for work and income that had been scarce during the 1930s. Others grew concerned over the sudden disruptions in moral behavior and race relations activated by massive wartime mobilization of workers and soldiers. Parents and spouses fretted over the fate of loved ones sent o= to fight, and soldiers now thrown into combat wondered if they would ever come home again. With so much changing at once, how could anyone presume to understand fully what it all meant? Certainly , most Americans wanted to defeat their enemies. Yet public opinion polls made it clear that much confusion existed in the public’s mind. As late as 1944 some 40 percent still claimed they were unsure why they were fighting.1 A BETTER WORLD As Roosevelt considered how to move America into a position to challenge the expanding power of Nazi Germany, he faced not only the normal reluctance of people to fight and die but the specific memory of World War I, which still weighed heavily on the American mind. Many Americans could recall the defeat w a r t i m e 11 of Woodrow Wilson’s plans to commit the nation to an active involvement in world a=airs with his dream of a League of Nations. Ideals such as pacifism and isolationism—so strange to Americans today—actually commanded considerable support in the 1930s and were tied to the public memory of the last war. By 1940 many isolationists who wanted to keep the United States out of foreign wars had organized an America First Committee dedicated to resisting Roosevelt ’s e=orts to confront Hitler’s power. They believed that America’s entry into World War I was a mistake that should not be repeated. And among African Americans there was still a bitter taste of failed expectations regarding the last war. They had presumed that their contributions and sacrifice would be rewarded with greater levels of social justice and an end to hideous practices such as lynching . Yet such improvements were not readily discernable. Faced with political division at home and a population less than enthusiastic for another war, Roosevelt moved into the realm of propaganda and high-minded rhetoric in an e=ort to convince a skeptical public. In his address to Congress in 1941—nearly a full year before Pearl Harbor—he o=ered a rationale for why it was that citizens might be asked to forget the bitter legacies of the past and fight again. Anxious to proclaim an alternative to National Socialism that would rally public support at home and abroad, the president framed the coming struggle in terms of individual rights and guarantees that had long been part of liberal politics in America. He argued that the future could only be made more secure if a world order was built upon what he called the “four essential human freedoms.” For him this meant the realization everywhere of freedom of speech; “the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way”; freedom from want, by which he meant a stable economic life for the citizens of every nation; and “freedom from fear,” or military aggression by one nation toward another. Roosevelt had served in Wilson’s administration and was painfully aware that the last American crusade for democracy had ended badly. He decided, however, that the time to “harp” on the failures of 1919 had passed and that it was now necessary to fight again to spread the dream of a better world for all—a...


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