By C.S. Rhoten and Sasha McConnell-Edwards

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the U. S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Eight ships were hit, four were sunk, and 2335 were killed. On December 8th, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Japan. In response, on December 11th, Germany declared war on the United States. The two most powerful military forces in the world were at war with the US. Roosevelt acted by initiating total mobilization of the American population. Thousands volunteered to join the military, and thousands more were drafted. 


In the year 1942, the federal government reassigned most manufacturing in cities across the country to produce equipment for the military. Civilian automobile production was halted, and factories instead began to produce military warplanes, tanks, and transport vehicles. African-Americans and women throughout the country were hired to replace the men who had left to serve in the military. 

Restrictions were imposed on all consumer goods and commodities that were needed to supply the soldiers overseas. The first priority for agriculture was to feed the troops. The government laid claim to food; especially sugar, oils, and meat, which were put into c-rations. Ingredients that Americans had grown accustomed to using were not readily available to them for years, and people made do with inferior ingredients. Citizens were issued ration cards. Many people began to grow “Victory Gardens,” and raise chickens and rabbits, to meet the demand for food. 

During this time people adopted frugal habits on the home front, to the point that people would save scrap metal and donate their pots, pans, and rubber goods to be recycled for the military. Fabric and leather was devoted to making uniforms and boots for the soldiers. People kept the same clothes for many years or shopped secondhand. Nylon stockings disappeared, as the material was used in making parachutes. Even fashion changed to promote the use of less fabric in clothing. Citizens accepted high taxes and heavy regulations from the government regarding their consumption. Many bought and sold war bonds to help fund the war effort. 


President Roosevelt’s task to mobilize the country for war was difficult for a number of reasons. At the time, there was no guarantee that the war would be brief. The Japanese and the German military forces were the most powerful in the world. There was no expectation that the US would be able to hold its own on the world stage. 

The US was in a weakened position, after a decade of rampant unemployment during the Great Depression. One-third of men were found to be unfit for military service because of malnutrition. 

Before 1941, the loyalties in America were divided. In 1939, the German American Bund had organized a fascist rally in Madison Square Garden in New York City, with an attendance of 20,000. The Nazi flag was flown beside the American flag, as the Pledge of Allegiance was recited in celebration of George Washington’s birthday. Prominent people, such as Charles Lindbergh, admired Hitler, and spoke against US intervention. Many German and Italian- Americans were sympathetic with the Fascist cause. After Pearl Harbor, although Japanese-Americans had never expressed sympathy with Japan’s foreign policy, they were forced into internment camps, many for the duration of the war. 

But despite these complicating factors, when war was declared between the US and the Axis Powers, ethnic loyalties were set aside as able-bodied men enlisted into the military: German, Italian and Japanese-Americans. 

The total mobilization of the public and the rapid change from production of consumer goods to military and other goods to support the war effort were astounding. The American people suffered under the radical change in lifestyle, but nonetheless complied and acted according to the gravity of the situation. Since World War II, there has been no comparable upheaval in our comfortable, prosperous way of life. 


Since the 1970s, mainstream economic/political policies have shifted toward the privatization of government services. Taxes and government regulations have been demonized by anti-government politicians such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who has stated so clearly: “The goal is to starve the federal government until it is weak enough to drown in the bathtub.” 

With the long-term media conditioning we have received, many of us may be unable to even consider the solution of total mobilization that was necessary for victory in the Second World War. 

Fortunately, the current millennial population, along with many people of all ages, are eager to embrace bold effective measures to do whatever it takes to halt climate crisis damages. Thousands of organizations and businesses are gearing up to make a fossil free world a reality. Talk of a Green New Deal is one example. Cities and states are committing to cut CO2. 



Carlana Rhoten is a longtime indy media producer in Pittsburgh, and creator of the Progressive Notebook on PCTV. Sasha McConnell-Edwards is a contributing writer for the NewPeople Newspaper. 

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 40 No. 10. December/January, 2019/2020. All rights reserved.

Categories: News

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