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    Uniting Communities for War

    Fighting World War II presented daunting military obstacles overseas, but it also involved serious challenges for American communities on the Home Front. Men and women from across the country left home to enter defense industry jobs, government service, and the military, all of which left many vacancies in local businesses, hospitals, schools, governments, and other institutions. Moreover, even with the US military fighting on two fronts, officials back home still wanted to protect their citizens from sabotage and surprise attacks. Pearl Harbor had made that need especially clear. Not least of all, the federal government had plans for conserving food and fuel and for finding enough workers to keep defense industries going, but it could not do all of these jobs alone. The public had to understand what was at stake and how they could help. For the United States to become “the great arsenal of democracy,” American communities had to be united behind the war effort.

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    Training the American GI

    As the United States prepared for war, military leaders had a long list of needs—guns, tanks, ships, and equipment of every kind. One of the things they needed most of all, however, was people. In 1939, the US Army only had 174,000 soldiers, including the Army Air Forces. At its peak during the war, the Army grew to over 8 million men and women in uniform, joined by an additional 3.4 million in the Navy. The new additions were mostly young Americans who would normally have been pursuing jobs, schooling, and family life, but instead were answering the nation’s call to arms. Many of them had never even traveled outside their home state, let alone Europe, Asia, or the Pacific Islands. Preparing these millions of civilians for war would be one of the military’s most daunting challenges.

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    The Great Debate

    From our 21st-century point of view, it is hard to imagine World War II without the United States as a major participant. Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, however, Americans were seriously divided over what the role of the United States in the war should be, or if it should even have a role at all. Even as the war consumed large portions of Europe and Asia in the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was no clear consensus on how the United States should respond.

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    Rationing

    World War II put a heavy burden on US supplies of basic materials like food, shoes, metal, paper, and rubber. The Army and Navy were growing, as was the nation’s effort to aid its allies overseas. Civilians still needed these materials for consumer goods as well. To meet this surging demand, the federal government took steps to conserve crucial supplies, including establishing a rationing system that impacted virtually every family in the United States.

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  • Article Type

    Japanese American Incarceration

    At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, about 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry lived on the US mainland, mostly along the Pacific Coast. About two thirds were full citizens, born and raised in the United States. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, however, a wave of antiJapanese suspicion and fear led the Roosevelt administration to adopt a drastic policy toward these residents, alien and citizen alike. Virtually all Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and property and live in camps for most of the war. The government cited national security as justification for this policy although it violated many of the most essential constitutional rights of Japanese Americans.

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