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Aftircan American Progress in Wwii

Essay by   •  October 30, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,248 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,860 Views

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World War II, global military conflict that, in terms of lives lost and material destruction, was the most devastating war in human history. It began in 1939 as a European conflict between Germany and an Anglo-French coalition but eventually widened to include most of the nations of the world. It ended in 1945, leaving a new world order dominated by the United States and the USSR.

More than any previous war, World War II involved the commitment of nations' entire human and economic resources, the blurring of the distinction between combatant and noncombatant, and the expansion of the battlefield to include all of the enemy's territory. The most important determinants of its outcome were industrial capacity and personnel. In the last stages of the war, two radically new weapons were introduced: the long-range rocket and the atomic bomb. In the main, however, the war was fought with the same or improved weapons of the types used in World War I. The greatest advances were in aircraft and tanks.

"For African Americans, World War II was a fight on two fronts. It was a struggle to prevail over the nation's external enemies and a battle against a familiar home-grown foe: bigotry" (Allen). When World War II began in Europe in 1939, blacks demanded better treatment than they had experienced during World War I. Black newspaper editors insisted during 1939 and 1940 that black support for this war effort would depend on fair treatment. They demanded that black soldiers be trained in all military roles and that black civilians have equal opportunities to work in war industries at home.

African Americans were some of the quickest and most energetic to condemn the risings of fascism in Europe. They instantly understood the risks Nazism and its Aryan doctrines imposed on the world. Some had read Hitler's Mein Kampf and had taken offense to its unfavorable comments toward blacks. It was also claimed that in 1936 Hitler had refused to treat African American Olympic stars Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf with common decency in Berlin. Also the knockout of the black idol Joe Louis in 1936 by Max Schmeling had fueled some bitter emotions toward Nazism and it was fueled once again when Louis exacted his complete revenge in 1938.

At the beginning of the war African Americans watched wages skyrocket at plants holding defense contracts but had still not seen a change in the rigid anti-black policy. In 1941 A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union whose members were mainly black railroad workers, planned a March on Washington to demand that the federal government require defense contractors to hire blacks on an equal basis with whites. "Philip Randolph told the president that (blacks) wanted him to issue an unequivocal executive order to effectuate the speediest possible abolition of discrimination in war industries and the armed forces" (White 192).

"On June 25, 1941, the president issued Executive Order 8802 specifically banning discrimination on account of race, creed, color, or national origin in industries holding government contracts for war production and in the training for jobs in the war industries. The Order set up a Committee on Fair Employment Practices responsible only to the President to investigate and take corrective action against discrimination" (193).

Some hostility toward African Americans was inevitable. In an America at war, the familiar patterns of black-white relationships were altered. One of the results of this was an increase in tensions, fears, and aggressions. "In the South many white people found it convenient to blame someone for the new challenges in race relations, and they decided upon Eleanor Roosevelt. Viewing her as a symbol of outside interference, they claimed she was the inspiration behind the "Eleanor Clubs" formed by Negro domestics whose motto was "A white woman in every kitchen." This allegation was scarcely more credible than the rumor that Negroes were buying up all the icepicks and would, during some convenient blackout, start an attack on the whites" (Quarles 227). Rumors, fears and allegations such as these ran rampant across the country.

When, in 1944, enemies of the FEPC succeeded in placing the agency under the control of Congress, the death knell of the committee was sounded. A relentless filibuster from January 17 to February 8, 1946, defeated efforts to secure appropriations to continue its work. "Thus ended the career of the agency which, more than any other, established the right of minority Americans to work at their skills and thereby increased their faith in the democratic process" (White 193).

Under the Selective Service Act of 1940 more than 3 million African Americans registered to serve in the armed forces. Despite the need for soldiers the rate of rejection of blacks was 18.2 percent compared with 8.5 percent for whites. In the first year of the act only a little over 2,000 Africans Americans were drafted. The following year the number grew substantially to over 100,000. The numbers grew steadily until 1944 when the army was at its peak.

"One of the main reasons that the armed services were reluctant to have Negroes was their low educational achievement as a group. The Army graded its manpower by tests designed to indicate the ability to absorb training. The Army General Classification Test (AGCT) was designed so that scores fell into the following grades, highest to lowest: Grade I, 7 per cent; Grade II, 24 per cent; Grade III, 38 per cent; Grade IV, 24 per cent; Grade V, 7 per cent. Grades I, II, and III were supposed to produce Army leadership classes and enlisted specialists and technicians; grades IV and V were expected to produce the semiskilled soldiers and laborers. The scores of white soldiers generally matched the curve above, but over 80 per cent of the black soldiers scored within Grades IV and V (Dalfiume 56).

During World War II, blacks composed about one-eighth of the U.S. armed forces, which matched their presence in the general population. Although a disproportionately high number of blacks were put in non-combat, support positions in the military, many did fight. Soon the first heroic story of a black caught national attention. On December 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mess Attendant Doris "Dorie" Miller came to the aid of his shipmates on the U.S.S. West Virginia, helping to move the injured out of harm's way, including the mortally wounded captain. Though untrained in its use, Miller also manned an antiaircraft machine gun, downing several Japanese planes before being ordered to abandon the sinking ship. Miller's courage and devotion to duty at Pearl Harbor earned him the Navy Cross, the first ever awarded to an African

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