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War and the US Homefront

The US Congress declared war on Japan, on December 8 1941, without the bluster and cheering that had accompanied the vote for war against Germany back in 1917, when there were 50 votes against going to war in the House of Representatives. The House on December 1941 had only one vote against: Congresswoman Jannette Rankin (one of ten women in the House) a progressive Republican from Montana. She said later that war was the "wrong method of trying to settle a dispute" – as if every dispute could be settled by talking.

The Chinese had an opinion about war less abstract than Rankin's. Japan had been fighting an undeclared war inside China, and, the day after the US declared war, Chiang Kai-shek's government declared war on Japan, China's representative declaring that China was a "peace-loving nation" that "entertained the hope that Japan might yet realize the futility of her plans of conquest."

In the US, public support for the war was bolstered by the view that they were responding to military aggression and were on the side of liberation and freedom. (The Philippines had been a "commonwealth" since the Roosevelt administration and scheduled for full independence.)

There were fears. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the government classified thousands of German, Japanese, and Italian immigrants as "enemy aliens." Each was required to carry a photo ID booklet and was not allowed to travel outside a five-mile radius from their home without a permit. Joe Dimaggio's father, Giuseppe, was barred from the San Francisco Bay, where he had fished for decades, and his boat was seized. Some believed that danger from American citizens of Japanese descent was great enough that they had to be restrained collectively. The liberal journalist Walter Lippmann led the attack. He claimed that the fact that the Japanese had not yet been found committing treasonous acts meant that they were waiting for a later time to strike. He charged that in the interest of national security Japanese-Americans should be interned, and he criticized bureaucrats in Washington for being slow to act.

Regarding the Japanese, some made race an issue. On February 14, 1942, General John L. DeWitt, commander of U.S. Army units west of the Mississippi, described the Japanese as "an enemy race." "While many of them have become Americanized," he said, "the racial strains are undiluted." He asked for the authority to remove from society all Japanese and other persons suspected of being "actual or potential spies and potential saboteurs or fifth columnists." There was talk of putting into internment camps those who were only 1/16th Japanese. A colonel Bendetsen said in 1942: "I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to camp."

President Roosevelt considered the issue of internment. He asked an expert at the State Department, Frank Schuler, his opinion whether Japanese in the United States were a danger. Schuler replied that some were a danger and some were not. "But how," he asked, "can you separate the good from the bad." Roosevelt decided to err on the side of security. He issued Executive Order 9066 to relocate all Japanese on the West Coast to detention camps inland. And California's Attorney General, Earl Warren, approved.

The Japanese in the Hawaiian Islands were not interned. There, the issue of danger from sabotage failed to materialize. There the Japanese benefited from a lesser bigotry and from their being a greater percentage of the population. As a third of the workforce in the Islands removing them would have destroyed the islands' economy. And in the Islands were fewer people eager to remove Japanese-American economic competition or to grab Japanese-American property than in California.

Rationing, Victory Gardens and USOs

A majority of Americans accepted the need to sacrifice for the war effort. A rationing program was established in early 1942 that set limits on the amount of gas, food and clothing people could buy. Families were issued ration stamps for their allotment of gasoline and other goods. The government released posters urging citizens to "Do with less" so that troops will "have enough." The government began to ask, "Is this trip necessary? Another common question was: "Don't you know there's a war on?"

Communities collected scrap metal, aluminum, tin foil, and rubber. And there were "victory gardens." Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the white house lawn. By May 1943 there were 18 million victory gardens in the United States. In New York City, the lawns around vacant "Riverside" were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. In my family's backyard in West Hollywood, on a lot 40 feet wide, we grew vegetables and raised chickens, including crowing roosters, and we cared for chicks and collected eggs (in addition to having an apricot and an avocado tree). By 1945, some 20 million Victory Gardens would be in use, accounting for about 40 percent of all vegetables consumed.

With many young men in uniform (employed by the government) there was a need of workers in factories, and women like Rosie the Riveterwent to work, putting industry running at full capacity.

Communities had USO centers (United Service Organizations) that served people in uniform and their families. The one in Hollywood was called the Hollywood Canteen — begun by the actress Bette Davis. It was operated and staffed by volunteers from the entertainment industry, including grips, dancers, musicians, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen. Stars volunteered to wait on tables, cook in the kitchen and clean up, eager in their equality with the common soldier. The USO also enlisted stars such as German-born Marlene Dietrich and Bob Hope to entertain troops abroad and at home.

Al Jolson, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin were among the celebrities promoting the purchase of Liberty (War) Bonds. The government used famous artists to make posters, and there was the film director Frank Capra contributing his propaganda film "Why We Fight." Capra had studied Germany's propaganda film "Triumph of the Will," and Capra's film enhanced the film with martial music and emphasized the importance of victory. but without the histrionics and fanaticism associated with Goebbels and Hitler. The Americans believed in democracy. Roosevelt was their friend as well as the President. He was a happy warrior who didn't need to shout or display deified aloofness.

Film stars were with the rest of the nation in feeling the pull of military service. Henry Fonda didn't want to be in "a fake war in a studio" and instead enlisted in the Navy. Jimmy Stewart enlisted as a private, and being a college graduate and a licensed pilot he applied for an Air Corps commission and would become colonel with combat experience. In 1943, Clark Gable, age 41, enlisted, eventually to see combat as a tail-gunner. John Wayne, a star since 1939, wanted to enlist. His studio resisted and threatened him with a lawsuit if he walked away from his contract. Wayne toured US bases and hospitals in the South Pacific for three months in 1943 and 1944. After he died (1979) his widow would suggest that he had been "trying to atone for staying home."

Japanese young men in concentration camps were allowed to join the military. The 442nd Infantry Regiment, composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, fought in Europe and would be awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (five earned in one month). Twenty-one of its members would be awarded Medals of Honor.

My mother was among the dissenters opposed to going to war. Young men with her in her religious denomination — Jehovah's Witnesses — went to jail rather than let themselves be drafted. In Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses were put in concentration camps. My mother stood on Santa Monica Boulevard in front of or near the Safeway market, holding the Awake and Watchtower magazines and most people ignored her. When shopping at this same grocery store she often ran into a neighbor with whom she would have a friendly and happy conversation. Our neighbors were friendly. Tolerance appeared to dominate, except for criticism from the leader of the local Cub Scouts who lived across the street. There was no knock on our door by government police working at stifling my mother's dissent.

Some of we boys (I turned nine in December 1942), including the boy across the street, played war — acting out fantasies rather than watching television. (We didn't have TV.) We didn't have the perspective of those who had been terrorized by warplanes, terrorized by the presence of foreign soldiers or put on boxcars with their families. I didn't know of a one family on my street (Norma Place – named after Norma Talmage). Newspapers telling of hundreds killed here and there were giving us abstractions that conveyed no sense of personal loss, no sense of gone forever. Playing war was romanticism: coming home wounded but with a full recovery expected.

There had been the Battle of Los Angeles (also known as The Great Los Angeles Air Raid) in late February 1942. For we kids it was more exciting than frightening. An anti-aircraft gun somewhere nearby fired a few rounds, making loud booms – so I learned the following morning, as I had slept through the entire battle. The shooting would be attributed to "war nerves" triggered by a lost weather balloon and exacerbated by stray flares and shell bursts from other guns. I gathered in the morning that my father had enjoyed performing as an Air Raid Warden, and that was the end of it.

For many of us, these were not somber times. One of the pop songs in 1943 was "Oh! What a beautiful morning" sung by Bing Crosby. Regarding guns there was "Pistol Packin' Mama" by Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. Teenage girls were screaming in response to Frank Sinatra (and it was to be written that Sinatra was hated by for being an idol but also escaping the draft with a 4-F classification). For those into country music, Roy Acuff (age 40 in 1943) was singing about having a jubilee in Memphis Tennessee. For people of faith there was "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," and "Comin in on a wing and a prayer." There were also the movies "Lassie Come Home" and a comedy "This is the Army," with Ronald Reagan.

Also for entertainment there was the popular columnist Westbook Pegler, who made his way posturing as the common sense patriot. He attacked the establishment, including Eleanor Roosevelt, intellectuals, poets, radicals, labor unions, and Frank Sinatra.

The President and Eleanor were calling the Japanese "Japs" — an act of wartime conformity. On March 24, 1943, President Roosevelt had an approval rating of 71 percent, disapproval 19 percent. (The Japanese were not publishing approval ratings for their political leader. Neither were the Germans.) In the White House the president's marriage was complicated by Franklin's affair with Roosevelt was involved with Eleanor's former social secretary, Lucy Mercer. But this and Eleanor's personal life was given no or little attention by the press as the president went ahead with decision-making regarding the war and as Eleanor was having an impact as a most active first lady concerned with civil issues.


CONTINUE READING: Japan and War to May 1945

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