Minorities in World War II Term Paper

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The Nazis, however, were seriously mistaken. According to Thomas D. Morgan, "No group that participated in World War II made a greater per capita contribution, and no group was changed more by the war." Native Americans willingly enlisted in the war more than any other group in America. Native American tribes that had a long tradition of warrior culture took up arms to defend the American nation. They also served as communication liaison agents who befuddled German and Japanese code-breakers.

Native American contribution fundamentally changed White's attitude toward American Indians. Many soldiers referred to Native Americans as "Chefs," as a sign of respect. Holm explains: "Whites, who made Indian policies at the time, came out of the war with new, or at least different, images of Indian people. These changed views created an atmosphere in which men of varying motives and goals could institute the termination policy under the cloak of liberal rhetoric" (69). So, they found pre-World War II treatment of Native Americans, especially attempts to eradicate them either physically or culturally, embarrassing and unjustified. Popular culture in the form of Westerns continued to depict American Indians as "savages" for some time but the attitudes began to change soon, thanks partly to the involvement of Native Americans in World War II and their heroism. On the other hand, many Native Americans, going out of the reservation for the first time and seeing mainstream American culture, profoundly changed their views toward both native and mainstream cultures. Many were repelled by mainstream culture but others found that appealing. As Morgan summarizes, "the war caused the greatest change in Indian life since the beginning of the reservation era and taught Native Americans they could aspire to talk successfully in two worlds."

When American Indian men went to war, this had a direct impact on the lives of Native American women. They had to replace their husbands in the traditional male jobs by working as delivery personnel, farmers, mechanics, and many worked for the defense industry -- some even working as welders in aircraft plants. This profound impact of World War II on women was nation-wide. White women as well as women of color were fundamentally transformed by the war. It was certainly a painful experience for them. As one woman recalled later, "I think for girls and women . . . Of my generation the war forced them to grow up prematurely. It made them far more serious about the bare realities of life: life, death, values. It robbed them, in a sense, of some childhood" (Strong and Wood). But others found the impact of the war partly liberating. Women flocked to the labor force, replacing men who had gone to war. If the number of women employed in 1941 was 14,600,000, by the year 1944 the number increased to 19,370,000 (Clive). Many of them also found themselves the heads of families they had to feed while their husbands were away. This gave a sense of new life, offering them a chance to experience greater independence and the willingness to go out of the confines of home, as traditional gender roles required.

The extent of impact on the lives of women can be seen in the letters American wives began to write their husbands soon after the war began. "You are now the husband of a career woman," one woman wrote. "Opened my little checking account too and it's a grand and glorious feeling to write a check all your own and not have to ask for one" (Litoff and Smith 23). "I must admit I'm not exactly the same girl you left -- I'm twice as independence as I used to be," another woman wrote, "I don't think my changes will effect our relationship, but I do think you'll have to remember that there are some slight alterations in me" (ibid 23-24). A woman from Cleveland, Ohio, was blunt in her letter:

Sweetie, I want to make sure I make myself clear about how I've changed. I want you to know now that you are not married to a girl that's interested solely in a home -- I shall definitely have to work all my life -- I get emotional satisfaction out of working; and I don't doubt that many a night you will cook the supper while I'm at a meeting. Also, dearest -- I shall never wash and iron -- there are laundries for that! Do you think you'll be able to bear living with me? (ibid, 24; emphasis original).

These changes in the gender attitudes during the war would only increase with the new generation. Demanding equal rights for women in political, economic, and social affairs was a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement. And the impact of World War II was instrumental in that development.

World War II remains the ultimate human tragedy. It was the event that forced human beings to unleash their rage against each other. Systematic, mechanized, and high-tech killing machines were unleashed by countries that wanted to rule the world. Those who fought against the Axis Power -- the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and others -- were no angels. But the fight against Nazi Germany also forced them to reflect upon their own practices that reminded them of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Japan. In the case of the United States, the country wanted to treat its minority groups better. And members of minority groups, profoundly transformed by the war experience, as either participants in the war abroad or contributors to the defense economy at home, wanted changes. They wanted a more egalitarian America where they could express themselves equally with the rest of the country. The impact of World War II in this regard was limited in some aspects but in overall left a positive legacy.

Works Cited:

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Holm, Tom. "Fighting a White Man's War: The Extent and Legacy of American Indian Participation in World War Ii." Journal of Ethnic Studies 9.2 (1981): 69-81. Web. 23 May 2012.

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Litoff, Judy, and David C. Smith. "Since You Went Away' the War Letters of America's Women." History Today 41.12 (1991): 20-27. Web. 23 May 2012.

Morgan, Thomas, D. "Native Americans in World War II." In Army History: The Professional Bulletin of Army History, 35 (Fall 1995). Web. 23 May 2012

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Takaki, Ronald…

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