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Life in The United States During World War II

Life in the United States during World War II was full of fear, anxiety and determination. These World War II posters show how life really was during the World War II.

Life in the United States during World War II was full of fear, anxiety, commitment and determination and was very different than it is today, and most people alive today have never experienced anything like it. It was real and it lasted for four years.

Posters had a big effect on both the military and civilian population during World War II. These World War II posters give a real sense of what life was really like in the United States during World War II. The hardships, the fear and sense of duty and commitment every American had to deal with. They also served as reminders of what to do during the war and to boost the camaraderie among those at the home front. This was not some made for TV movie, this was real life.

Note; this article is not intended to ridicule or hurt any race of people. This is about history, and when taught properly, history is not sugar coated. History is sometimes hard to discuss when looking back in time with today’s thinking and knowledge, unless you lived through it. By knowing history honestly instead of a rewritten way, hopefully we all learn and grow from past mistakes. War and especially World War II was all about anger and fear. The fear for both sides of World War II was of losing the war and actually having their country taken over.

World War II Posters Rallying American Women

The We Can Do It poster was a rallying poster for women who were now working in what were traditionally men’s jobs. With most men serving in the military, women had to take the jobs that the men were no longer there to do.

Another poster for women was to encourage them to join the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

World War II Posters Calling for Conservation of Materials

Conservation of materials and food was another important aspect of World War II posters in the United States. During World War II, there was the rationing of meats, sugar, tires, gas, rubber, coffee, nylon stockings and about anything else you can think of. Everyone had a ration book; you just couldn’t walk into the grocery store and buy what you wanted and how much you wanted every day. You couldn’t go to the gas station and buy new tires and fill your tank with gas whenever you wanted to. You had to abide by the rations you were given.

For non-essential cars, which was about half of the cars in the United States, you were entitled to 4 gallons of gas per week. You could not drive over 35 mph; this was done to conserve rubber. The Japanese had taken over the Dutch East Indies which is where the United States got 90% of its rubber for tires from.

Americans were told to save the fats from cooking. These fats were used to make bombs and bullets. Americans were encouraged to turn in all scrap metal, paper and cloth.

Since food was also in short supply and most food was shipped to soldiers at war, Americans grew what were called victory gardens for their own vegetables.

World War II and the Reminder to be Quiet

There were many posters reminding Americans of how important it was not to leak information. Being quiet about war plans was a main rule as the saying “Loose Lips Sinks Ships” reminded everyone of. The disclosure of any type of information could lead to American deaths. The information could be in a letter from a loved one in the war or news of something being manufactured in a plant.

The Enemy Attacks the United States Mainland

The United States had been attacked and the fear of being attacked again was very real during World War II. German submarines were spotted off the east coast and Japanese submarines and airplanes were spotted off the west coast of the United States.

World War II was not like today with 24 hour news cable channels and a hundred satellites watching everything. In fact, there wasn’t even television during World War II. Americans got their news from radio, newspapers and what were called newsreels at movie theaters. News didn’t travel as fast and the United States was much more rural than it is today. The enemy could land a plane or boat at an isolated spot and come ashore in the United States and Canada.

Japanese submarines attacked American ships off the coast of California, shelled the Elwood oil fields near Santa Monica, California, Fort Stevens, Oregon and the Estevan Point Lighthouse in British Columbia, Canada.

Japanese seaplanes flew over and dropped incendiary bombs near Brookings, Oregon in an attempt to start forest fires. In 1944 and 1945, the Japanese sent 300 balloons with explosives attached towards the United States west coast. One of the balloons exploded in Oregon killing 5 children and a woman. Canadian military reported some of the balloons landed as far east as Saskatchewan.

German espionage and sabotage missions were uncovered in the United States and people could see battles between American and German ships from the east coast beaches of the United States.

In 1942 and 1943, there were also German U-Boats in the Gulf of Mexico where at least 20 U-boats sank 56 American oil tankers. In May 1942, a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the American oil tanker Virginia at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Because of the threat of enemy attacks, Americans had what were called “blackout curtains”. You had to cover your windows with these blackout curtains without any light showing through at all. Blackout wardens would patrol and make sure that everyone’s black out curtains were keeping the light from showing out. You could be fined if you didn’t have your blackout curtains blocking all light.

Fear at the Home Front

There was a lot of fear in the United States not only from being attacked and losing the war but everyday things we take for granted today. Like having enough doctors around and not having to pay black market prices.

Send Letters to Soldiers in the War

Another poster of World War II reminded Americans how important it was to write letters to those far off fighting the war. This had a very positive effect on the soldiers overseas. There was what was called V-mail or Victory mail. These were forms that you filled out and wrote your letter on. These were then put on micro-film and sent overseas and reprinted which saved room on cargo planes and time to get to the war front.

Copyright Sam Montana October 20, 2010

Resources 

Image sources - United States Library of Congress

Northwestern University World War II Poster Collection

Ames Historical Society

V-Mail explained

The Facts of World War II in Europe

The Facts of World War II in the Pacific

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Comments (11)

Nice job, Sam. Very interesting, thanks.

Ranked #13 in History

Excellent write Sam and great awareness posters.

Ranked #1 in History

Great work Sam.

Enjoyed reading this, thanks.

Ranked #96 in History

Beautiful presentation.

The German espionage missions weren't very successful. One was even comical, with the German spy claiming to be from "House-ton" – you know, Houston, Texas? I've had more than a few WW II vets tell me that life on the homefront could be wild, especially when they were on leave in the big cities. Round-the-clock parties, drinking, brawls, sex, black market activities, etc. In the latter stages of the war - think the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, et al., – the United States was losing around 10,000 servicemen a month. That certainly engendered a feeling of what the vets told me in my interviews, namely that they were trying to pack in as much living as they could in the short amount of time they perceived they had left.

A good history read. Great... great facts here. Thanks.

Ranked #22 in History

i like the way you presented such article that deals with history... i would still say that the US civilian populace are much luckier during the WWII compared to ours and others who were occupied and terrorized by the Japanese imperial forces..

Well-researched stuff. Nice. :-)

Excellent article Sam ! thanks a lot :)

Ranked #81 in History

Really informative, interesting article. Loved the posters too!

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