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The movie is your choice, however it must be relevant to the time period of the course, and it must relate to U.S. history.


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HIST 119 Unit 2 They Died with Their Boots On – War Movie Review
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Unit 22: Fighting for the Four Freedoms: World War II, 1941–1945
The most popular works of art in World War II were paintings of the Four Freedoms
by Norman Rockwell. In his State of the Union address before Congress in January
1941, President Roosevelt spoke of a future world order based on “essential human
freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and
freedom from fear. During the war, Roosevelt emphasized these freedoms as the
Allies’ war aims, and he compared them to the Ten Commandments, the Magna
Carta, and the Emancipation Proclamation. In his 1943 paintings, Rockwell
portrayed ordinary Americans exercising these freedoms: a citizen speaking at a
town meeting, members of different religious groups at prayer, a family enjoying a
Thanksgiving dinner, and a mother and father standing over a sleeping child.
Though Rockwell presented images of small-town American life, the United States
changed dramatically in the war. Many postwar trends and social movements had
wartime origins. As with World War I, but on a far greater scale, wartime
mobilization expanded the size and reach of government and stimulated the
economy. Industrial output skyrocketed and unemployment disappeared as war
production finally ended the Depression. Demands for labor drew millions of
women into the workforce and lured millions of migrants from rural America to
industrial cities of the North and West, permanently changing the nation’s social
The war also gave the United States a new and lasting international role and
reinforced the idea that America’s security required the global dominance of
American values and power. Government military spending unleashed rapid
economic development in the South and West, laying the basis for the modern
Sunbelt. The war created a close alliance between big business and a militarized
federal government—what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “militaryindustrial complex.”
And the war reshaped the boundaries of American nationality. The government
recognized the contributions of America’s ethnic groups as loyal Americans. Black
Americans’ second-class status attracted national attention. But toleration only
went so far. The United States, at war with Japan, forced more than 100,000
Japanese-Americans, including citizens, into internment camps.
The Four Freedoms thus produced a national unity that obscured divisions within
America: divisions over whether free enterprise or the freedom of a global New Deal
would dominate after the war, whether civil rights or white supremacy would define
race relations, and whether women would return to traditional roles in the
household or enter the labor market.
Facing economic crisis in the 1930s, international affairs garnered little public
attention. But FDR innovated in foreign and domestic policy. In 1933, trying to
encourage trade, he recognized the Soviet Union. Roosevelt also repudiated the right
to intervene with military force in the internal affairs of Latin American nations,
called the Good Neighbor policy. The United States withdrew troops from Haiti and
Nicaragua and accepted Cuba’s repeal of the Platt Amendment, which had
authorized U.S. intervention in that nation. But Roosevelt, like previous presidents,
recognized undemocratic governments like that of Somoza in Nicaragua, Trujillo in
the Dominican Republic, and Batista in Cuba.
Yet events in Asia and Europe quickly took center stage, as international order and
the rule of law seemed to disintegrate. In 1931, seeking to expand its power in Asia,
Japan invaded Manchuria, a northern province in China. In 1937, it pushed further,
committing a massacre of 300,000 Chinese prisoners of war and civilians at Nanjing.
In Europe, Hitler, after consolidating his rule within Germany, launched a campaign
to dominate the continent. He violated the Versailles Treaty by pursuing a massive
rearmament and, in 1936, by sending troops into the Rhineland, a demilitarized
zone between France and Germany. The failure of Britain, France, and the United
States to oppose Hitler’s aggression convinced him that these democracies would
not resist his aggressions. Benito Mussolini, the father of fascism in Italy, invaded
and conquered Ethiopia. When General Francisco Franco in 1936 mounted a
rebellion against the democratically elected government of Spain, Hitler and
Mussolini sent men and arms to support him. In 1939, Franco won and established
another fascist government in Europe. Hitler annexed Austria and Sudetenland, a
German area of Czechoslovakia, and soon thereafter invaded and annexed all of that
nation, too.
Roosevelt became more and more alarmed by Hitler’s actions in Germany and
Europe, but in 1937 called only for a quarantine of aggressors. Roosevelt had little
choice but to follow the “appeasement” policy of France and Britain, who hoped that
agreeing to Hitler’s demands could prevent war. In 1938, British prime minister
Neville Chamberlain returned from the Munich conference of 1938, which awarded
the Sudetenland to Hitler, promising “peace in our time.”
The threat posed by Germany and Japan seemed distant to most Americans, and
Hitler, in fact, had many admirers in America, from those who praised his anticommunism to businessmen who profited from business with the Nazis, such as
Henry Ford. Trade also continued with Japan, including shipments of American
trucks, aircraft, and oil, which amounted to 80 percent of Japan’s oil supply. Many
Americans now believed American involvement in World War I had been a mistake
and benefitted only international bankers and arms producers. Pacifism attracted
supporters across America, from small towns to college campuses. Americans of
German and Italian descent also sympathized with fascist governments in their
homelands, and Irish-Americans remained staunchly anti-British. Isolationism
dominated Congress, which in 1935 started enacting a series of Neutrality Acts
banning travel on belligerent ships and arms shipment to warring nations. These
were intended to prevent the United States from becoming embroiled in these
conflicts by demanding freedom of the seas, just as it had in World War I. Even
though the Spanish Civil War saw a democratic republic fighting a fascist dictator,
the United States and other governments imposed an arms embargo on both sides,
effectively allowing Germany and Italy to help Franco overwhelm Spanish
government forces.
At Munich in 1938, Britain and France capitulated to Hitler’s aggression. In 1939,
the Soviet Union proposed an international agreement to oppose further German
demands for territory, but Britain and France, distrusting Stalin and seeing Germany
as a fortress that would check communist power in Europe, declined. Stalin soon
signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, his former enemy. Hitler immediately
invaded Poland. Britain and France, allied with Poland, now declared war on
Germany. Within a year, the Nazi blitzkrieg (lightning war) overran Poland and
much of Scandinavia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. By June, 1940, German troops
occupied Paris. Hitler now dominated Europe and North Africa, and in September
1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan formally created a military alliance known as the
For one year, Britain, led by a resolute prime minister, Winston Churchill, alone
resisted Germany, heroically defending its skies from German planes and bombers
in the Battle of Britain. The Germans’ bombs devastated London and other cities
with massive, but the German air campaign was eventually repulsed.
Though Roosevelt considered Hitler a direct threat to the United States, most
Americans simply wanted to avoid war. After fierce debate, Congress in 1940
approved plans for military rearmament and agreed to sell arms to Britain on a
“cash and carry” basis—Britain would pay in cash for arms and transport them in
British ships. But Roosevelt, mindful of the presidential election, went no further.
Opponents of American intervention mobilized, and included such prominent
individuals as Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, and Charles A. Lindbergh. In that 1940
election, Roosevelt broke precedent by running for a third presidential term. He
faced Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie, a Wall Street businessman, lawyer, and
amateur politician. Little differentiated the two, as both supported the first
peacetime draft law, passed in September 1940, and New Deal social legislation.
FDR won the election by a decisive margin.
In 1941, the United States became closer to the nations fighting Germany and Japan
and Roosevelt declared America would be a “great arsenal of democracy.” With
Britain close to bankruptcy, Roosevelt had Congress pass the Lend-Lease Act
allowing military aid to countries who promised to repay it after the war.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese plans launched a surprise attack from aircraft
carriers bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The assault killed
more than 2,000 American soldiers and destroyed much of the base and the U.S.
Pacific Fleet—except for crucial U.S. aircraft carriers, which helped win critical
subsequent victories. Roosevelt, calling December 7 a “date which will live in
infamy,” asked Congress to declare war on Japan, which it did nearly unanimously.
The next day Germany, in turn, declared war on America and the United States had
finally entered the largest war in history.
Although in retrospect it seems that America’s robust industrial capacity assured its
victory over the Axis, success was not sudden. The United States initially
experienced a series of military disasters and watched Japan take more territory in
Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including Guam, the Philippines (capturing tens of
thousands of U.S. troops, thousands of whom died on the way to and within prisoner
camps), and other Pacific islands. But the tide of the war changed in the late spring
of 1942, with American naval victories at Coral Sea and Midway Island. These
successes allowed the United States to begin a step-by-step “island-hopping”
campaign to reclaim vital and strategic territories in the Pacific.
In November 1942, British and American forces invaded North Africa and, by May
1943, forced the surrender of German forces there. By this time, the Allies had also
gained an advantage in the fight in the Atlantic Ocean against German submarines.
While Roosevelt wanted to liberate Europe, most American troops stayed in the
Pacific. In July 1943, American and British forces invaded Sicily and began the
liberation of Italy, whose government, led by Mussolini, was overthrown by popular
revolt. Fighting continued against German forces there throughout 1944.
America’s fight in Europe began on June 6, 1944—D-Day. On this date, nearly
200,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers led by General Dwight D.
Eisenhower invaded Normandy in northern France. More than a million troops soon
followed them, in the largest sea-land operation in history. The Germans resisted
but retreated, and by August, Paris had been liberated. The most significant clashes,
however, took place on the eastern front, where millions of Germans and Soviet
troops faced each other in very costly battles, and particularly at Stalingrad, where a
German siege ended in a German surrender to the Soviets, a decisive defeat for
Hitler. Other Russian victories marked the end of Hitler’s advance and the beginning
of the end of the Nazi empire in eastern Europe. A full 10 million of Germany’s
nearly 14 million casualties were inflicted on the eastern front, and millions of Poles
and Russians, many of them civilians, perished.
Within the United States, the war transformed the role of the federal government.
Roosevelt established new wartime agencies such as the War Production Board,
War Manpower Commission, and Office of Price Administration to control labor
distribution, shipping, manufacturing quotas, and fix wages, prices, and rents. The
number of federal workers rose from 1 million to 4 million, and unemployment, at a
rate of 14 percent in 1940, virtually disappeared by 1943. The government built
housing for war workers and forced civilian companies to produce material for the
war effort. Auto plants now made trucks, tanks, and jeeps for the army. The gross
national product more than doubled to $214 billion during the war, and federal
wartime spending equaled twice the amount spent in in all previous 150 years. The
government sold millions in war bonds, hiked taxes, and starting taking income tax
from Americans’ paychecks. By 1945, the number of Americans paying taxes
Ties between corporations and the federal government grew much closer during
World War II. With business executives taking key positions in federal agencies
supervising war industries, Roosevelt gave incentives to increase production. Most
federal spending went to the largest companies, which sped up a long-term trend
toward economic concentration, and by the war’s end, the 200 biggest industrial
firms represented nearly half of all corporate assets in the nation. Wartime
production was gargantuan in scale and shocking in its intensity, not only making
military equipment by the millions, but also leading to inventions such as radar, jet
engines, and early computers. The war helped restore the reputation of big business
that the Depression had tarnished. Federal funds restored old manufacturing areas
and fostered new ones—on the West Coast in places like southern California, home
to steel and aircraft production, and in the South, where out-migration and militaryrelated factories and shipyards shifted employment from agriculture to industry.
This raised the South’s incomes but did not end its deep poverty, sparse
urbanization, or undeveloped economy, which still depended on agriculture,
extractive industries (mining, lumber, oil) or manufacturing linked to agriculture,
such as cotton textiles.
Organized labor saw the war as a struggle for freedom that would expand economic
and political democracy at home and secure its influence in politics and industry.
During the war, unions were part of a three-sided arrangement with government
and business that allowed union membership to rise to unprecedented numbers. To
win industrial peace and stabilize war production, the federal government forced
resistant employers to recognize unions. In turn, union leaders promised not to
strike and recognized employers’ right to “managerial prerogatives” and “fair
By the war’s end, unions were entrenched in many economic sectors and nearly 15
million workers—a third of the non-farm labor workforce—were union members,
the highest proportion in U.S. history. But labor was a less powerful partner in the
war than business or government. The New Deal’s decline continued during the war,
and Congress became thoroughly dominated by a conservative alliance between
Republicans and southern Democrats, who retained Social Security but ended
programs allegedly controlled by leftists, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps
(CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). Many workers protested
demanding wartime conditions and the freeze on wages, imposed by the
government even while corporate profits soared.
World War II came to be remembered as the Good War, in which the nation united
behind noble aims. But all wars need the mobilization of public opinion, and
freedom was a prominent theme in efforts to “sell” the war. Roosevelt believed the
Four Freedoms represented essential American values that could be universalized
across the globe. Freedom from fear meant a desire not only for peace, but for long5
term security in a chaotic world. The importance of freedom of speech and religion
seemed self-evident, but their prominence emphasized the new significance of First
Amendment protections of free expression. During the war, the Supreme Court’s
judges, contrasting American constitutional liberty with Nazi tyranny, upheld the
rights of religious minorities to refuse to salute the American flag in public schools,
in contrast to the coercive patriotism of World War I.
Freedom from want seemed the most ambiguous of the Four Freedoms. Through
FDR first used it to refer to eliminating barriers to trade, he soon linked this
freedom to guaranteeing a standard of living for American workers and farmers by
preventing a return of the Depression. FDR argued this would bring “real freedom
for the common man.”
The Office of War Information (OWI), established in 1942 to foster public support
for the war, shows how political divisions created by the New Deal shaped efforts to
promote the Four Freedoms. Liberal staff at the OWI tried to portray the war as a
“people’s fight for freedom” against fascism and tyranny, giving it an ideological
meaning while trying to avoid nationalist hysteria. Images of America standing for
liberty in a world overrun by tyranny and slavery recalled the American Revolution
and emancipation during the Civil War, but critics charged that FDR was promoting
freedoms as realized in New Deal social programs, not just American values.
Congress cut most of its funding.
With the OWI’s demise, mobilizing public opinion fell to private advertising firms
that urged Americans to buy war bonds and take other patriotic actions. These
advertising firms, which sold manufactured goods for big business, worked with the
National Association of Manufacturers and other companies to suggest that
Roosevelt had missed a fifth freedom—“free enterprise.” Their message about the
benefits of capitalism was reinforced by a new explosion of mass consumer goods
that became available during the war, despite rationing. Advocates of free
enterprise told Americans to expect postwar abundance if government controls
over the economy were removed.
War mobilization sparked an unprecedented growth in women’s employment to fill
industrial jobs left by men. Government and private ads celebrated the independent
women worker with images like Rosie the Riveter, the female industrial labor
painted by Norman Rockwell as a muscle-bound and self-reliant woman. With 15
million men in the military, women in 1944 were one-third of the civilian workforce,
and 350,000 women served in auxiliary military units. Women filled industrial,
professional, and government jobs previously barred to them, such as aircraft
manufacturing and shipbuilding, and they forced some unions like the United Auto
Workers to confront issues like equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, and
childcare. Many women who had a “taste of freedom” working men’s jobs for male
wages hoped to remain in the workforce after the war.
Yet government, employers, and unions saw women’s work as only a temporary
wartime necessity. Though ads told women working in factories that they were
“fighting for freedom,” their language promoted victory, not women’s rights or
independence. After the war, most women war workers, especially those in highpaying industrial positions, lost their jobs to men. Indeed, war ads informed
Americans that their work would help secure the “American way of life” after the
war—traditional families, with the women at home and men at work, enjoying
household appliances and consumer goods.
Dreams of postwar prosperity united New Dealers and conservatives, business and
labor, and they were promoted by two of the most famous roadmaps for the
postwar world. The American Century, published by magazine magnate Henry Luce
in 1941 to mobilize Americans for an imminent war, asked Americans to prepare “to
become the dominant power in the world,” and distribute to “all peoples” their
“magnificent industrial products” and “great American ideals,” particularly their
“love of freedom.” Luce believed that American power and values would secure
unprecedented prosperity and abundance, …
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