“Remember Pearl Harbor”

Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Three U.S. battleships are hit from the air during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Japan’s bombing of U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor brings the U.S. into World War II. From left are: USS West Virginia, severely damaged; USS Tennessee, damaged; and USS Arizona, sunk.
Contributed image

After Japan made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor 78 years ago, “Remember Pearl Harbor” became America’s motivational battle cry. President Roosevelt made the following historical and emotional statement:

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 … a date which will live in infamy … the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” On that infamous day, 2,403 US servicemen and 49 US civilians were killed at Pearl Harbor by the Naval Air Forces of Japan.

The American people were experiencing a roller coaster of emotions from shock to anger and bewilderment surrounding the surprise attack into a rise of patriotism. Their patriotic passions transformed to actions in supporting herculean challenges required to take on Japan and Germany forces. President Roosevelt challenged the American people to make and accept daily sacrifices, which would be required in defeating the Japanese aggression. All focus would be to funnel resources to rebuild and expand the military.

This started the evolution and massive changes in the way the average American lived. Resources went toward supporting the military with food, housing, machinery, artillery, transportation and more. In order for these objectives to be achieved, changes to America’s daily life had to be made.

A ration system was introduced in daily purchases. For food products, selling to consumers was controlled through a coupon distribution limiting quantity purchased by consumers. Controlled by the government and managed at the grocery store level. If the consumer did not have a ration coupon for the product they wish to purchase, the grocery store employees were the enforcer and delivered the bad news. Food rations included coffee, sugar, cheese, butter, canned milk, jams, and fresh or canned meats, for example. This extended to nylons and rubber products. The Government instituted drives to collect used iron and aluminum, both scarce commodities needed in the war effort.

Many forms of civilian goods could no longer be manufactured. Most prominent was the cease in building and selling automobiles for civilian consumption. Gasoline was rationed at three gallons a week for automobiles that barely got 15 miles per gallon. Maximum driving speed on any highway was 40 miles per hour. Essentially, any product that required metal was no longer made for consumers – i.e. typewriters, bicycles, etc.

The emergence of Victory Gardens created a local food chain outside the rural community and more importantly, outside the food ration system. The Victory Garden system was to encourage everyone to plant vegetable gardens. It became a visual confirmation of patriotism and support to our troops. Eventually, the Victory Gardens represented a “normal” lifestyle and instilled a new standard way of life for urban population. Community development and communication were side products from the Victory Gardens.

WWII started the economic and social change within the female population. Previously, the 1930 census had 24 percent of women in the workforce, equating to 11 million women as gainfully employed. Three out of every ten of these workingwomen were in domestic or personal service. Of professional women, three-quarters were schoolteachers or nurses.

During WWII, the female workforce exceeded 34 percent. Career options were expanded to factory workers, the start of professional positions in line with men, and 350,000 women serving in the armed forces. “Rosie the Riveter” posters immortalized the female population welding ships together and building the huge B-29 bomber needed to wage war over Japanese cities.

As the war continued on multiple geographical fronts, the American family would pay the ultimate price. Over 16 million citizens would serve in the military in which 407,000 were killed in action or died of medical causes or accidents. There were 565,000 causalities resulted from combat with enemy forces.

In summary, the rationing of consumer products and food supplies created daily sacrifices for every American family. More importantly, few families were exempt in supporting or sacrificing their sons and daughters in the armed forces. Some of the economic and social initiatives created changes that we continue to experience today.

Let’s provide thanks to the time in America’s history where every citizen worked together on an agreed upon goal – the defeat of Germany and Japan.

To stay on track to the goal, all anyone had to say was: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

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