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  • Writer's pictureAanya M.

World War II (Europe) and the Great Depression

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

World War II (Europe)

The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 - the peace treaty that officially ended World War I - forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II. We will discuss World War I aka “War to End All Wars” in detail as a part of another entry on this blog.

The Axis Forces (Germany, Italy, Japan) and the Allied Forces (Britain, USA, Soviet Union, France) fought World War II. The majority of the world's countries have been active in some way. At about 100 million people killed (5 percent of the world's population at the time), it was the worst conflict in all of human history.

When & Where

The Second World War began on September 1, 1939, in Europe when Germany invaded Poland. Great Britain and France, on September 3, responded by declaring war on Germany. On June 22, 1941, the war between the U.S.S.R. and Germany began with the German invasion of the Soviet Union followed by many countries in Europe and Africa. The war in Europe ended on May 7, 1945, with the surrender of Germany. World War II began in Europe but it spread all over the world. Most of the battles took place in the majority of Europe and in the Pacific (Southeast Asia).

United States Of America

Although the war began in September 1939 with an attack by Nazi Germany on Poland, the United States did not enter the war until after the Japanese attacked the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The role of America in World War II had a major influence on the United States economy and labor force which we will discuss here. The United States had a major effect on the war by providing the key boost the Allies needed to win the war. It is important to note that the United States was struggling to rebound from the effects of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate stood at about 25% prior to entering the war. This changed significantly after the war effort was undertaken.

Women In The Workforce

The Second World War provided American women with unprecedented opportunities to join jobs that had never before been available to women, particularly in the defense industry. Women faced obstacles in addressing societal prejudices against working women while struggling to seek appropriate childcare. Approximately 350,000 American women joined the military during World War II. They worked as nurses, drove trucks, repaired airplanes, and performed clerical work. Some were killed in combat or captured as prisoners of war. Over sixteen hundred female nurses received various decorations for courage under fire. Many women also flocked to work in a variety of civil service jobs. Others worked as chemists and engineers, developing weapons for the war. This included thousands of women who were recruited to work on the Manhattan Project, developing the atomic bomb.

It is important to note that minority women, just like minority men, served in the war effort as well, though the Navy did not allow black women into its ranks until 1944. As the American military was still segregated for the majority of World War II, African American women served in black-only units. Black nurses were only permitted to attend to black soldiers.

Although as many as 75% of women reported that they wanted to continue working after World War II, women were laid off in large numbers at the end of the war due to the social prejudices mentioned earlier.

But women's participation in the workforce bounced back relatively quickly! Despite the stereotype of the "1950s housewife," by 1950 about 32% of women were working outside the home, and of those, about half were married. World War II had solidified the notion that women were in the workforce to stay.

President During WWll

The United States reelected Franklin Delano Roosevelt to his third term in 1940, rendering him the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms as President. Roosevelt oversaw the U.S. economy's mobilization to assist the war effort, and adopted a Europe first policy, making Germany's defeat a priority over Japan's. FDR’s outstanding leadership is considered exemplary even today.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression was a time of great economic crisis during the 1930s. It began in the United States but quickly spread throughout much of the world. During this time, many people were out of work, hungry, and homeless. In the cities, people would stand in long lines at soup kitchens to get a bite to eat. In the country-sides, farmers struggled in the Midwest where a great drought turned the soil into dust causing huge dust storms, deepening the crisis further.

How did it start?

The depression was caused by a number of serious weaknesses in the economy. America's "Great Depression" began after the dramatic crash of the stock market on "Black Thursday", October 24, 1929, when 16 million shares of the stock were quickly sold by panicking investors who had lost faith in the American economy.

Leadership was also a key factor in causing the crisis. Herbert Hoover was President of the United States when the Great Depression began. Many people blamed Hoover for the Great Depression. They even named the shantytowns where homeless people lived "Hoovervilles" in disgust with the president’s inaction in the face of crisis. Finally, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president. He promised the people of America a "New Deal” to overcome the Great Depression.

The New Deal

The New Deal was a series of laws, programs, and government agencies enacted to help the country deal with the Great Depression. These laws placed regulations on the stock market, banks, and businesses. They helped put people to work and tried to help house and feed the poor. Many of these laws are still in place today like the Social Security Act, child labor laws, and federal minimum wage laws.

How did the Great Depression affect the world?

Great Depression, a worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929 and lasted until about 1939. Although it originated in the United States, the Great Depression caused drastic declines in output, severe unemployment, and acute deflation in almost every country in the world.

How Did It End?

The Great Depression ended with the start of World War II. The wartime economy put many people back to work and filled factories to capacity.

Why was the Great Depression important?

The Great Depression shows the important roles that money, banks, and the stock market play in our economy. The Great Depression also brought us the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), regulation of securities markets, the birth of the Social Security System and the first national minimum wage.

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