Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:

Introduction to the World War II Unit

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 ended both the Great Depression and peace in America. Most of the world had been at war since 1939 when Adolph Hitler's Germany had invaded Poland, but the United States had been reluctant to become involved in European problems. Many Alabamians shared this hesitancy to intervene even as the state's industries profited from the purchases of textiles, steel, and iron by those allied against the Axis Powers of Germany and Japan. As in the First World War, an inexpensive labor force and abundant natural resources made Alabama a perfect location for industrial development.


Once America entered the war, the people of Alabama were dedicated to the war effort. Women who went to work in the factories and families at home who rationed everything from meat to tires supported the 321,000 young men who served in the armed forces. Many Alabama women went to war as well, serving as WAVS and WACS. Black Alabamians, too, went to battle, making their mark as soldiers and as leaders on the home front. Munitions factories, military training facilities, and prisoner of war camps were found in many communities, bringing the war effort home to Alabama.


By the time the Second World War ended against Germany (in May 1945) and Japan (August 1945), the state would lose more than 4,500 of her men to military action overseas. Further, wartime demands on the civilian home front would alter Alabama's economy and social fabric forever.