Essay Sample: Civil Rights and Cultural Norms during Wars

Published: 2022-04-08
Essay Sample: Civil Rights and Cultural Norms during Wars
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories: Culture War Civil rights
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1387 words
12 min read

War and the Homefront

During the World War 2 (WW2) and the Cold War, the United States experienced disagreements regarding civil rights and cultural norms. The reason for the US entry in WW2 was to stop the Nazi threat whereas the Cold War emanated from the growing tension with the Soviet Union. The effects of the US engagement in both wars was felt at the homefront. During WW2, issues over violation of civil rights started to emerge especially after the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor. Following the attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who at the time was the president of the US, issued an Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans for the duration of the war. The process was criticized by many who saw it as a violation of human rights. The internees, for instance, started to face discrimination as they were considered as loyal to the enemy. Similarly, the period of the Cold War saw significant developments regarding civil rights and social norms. For instance, the Beat Generation came into existence during Cold War.

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That being said, wartime always impacts social changes, and this is because of the entanglement of several dynamics. Some of the factors that aid in these developments results from increased public awareness, the emergence of stereotypic notions against a particular group of people, as well as the urgency of the situation at hand. In that sense, the primary objective of this paper is to discuss some of the developments concerning civil rights and cultural norms that took place back at home during the WW2 and the Cold War. This essay incorporates two examples from both wars in supporting the argument- women rights, black power, the plight of Japanese Americans, and the Beat Generation.

Civil Rights and Cultural Norms during WW2

One of the central issues concerning civil rights during WW2 was the internment of Japanese American civilians. This process aimed to avert the threat of espionage. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the order on Feb. 19, 1942. It was effected immediately leading to the evacuation of Japanese Americans from their homes to the "isolation camps" across various states in the United States. The internees were to show their loyalty to the US by assisting in the war effort through activities such as making uniforms and parachutes. In as much as the internment process is constitutionally allowed, most Americans and civil rights movements began to question the necessity of the action. Some Americans viewed it as an act of racial prejudice and unnecessary panic. Conversely, other civilians were happy with the internment of the Japanese Americans, especially in the West Coast. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, there already existed anti-Japanese sentiments in the region. The natives saw the Japanese as a threat economically because of their success in agriculture.

Another prevalent matter regarding civil rights that emerged during the WW2 was the issue of women rights. Before WW2, women were discriminated in performing specific tasks and jobs. For example, they were not allowed to work in construction sites, garages or the army. However, the entry of the US in WW2 saw significant changes concerning the freedom and rights of the females. One such sector that changed was the steel industry. For the first time, the number of women working in steel factories tremendously increased. The primary reason for this increment was because of the urgent need of steel in the making of war machines. Additionally, men were fighting the war. Hence, there was the need for the additional workforce. Throughout the war, women worked tirelessly in the factories to help the war effort. They engaged in duties likes welding of metals, operating cranes and running hydraulics. They were labeled "the women of steel" because of their resiliency and the way they worked hard. As a result, the stereotype notion that women could not do specific tasks ceased to exist henceforth.

Civil Rights and Cultural Norms during the Cold War

The cold war began immediately after WW2 following the growing tension between the USA and the Soviet Union. The USA had just emerged as the world's leading global power both militarily and economically. Following the defeat of the Nazis by the Soviets, the Russians were also ready to show their might. Besides, Washington was equally wary about the growing communist threat. As a result of this increasing tension, the two countries plunged into a Cold War. Even though the two nations never engaged in an actual war, the impact of this tension was significant at the homefront. For instance, the hysteria of anti-communist America made it difficult to conduct civil rights movements lest they are seen as pro-Communists. As a result, there was an upsurge in the activities involving black civil rights and liberties. Still, there were some significant developments relating to black power that took place during the Cold War. For example, the outcome of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case was a landmark to the cause of blacks' civil rights and freedom (Arnesen, 2012). This development occurred in 1954. The court ruling overturned the 1896 Supreme Court decision regarding the Plessy v. Ferguson case which had previously legalized racial discrimination in public institutions. The verdict sanctioned laws preventing blacks from sharing the same learning institutions, public transport services, and social amenities with the whites. The rules were known as the "Jim Crow" laws which affirmed the principle of "separate but equal." However, the outcome of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka made it illegal to practice racial segregation in public schools.

That being said, the period of the Cold War also saw significant changes regarding societal norms and ethics. At this time, many Americans moved to the suburbs fearing the threat of communism. Men went to work donning gray suits while the women remained at home doing house chores. People started to deviate from family traditions like having dinner together or going for picnics. It is during this period that sexual orientations such as lesbianism and homosexuality emerged (Jaderlund, 2010). It is because of these peculiarities associated with this era that it became known as the Beat Generation. The members of this generation were mostly writers and poets. One notable personality belonging to this group of individuals was the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Presley. He became famous following the success of his song "The Hound Dog." The song content of the song relates to the Beat Generation. Not only does "The Hound Dog" creates awareness but also criticizes racism (Vaillancourt, 2011).


The paper attempted to discuss how wartime impacts civil rights and social norms. The first part of the literature review identifies some of the developments regarding civil rights that took place during the WW2. The examples used include the issue of Japanese Americans internment and that of the women rights. From the illustrations, it is evident that the internment process to some extent infringed the civil rights of the internees. Conversely, the duration of WW2 was characterized by favorable changes regarding women rights and liberties. For example, women were now allowed to do the jobs that were left for the men such as working in steel factories. Consequently, the second part of the literature review identifies some of the civil rights developments that took place during the Cold War. The examples given include the landmark ruling on the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and the emergence of the Beat Generation. The former led to the banning of racial segregation in public schools. The Beat Generation saw the nonconformity with the accepted social norms and ethics.

Works Cited

Arnesen, Eric. "Civil Rights and the Cold War At Home: Postwar Activism, Anticommunism, and the Decline of the Left." American Communist History 11.1 (2012): 5-44

Jaderlund, Christer. "The Beat Goes On: Discourse, Power and Identity in Jack Kerouac's On the Road." (2010)."A Challenge to Democracy" 1942, The War Relocation Authority, Japanese American detention camps "Japanese Internment: From Pearl Harbor to Internment" treatment and fears of Japanese Americans immediately following Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 African Americans in the Navy Racism/racial violence towards African Americans "Woman Power" 1943, female factory workers building airplanes "Women of Steel" 1943, female workers in the steel industry, Eric. "Rock'n'Roll in the 1950s: Rockin'for Civil Rights." (2011).

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