Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Ken Burns's and Lynn Novick's The War

It is hard for those who did not live through World War II to comprehend its magnitude. There is no event in the past 60 years that has matched its affect on the daily lives of Americans. No family or individual was untouched by the war, whether they served in the military, worked in a munitions factory, or simply noticed that their Japanese American classmates no longer attended their school. The fascination with the war is not solely based on its sheer grandness, but also on the duality of its history. Lynn Novick, who coproduced with Ken Burns the World War II documentary The War, explains, "there is the twin fascination of the horror of it [World War II] and also the triumphant narrative of it."

Indeed, the United States did help win the war and became a world power because of its efforts. But, even as that triumph is celebrated, one also come face to face with the ugly history of racial and ethnic segregation and discrimination during that time. However, where there was tragedy, as seen in the detention of Japanese Americans, there was also triumph, as exemplified by the social advances that many racial and gender minorities gained, which may not have come about if not for the war.

These concepts may be hard for students to grasp. Some may not even realize that the war took place during their grandparents, and great-grandparents lives. To that end, Ken Burns's and Lynn Novick's The War, debuting on September 23 on PBS, seeks to relate the everyday realities of living in the United States during World War II. In light of the staggering fact that nearly 1,000 World War II veterans die every day, it becomes even more important to record and remember their stories.

The four video excerpts from the film give a unique firsthand glimpse into the lives of everyday Americans and serve to highlight the "double victories" achieved during World War II. Not only did Americans prevail against tyranny abroad, but racial and gender minorities also achieved victories toward advancing social and economic equality.

  • Video 1: "Connecting to World War II"

  • Sets the stage for The War and explains the mission behind its production. The narratives of triumph and tragedy are animated by the use of numerous oral histories throughout the film.
  • Video 2: "Munitions Factories"

  • Excerpt from episode two shows one way in which men and women on the home front helped in the war effort.
  • Video 3: "Mobile Shipyards"

  • Excerpt from episode three takes viewers to the shipyards of Mobile, Alabama, where increasing work opportunities for African Americans led to an increase in racial tensions, riots, and eventual segregation of the workforce.
  • Video 4: "Made into an Enemy"

  • Excerpt from episode one focuses on the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast after the signing of Executive Order 9066.
After viewing the videos, go to the Need to Know section for greater context and access to ABC-CLIO's comprehensive five-volume Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social, and Military History by Dr. Spencer C. Tucker and Dr. Priscilla Mary Roberts. In the Point of View section, students can read essays from leading scholars on the experiences of racial and gender minorities during the war. Finally, visit Examine for access to lesson plans for use in the classroom centered around themes explored in Ken Burns's and Lynn Novick's The War.

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