WWII, America, and the Dominant Narrative

What do you know about WWII?  You probably know that the United States fought other countries.  (Remember that a civil war is a war within one country, and a world war involves multiple countries?)  This week we’re going to focus on many groups of American people during World War II, many of whom have been excluded from the dominant narrative.

Talk with a partner: What do you think the dominant narrative of American involvement in World War II is?  Which groups of people might be excluded from this story?

Here are some things that you should know about World War II before we get started:

  • The war involved many different countries, and these countries split into two “teams”: the Axis powers and the Allied Powers.  When is another time that you have heard the word “allies” used?  Think back to our civil rights unit.
  • The Axis Powers included Germany, Italy, and Japan.
  •  The Allied Powers included the United States, Britain, France, the USSR,  Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia.  That’s a lot of countries!  Our study will focus specifically on the United States, with some mention of Britain and France.
  • World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945, but the United States didn’t get involved until 1941.  The United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was bombed by Japan.
  • The dominant narrative paints a heroic picture of the United States fighting against the Nazis.  While part of this may be true, the reasons behind US involvement, and the things happening at home in America, were much more complicated.  (Remember that at this time, the United States was segregated!  It seems kind of backwards that we would fight for freedom for the Jewish people while at the same time committing such acts of racism within our own country.)
  • If you have read all the way to this last bullet point, but a star on the top right corner of the first page of your exploration packet.

This week, we are going to take a look at how this war affected people here in the United States.  Next week, we will zoom out and look outside of the United States and into Europe to learn more about the Holocaust.

As you rotate through these stations, record your thoughts and answers in your exploration packet.


Station One: Women on the Home Front

Part A: Women at Work

While the men of the United States went away to war, they left jobs open at home.  Not only did they leave jobs vacant, but war also creates jobs.  Employees were needed to make clothes for soldiers, and to create weapons.  American women were left to fill these roles.

Look at the following 2 posters.  Both posters were used to recruit women into jobs that needed to be filled.  Answer the questions that follow.


  1. What do you notice in this picture?
  2. Have you seen this picture before?  If so, where?
  3. Why do you think the woman is standing like this?
  4. What do you think this poster was used for?
  5. Of all of the photos we may look at, this one might be the most iconic.  Why do you think this poster is still used so much today?



Here is a Newsela article about the original “Rosie the Riveter.”  Take a look for a current events connection.






  1. What stands out to you in this picture?
  2. What do you see?  What do the words say?
  3. What similarities do you notice between this poster and the first poster?
  4. Do you think this poster would have been effective in recruiting women into jobs?  Why or why not?
  5. Is this what you would picture a working woman to look like?  Why or why not?


Part B: Flipping the Script: Women of Color


  1. What is different in this painting than in the first two posters?
  2. What is the same in this painting as it is in the first two?
  3. What jobs do you think these women could have had?  How do you know?
  4. Do you think that this painting was made first, or the white Rosie the Riveter?  Why?
  5. Do you think white women and women of color had the same jobs during World War II?  What differences or similarities might they have encountered?



  1. What is different in this painting than in the first two posters?
  2. What is the same in this painting as it is in the first two?
  3. When do you think this art was made?  Why?
  4. Do you think that this painting was made first, or the white Rosie the Riveter?  Why?
  5. What statement do you think this piece of art is making?

Station Two: Japanese Americans


In 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  After this bombing, many Americans acted in fear towards all people of Japanese descent, even Japanese Americans, many of whom were citizens who had been living in the United States for generations.  After this bombing, Franklin Roosevelt signed an order that put all Japanese Americans into internment camps.


Newsela has adapted the order signed by FDR.  Use your Newsela account to read this article and answer the questions that follow.


After you have read and responded to the Newsela article, let’s take a closer look at this photograph:



  1. What do you see in this photograph?
  2. What stands out to you?
  3. Who do you think owns this store?
  4. Who do you think hung the sign that says “I Am an American”?
  5. Why did this person hang that sign?
  6. Do you think that signs like this would have been common during World War II?  Why or why not?


Now let’s examine some more primary sources.  Let’s take a look at the words of Yuri Kochiyama, who experienced the Japanese Interment camps firsthand.

article used with permission from “Students of History,” available to purchase at TeachersPayTeachers.com

The Japanese-American civil rights activist and author Yuri Kochiyama was born and raised in San Pedro, California. She and her family were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast who were rounded up in a wave of anti-Japanese hysteria that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, giving the army the power to arrest all Japanese-Americans (mostly children born in the United States) and transport them to camps to live under prison conditions. Yuri Kochiyama describes the conditions in the detention camps.

Continue reading “Yuri Kochiyama on Japanese Internment Camps,” (paper copies are in your exploration packet), and respond to the questions that follow.


Station Three: The Bracero Program

The following resources surrounding the Bracero Program are adapted from a journey box created by Juana Marquez, an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, as a class project for Noreen Rodriguez.  For more resources from Noreen and her students, visit her website.

The Bracero Program was an agreement between Mexico and the Unites States of America that let millions of Mexican men come to the United States to work for a short period of time. Most of these men worked in the fields with certain rules, or contracts, that they needed to follow to be able to stay to work.

The Bracero Program was created during the time of World War II.  During this time, America used all of its resources, including its workers, for the war.  Even women were sent to work in factories.  America soon realized that it needed more people to work the fields in the United States. Therefore, on August 4, 1942 the United States agreed to let Mexican agricultural workers come to the United States to work.

The Bracero Program was only supposed to last about five years, but it ended up lasting more than twenty years.  The Bracero Program ended in the year 1964.  Over the twenty-two years that the Bracero Program lasted, more than 4.5 million Mexican citizens were hired to legally work in the United States.  Most of the Braceros worked in the states of Texas and California, both in the farms and on the railroads.

Braceros were recruited from different cities in Mexico, including Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua.  Many Mexicans went to these recruitment sites in search of better opportunities in the United States. Once the Braceros arrived to the United States, they were inspected in processing centers.  In these processing centers, personnel looked for weapons, and hopeful Braceros were sprayed with DDT, a chemical pesticide that was commonly used in the US to protect plants against insects.  (This chemical was canceled in 1972, after people working around this chemical reported harmful side effects.)  Despite this poor treatment, the Braceros were still hopeful of having a better life in America.

Once the Braceros entered the United States and began work, they were only paid about $3.00 a day. Braceros not only had to deal with such little pay, but they were also discriminated against by the American people. Similar to African Americans during the era of Jim Crow, Mexicans were not allowed into many places, like restaurants and movie theaters.  Many Americans were angry about the Braceros, and demanded they return to Mexico.  These people believed that American jobs were unfairly being given to foreigners, who were willing to work for less money.

The Bracero program was a big milestone, or step,  for the United States.  It helped create a migration pattern in the United States in which individuals such as Mexicans could come into the US to work, go home for awhile, and then return to the US once again to make more money to bring home to their families.

Despite their hard work for the United States during wartime, the Braceros were treated poorly.  When they were no longer needed, they were told to go home, and they never received recognition for their contributions to America during World War II.  The dominant narrative largely excludes Braceros from American history.

Answer the questions in your exploration packet before watching the following video.


When entering the United States, Braceros were given a book of rules to follow. These are pages from those rule books. Some of the rules included that Mexican workers could not go into certain restaurants and movie theaters. If you can read Spanish, help your group to read these rules.






This is a photo of Braceros being sprayed with DDT at a processing center, while entering the United States.

1. What do you see in this photo?


2. Why do you think Americans wanted to clean these migrant workers before letting them enter the United States?


3.  The word dehumanizing means to make someone feel like they are not human.  Do you think this process might have been dehumanizing for these men?  Why or why not?



Station Four: African American Soldiers


Complete the DBQ “African Americans in WWII,” copies are in your exploration packet.

When the DBQ begins to talk about Charles Drew, watch this video before answering the questions:




Station Five: Contrasting the Dominant Narrative

This week, we have examined four different perspectives on American life during World War II.  Each of these stories challenges the dominant narrative in one way or another.  Like we mentioned earlier, the dominant narrative paints a very heroic picture of the United States.  These next two photographs fit into the heroic dominant narrative of the United States during World War II.

Take a look at these two pictures and answer the following questions.


  1. What do you see in this photograph?
  2. What can you see on the people’s expressions?  What do you think they’re feeling?
  3. Why do you think they’re feeling this way?
  4. How many different skin colors do you see in this photo?
  5. Do you see any women in this photograph?
  6. Why do you think this photograph is part of the dominant narrative?
  7. What statement is this photograph making about America?



  1. What do you see in this photograph?
  2. Who do you think these people are?  Why?
  3. What are these people doing?
  4. Why do you think these people are doing this?
  5. Why do you think this photograph is part of the dominant narrative?
  6. What statement is this photograph making about America?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.