BOEING AND THE LIBERATION OF INEZ SAUER
In this account Inez Sauer, Chief Clerk in the Tool Room at Boeing in World War II, describes how here work experience changed her life.
I was thirty-one when the war started and I have never worked in my life before. I had a six-year-old daughter and two boys, twelve and thirteen. We were living in Norwalk, Ohio, in a large home in which we could fit about 200 people playing bridge, and once in a while we filled it.
I remember my husband saying to me, "You've lived through a depression and you weren't even aware it was here." It was true. I knew that people were without work and having a hard time, but it never seemed to affect us or our friends. They were all of the same ilk--all college people and all golfing and bridge-playing companions. I suppose you'd call it a life of ease. We always kept a live-in maid, and we never had to go without anything.
Before the war my life was bridge and golf and clubs and children... When the war broke out, my husband's rubber-matting business in Ohio had to close due to the war restrictions on rubber. We also lost our live-in maid, and I could see there was no way I could possibly live the way I was accustomed to doing. So I took my children home to my parents in Seattle.
The Seattle papers were full of ads for women workers needed to help the war effort. "Do your part, free a man for service." Being a D.A.R. [Daughters of the American Revolution], I really wanted to help the war effort. I could have worked for the Red Cross and rolled bandages, but I wanted to do something that I thought was really vital. Building bombers was, so I answered an ad for Boeing.
My mother was horrified. She said no one in our family had ever worked in a factory. "You don't know what kind of people you're going to be associated with." My father was horrified too... My husband thought it was utterly ridiculous. I had never worked. I didn't know how to handle money, as he put it. I was nineteen when I was married. My husband was ten years older, and he always made me feel like a child, so he didn't think I would last very long at the job, but he was wrong.
They started me as a clerk in this huge tool room. I had never handled a tool in my life outside of a hammer. Some man come in and asked for a bastard file. I said to him, "If you don't control your language, you won't get any service here." I went to my supervisor and said, "You'll have to correct this man. I won't tolerate that kind of language." He laughed and said, "Don't you know what a bastard file is? It's the name of a very coarse file." He went over and took one out and showed me...
The first year, I worked seven days a week. We didn't have any time off. They did allow us Christmas off, but Thanksgiving we had to work. That was a hard thing to do. The children didn't understand. My mother and father didn't understand, but I worked. I think that put a little iron in my spine too. I did something that was against my grain, but I did it and I'm glad...
Because I was working late one night I had a chance to see President Roosevelt. They said he was coming on the swing shift, after four o'clock, so I waited to see him. They cleared out the aisle of the main plant, and he went through in a big, open limousine. He smiled and he had his long cigarette holder, and he was very, very pleasant. "Hello there, how are you? Keep up the war effort. Oh, you women are doing a wonderful job." We were all thrilled to think the President could take time out of the war effort to visit us factory workers. It gave us a lift, and I think we worked harder.
Boeing was a real education for me. It taught me a different way of life. I had never been around uneducated people before, people that worked with their hands. I was prudish and had never been with people that used coarse language... I didn't know there was such a thing as the typical male ego. My contact with my first supervisor was one of animosity, in which he stated, "The happiest duty of my life will be when I say goodbye to each of you to the door." I didn't understand that kind of resentment, but it was prevalent throughout the plant...
The job really broadened me.... I had no contact with Negroes except as maids or gardeners. My mother was a Virginian, and we were bought up to think that colored people were not of the same economic or social level. I learned differently at Boeing... I fact, I found that some of the black people I got to know there were very superior--and certainly equal to me--equal to anyone I ever knew.
Before I worked at Boeing I also had no exposure to unions. After I was there for a while, I joined the machinists union. We had a contract dispute, and we had a one-day walkout to show Boeing our strength. We went on this march through the financial district in downtown Seattle.
My mother happened to be down there seeing the president of the Seattle First National Bank at the time... So my mother...walked outside to see what was happening. And we came down the middle of the street--there were probably five thousand of us. I saw my mother...and I waved and said, "Hello, mother." That night when I got home, I thought she was never going to honor my name again. She said, "To think my daughter was marching in that labor demonstration. How could you do that to the family?" But I could see that it was a new world.
My mother warned me, "You will never want to go back to being a housewife." At the time I didn't think it would change a thing. But she was right... I had always been in a shell; I had always been protected. But at Boeing I found a freedom and an independence that I had never known. After the war, I could never go back to playing bridge again, being a club woman and listening to a lot of inanities when I knew there were things you could use your mind for. The war changed my life completely. I guess you could say, at thirty-one I finally grew up.
Source: David E. Shi and Holly Mayer, eds., For the Record: A Documentary History of America (New York, 1999), pp. 254-257
WEST COAST SHIPYARDS
World War II generated the growth of major shipyards from Seattle to San Diego which employed thousands of workers. Three shipyards built by industrialist Henry Kaiser in the Portland-Vancouver area employed over 100,000. The vignette below describes the Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California.
All shipyard workers had to adjust to the regimen of prefabricated shipbuilding. Using techniques developed in building Boulder Dam, west coast shipbuilders assembled whole sections of a ship's structure, boilers, double bottoms, deckhouses, preassembled elsewhere and lifted into place by huge cranes. This technique allowed these yards to assemble vessels in record time. The Robert E. Peary was built in four days [at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond] in November 1942. Since workers performed specific, repetitive tasks, training went rapidly. But these workers faced a bureaucratized environment. For the first time in their lives they used security badges, got company-sponsored health care, reported to timekeepers, and receive their paychecks (with income tax withheld) from pay windows. The Richmond yards were laid out in a grid system of numbered and lettered streets. One worker described the 900 acres of shipyards: "It was such a huge place... People from all walks of life, all coming and going and working, and the noise. The whole atmosphere was overwhelming to me."
West Coast shipyards pioneered new production techniques and labor-management relations but they also embraced old stereotypes. The Chinese performed detail-oriented electrical work considered suitable for their skills. White women held welding jobs, considered the easiest position on the yards, while black women were relegated to scaling (cleaning), sweeping and painting ship hulls. Portland shipyard worker Beatrice Marshall described her job as a painter's helper: "We had to crawl on our hands and knees and carry our light on an extension cord...because it was pitch dark. We...scraped the rust off the bottom of the boat where they had to paint... We had to wear masks, there [was] so much rust in there...you could hardly breathe."
Source: Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990, (New York, 1998) p. 257.
LYN CHILDS CONFRONTS A RACIST ACT
In the following vignette, black San Francisco shipyard worker Lyn Childs, describes how she came to the defense of a Filipino employee on the ship she was repairing. Her account also discusses the reaction from her supervisor.
I was working down in the hold of the ship and there were about six Filipino men...and this big white guy went over and started to kick this poor Filipino and none of the Black men that was working down there in the hold with him said one word to this guy. And I sat there and was getting madder and madder by the minute. I sprang to my feet, turned on my torch, and I had a flame about six to seven feet out in front of me, and I walked up to him and I said (you want me to say the real language?) I said to him,
"You so-in-so. If you go lift one more foot, I'll cut your guts out." That was my exact words. I was so mad with him.
Then he started to tell me that he had been trained in boot camp that any national group who was darkskinned was beneath all White People. So he started to cry. I felt sorry for him, because he was crying, really crying. He was frightened, and I was frightened. I didn't know what I was doing, so in the end I turned my torch off and I sat down on the steps with him.
About that time the intercom on board the ship started to announce,
"Lyn Childs, report to Colonel Hickman immediately."
So I said, "I guess this is it." So I went up to Colonel Hickman's office, and behind me came all these men, and there lined up behind me, and I said,
"Where are you guys going?"
They said, "We're going with you."
When we got to the office [Colonel Hickman] said, "I just wanted to see Lyn Childs," and they said, "You'll see all of us, because we were all down there. We all did not have the guts enough to do what she did, [but] we're with her."
Colonel Hickman said, "Come into this office."
He had one of the guards take me into the office real fast and closed the door real fast and kept them out, and he said,
"What kind of communist activity are you carrying on down there?"
I said, "A communist! What is that?"
He said, "You know what I am talking about. You're a communist."
I said, "A communist! Forget you! The kind of treatment that man was putting on the Filipinos, and to come to their rescue. Then I am the biggest communist you ever seen in your life. That is great. I am a communist."
He said, "Don't say that so loud."
I said, "Well, you asked me was I a communist. You're saying I am. I'm saying I'm a...
"Shh! Shh! Shh! Hush! Don't say that so loud." Then he said, "I think you ought to get back to work."
"Well, you called me Why did you call me?"
"Never mind what I called you for," he said, "Go back to work."
Source: Paul R. Spickard, "Work and Hope: African American Women in Southern California During World War II," Journal of the West 32:3 (July 1993):74-75.
STALIN CALLS FOR A SECOND FRONT
The origins of the Cold War can be found in the tension between the United States and Britain and the Soviet Union while allies in World War II. From June, 1941, to June, 1944, Soviet Armies absorbed the brunt of the Axis onslaught with relatively little assistance from Britain and the United States. By the summer of 1943 Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, sent a secret note to Winston Churchill demanding a second front after learning of Churchill's remark that the British and Americans were not yet prepared for an invasion of Europe.
...When you write that "it would be no help to Russia if we threw away a hundred thousand men in a disastrous cross Channel attack," all I can do is remind you of the following:
First, your own Aide Memoire of June 1942, in which you declared that preparations were under way for an invasion, not by a hundred thousand, but by an Anglo American force exceeding one million men at the very start of the operation.
Second, your February  message which mentioned extensive measures preparatory to the invasion of Western Europe in August or September 1943, which, apparently, envisaged an operation, not by a hundred thousand men, but by an adequate force.
So when you now declare: "I cannot see how a great British defeat and slaughter would aid the Soviet armies," is it not cleat that a statement of this kind in relation to the Soviet Union is utterly groundless and directly contradicts your previous and responsible decisions....about extensive and vigorous measures by the British and Americans to organise the invasion this year, measures on which the complete success of the operation should hinge?
I shall not enlarge on the fact that this responsible decision, revoking your previous decisions on the invasion of Western Europe, was reached by you and the President [Roosevelt] without Soviet participation and without inviting its representatives to the Washington conference, although you cannot but be aware that the Soviet Union's role in the war against Germany and its interest in the problems of the second front are great enough.
There is no need to say that the Soviet Government cannot become reconciled to this disregard of vital Soviet interests in the war against the common enemy.
You say that you "quite understand" my disappointment. I must tell you that the point here is not just the disappointment of the Soviet Government, but the preservation if its confidence in its Allies, a confidence which is being subjected to severe stress. One should not forget that it is a question of saving million of lives in the occupied areas of Western Europe and Russia, and of reducing the enormous sacrifices of the Soviet armies, compared with which the sacrifices of the Anglo American armies are insignificant.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R., Correspondence Between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and the Presidents of the U.S.A. and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War of 1941 1945, Vol. II, (Moscow: 1957), pp. 75 76.
SOVIET AMERICAN TENSION IN WORLD WAR II
General John R. Deane, the chief U.S. military liaison officer in Moscow during World War II, found the Soviets reluctant allies who wanted American military hardware but who feared American personnel would spy on Soviet defenses and promote dissent among Soviet citizens. Here he provides an account of Soviet suspicion of American efforts at cooperation.
Whatever the reasons, the fact that Russia desired, insofar as possible to play a lone hand was proved by undeniable evidence. In her darkest days she refused to allow a group of Allied bombers to base in the Caucasus in order to assist her at Stalingrad. Our well meant voluntary efforts to support her advance in the Balkans with our Air Force operating from Italy brought forth protests rather than gratitude. No single American was allowed to enter the Soviet Union without pressure from the Ambassador or me, and then a visa was granted only after an exhaustive study of the background of the individual involved. Under these circumstances it was clear that nothing much could come of a partnership in which one of the principals was not only reluctant, but proficient in sabotaging its effectiveness...
When General Eisenhower visited Moscow after the war, he held a press conference at which he stated that after January 1945 he was kept fully informed at all times of the essentials of the Red Army's plans, particularly the timing of their offensives, their objectives, and the direction of their main efforts. This was true, but his possession of such information was a far cry from the co operative action that might normally be expected between allies. All the information Eisenhower had concerning the Red Army's plans was the result of our initiative in seeking to obtain it, and then it was only obtained after continuous pressure at the highest levels.
Not once during the war did Stalin or his subordinates seek a meeting with British or American authorities in order to present proposals for improving our co operative effort. It was either the President or the Prime Minister [Churchill] who proposed [conferences at] Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam. No single event of the war irritated me more than seeing the President of the United States lifted from wheel chair to automobile, to ship to shore and to aircraft, in order to go halfway around the world as the only possible means of meeting J.V. Stalin.
There were innumerable little ways in which our joint war effort could have been made more effective. We might have learned something of immeasurable value in defeating the German submarines had we been allowed to see Gdynia [naval base] as soon as it was taken; we might have brought Germany to her knees quicker had we been allowed to establish radar triangulation stations in Russia as navigational aids to our bomber formations in eastern Germany. We might have defeated Germany more quickly had we shared our operational experience by having observers on each other's fronts. We might have, we might have on and on. No! In Soviet Russia each such venture would have meant a closer association with capitalistic foreigners. Well, perhaps we were among friends, but it was difficult to believe it.
Source: Thomas A. Bailey & David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II, (Lexington, Mass: D.C. Heath and Company, 1984), pp. 795 796.
THE WORLD THE SECOND WORLD WAR CREATED
In a special report on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of World War II U.S. News and World Report, describes the manner in which the Second World War shaped the post-War world.
It was the work of a moment for a handful of German soldiers to snap the frail barrier at the frontier with Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, but the convulsions of that moment are still reverberating. Six years of global conflict was only the beginning. Only now, in the fifth decade since, do we seem to be emerging from the postwar era and entering a new one....
The post-war era saw the decline and collapse of the traditional colonial empires. What followed was a competition between Communism and capitalism, and between Soviets and Americans, to fill the vacuum the old European powers had left. The Third World became the principal theater for U.S.-Soviet competition. The cost of competing for influence in so many unstable, poverty-stricken and often insignificant nations frequently went far beyond the point of diminishing returns, especially for the Soviets, who could ill-afford the cost.
The post war period ushered in a type of international conflict not seen since the Crusades. The cold war was not just a battle for survival between two states; it was a conflict of ideologies that recognized no borders and achieved the zealousness of religious wars. It openly and deliberately tested the potential and performance of opposing economic and political systems, both of which proclaimed their universality. In the past, any conflict of such intensity would assuredly have ended in a world war. But because nuclear weapons promised Armageddon, the cold war remained a conflict of wills rather than of weapons -not the hot wars of tanks and artillery, but the cold wars of politics, propaganda, subversion and espionage.
Today, as Soviet aggressiveness abroad appears to be declining, smaller states see a diminishing logic in their own participation in the cold war. America's allies now see little danger from the Soviet Union and are uninterested in the global vision of the United States. On the Soviet side, the captive nations and regimes of Eastern Europe are groping for ways to escape Soviet domination....A new era is opening with the prospect of a counterrevolution as momentous at the end of the 20th century as the Russian Revolution was at the beginning.
Source: "The World War Created," U.S. News and World Report, Sept. 4, 1989, pp. 68-72.
HIROSHIMA: DAY ONE OF THE NUCLEAR AGE
The following accounts describe the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima August 6, 1945. The first is a discussion of the "hypocenter" of the blast by Peter Wyden and the second is a description of the city by Iwao Nakamura a 5th grader at a local school, during the first hour after the explosion.
Wyden: The hypocenter was in the courtyard of the Shima Hospital. It was ground zero, the hub of the nuclear death wheel, the point on the ground directly underneath the explosion. The Shima hospital and all its patients were vaporized, but its owner, the fatalistic Dr. Shima, kept pedaling unscathed on his bicycle. He was between house calls in the suburbs. Eighty-eight percent of the people within a radius of 1,500 feet died instantly or later on that day. Most others within the circle perished in the following weeks or months. All who where in Hiroshima on August 6 would come to know precisely how far fate had placed them from the hypocenter at 8:15. And everyone would learn at least one new English word: hypocenter, the place from which all life and death was measured....In less than half a second, heat rays with temperatures of more than 3000 degrees Celsius caused primary burn injuries within two miles of the hypocenter. About 130,000 of Hiroshima's 350,000 people would die.
Nakamura: We were…surrounded by a sea of fire. The streets were blocked with the fire and smoke of the ruined houses....There was no one in sight, and only once in a while we heard a moaning voice like that of a wild beast coming out of nowhere. I had the feeling that all the human beings on the face of the earth had been killed off, and only the five of use were left behind in an uncanny world of the dead....As we passed the Nakajima School and came to Sumiyoshi Bridge, I saw several people plunging their heads into a half-broken water tank and drinking the water. I was very thirsty too, and I was so happy to see some people again that without thinking I left my parents' side and went toward them. When I was close enough to see inside the tank I said, "Oh!" out loud and instinctively drew back. What I had seen in the tank were the faces of monsters reflected from the water dyed red with blood. They had clung to the side of the tank and plunged their heads in to drink and there in that position they had died. From their burned and tattered middy blouses I could tell that they were high school girls, but there was not a hair left on their heads; the broken skin of their burned faces was stained bright with blood. I could hardly believe that these were human faces....As we....crossed Sumiyoshi Bridge, for the first time we met some living people of this world. No, rather than humans of this world it might be more correct to say we met humans of that other world, of Hell. They were all stark naked, their skin was rust-colored with burns and blood, their whole bodies were swollen like balloons....Among them we saw old people begging for water; youngsters crying for help; delirious students calling the names of their fathers and mothers....Yet we who were not even sure of our own lives could do nothing for them.
Sources: Peter Wyden, Day One: Before Hiroshima and After, New York, 1984, pp. 253-255; Arata Osada, Children of the A-Bomb: The Testament of the Boys and Girls of Hiroshima, New York, 1959, pp. 165-166.
HANFORD AND THE BOMB
On Monday, August 6, 1945, the Seattle Times announced to the world that the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima with the following headline: ATOMIC BOMB, EQUIVALENT OF 20,000 TONS, TNT, HITS JAPAN. Under that banner headline appeared another, "Hanford--War's Greatest Mystery--Cleared; 17,000 Workers Making Fantastic Explosive." The vignette below includes the first paragraphs following the second headline.
The secrecy of the Hanford Engineer Works--one of the America's best-kept secrets of the Second World War--was swept aside today as a new atomic bomb of catastrophic destructive force was dropped on the Japanese homeland and President Truman announced that the materials for it were produced in the 400,00-acre Hanford Project in South Central Washington. President Truman's announcement cleared the way for revelation of how at feverish speed the huge sprawling project of towering smokestacks was built on what had been farm and sagebrush-covered lands extending into three Washington counties, Benton, Yakima and Grant, and how a new model government city was constructed at Richland, a few miles north of Pasco.
Necessarily on a project of such magnitude...thousands of workers and others knew of the development but only a few high-ranking military officers and scientists knew the exact nature...of the project--the adaptation of the basic force of the universe in a terrific weapon of war.
To impress the necessity of the secrecy which surrounded the project, officials have from time to time let drop quiet remarks which gave a hint of what they were working on, saying: "It will shorten the war and bring victory to the Allies." And after Germany was beaten the remark was: "It will finish off Japan."
But today, as American airmen rocked a portion of Japan with the tremendous explosive, officials at the project headquarters, Richland, Benton County, made known how workers who did not know what the were making, produced the ingredients for the explosive by operating complicated machinery from behind thick concrete safety walls.
Situated about 30 miles north of Richland, the production area is divided into three principal subareas to insure that individual workers learn as little as possible about the overall project. Separate passes are required to move from one area to another. There is a series of plants [sic], each behind high wire fences and each removed several miles from its nearest neighbor.
One of the areas contains raw materials; the second, three huge chemical plants, and the third area contains three large plants where the explosive material is produced.
The project employs 17,000 persons at present, officials said, and one of the big problems was to design manufacturing processes which would permit the fantastically powerful explosives to be made safely.
Postwar use of the huge Hanford project has been the source of much optimistic speculation. It is looked upon generally as a potential industrial center, producing fertilizer and synthetics such as nylon and plastics. But the government has been silent on its future, indicating that it will be put in a reserve status, guarded, and kept available for future emergencies...
Source: Seattle Times, August 6, 1945, pp. 1, 2.