A Sampling of Related Sites

World War II is extensively treated on the web, but very little of that history addresses what was happening beyond the field of combat or the transition to a postwar world (except as it relates to antecedents of the Cold War). Beyond the combat-related sites (which seem to be among the best funded sites on the web), there are a number of interesting sites that try to address some of the human issues on the home front. However, these sites are almost invariably enclosed chronologically by the attack at Pearl Harbor and VJ day.

Sites like World War II and the Human Experience, for instance, do an interesting job of capturing the human experiences of a number of military service people and their families. This site, sponsored by the History Department at Florida State University, has a pretty impressive amount of depth, even though it is fairly clear this only the thin surface of a much deeper collection of documents and oral histories at the FSU archive. The site provides an interesting collection of visual artifacts on the human dimension in the war—letters, cartoons, and the art created by servicemen in photographs and decoration of aircraft. However, with the war's end, the coverage essentially stops. It is rather unclear how long they have been working on this site, and how much further they plan to extend it, but my queries to the director of the project went unanswered.

Quite similar to that site in terms of its temporal and military focus is the World War II Multimedia database. This site contains an intensely rich selection of materials from the war (1,850 photos, 93 video clips, and a virtual radio, according to the introduction). However, it again limits the events of the war largely to the battlefield, and relegates the postwar issues to its own separate section, which shares the new start perspective of the historiography about the postwar world. To the author's credit, however, this was done as a student project for two courses at Fordham—what a novel idea. As a project done by a single person, it shows remarkable sophistication and depth, and uses a fairly wide array of multimedia materials—.wav, .mpeg, and cgi-based slide shows. Like so many other sites, however, since he posted it in November 2000, the author tells me he has only been able to make a couple of additions to it.

Two other sites that I found interesting as an effort to highlight that life didn't stop back home, were the The World War II Homefront Site, done by ThinkQuest for a group of high school students, and What Did You Do During the War Grandma? done seemingly as a joint project between the Brown University history department and a number of local high school students. The Homefront site is the more visually appealing, but it lacks significant depth. This was particularly evident in the most interesting part of the site—a "simulation" section, which invites the reader (presumably a student) to imagine themselves in the position of a family during the period and do journal entries based on a somewhat random series of "fates." From a pedagogical standpoint, I found this quite interesting, although I don't think the site has enough depth to provide the student with enough contextual information to write a substantive journal entry. The What Did You Do During the War Grandma? site provides more of the depth I have in mind, by including a number of interesting oral history interviews with women who lived and worked in an exceptionally wide variety of capacities during the war. I was particularly impressed that they didn't just search for the mythic Rosie the Riveter, but included women who stayed at home and were attending college back then. The site also contains a nice series of brief contextual essays by historians, and a large number of oral history transcripts.

Beyond the war years, however, there is very little out there about the postwar world that describes it as having much of a start before 1950. Not surprisingly the History Channel web site typifies the sort of settled chronology that I would envision this site as complicating. Like the other sites above, the war is framed almost entirely in military subjects and terms. The postwar world is relegated to an exhibit on "The Fifties," which takes barely a backward glance to the war, except insofar as the defeat of Nazism and the rise of the Soviet Union prompted a certain paranoia about American ideals. And many of the topics that were being addressed in the G.I. pamphlets during the war seem to spring newborn from the earth in 1950, as they note, "throughout the decade, the U.S. enjoyed a swelling prosperity, in marked contrast with the hardships of World War II. The baby boom was in full roar, and Americans settled down to raise families, build stable homes, and pursue respectable careers. The population of the inner cities dwindled as Americans fled to the suburbs and the comfort of backyards, driveways and tree-lined streets."

The site that certainly most comparable to the site I have in mind is the Powers of Persuasion site at the National Archives, which uses propaganda posters from the war to reflect on the issues of culture on the home front. The design of the site represents the sort of minimalism that I think is ideal, and makes it very easy to print. It consists largely of a fairly narrow band of images and text, but the images are quite striking and the text does a superb job of contextualizing each of the posters, and indicating both their authorship and their cultural impact. While framing the site in the war years, it nevertheless points beyond the direct issues of war and the economics of the military to the societal issues that were at play on the homefront—the work of ad agencies and coping with the day-to-day problems of scarcity.

Thus, while there is a good deal of information about World War II on the homefront, and some attention to life after the war, the connections between the war and "the fifties" remain largely unexplored on the web.