Published Date

February 23, 2002

Resource Type

AHA Archival Document, GI Roundtable Series



Constructing a Postwar World: Background and Context



The great appeal of history is its ability to surprise and challenge what we think we know. Online publication of the G.I. pamphlet series of the American Historical Association provides just this sort of appeal, as it forces us to rethink the hard and fast divisions historians and the general public typically make about the 20th century. Between the depression era and the Cold War, the war years are typically depicted as a time when all other considerations except the prosecution of the war were swept away. However, the G.I. pamphlet series was prepared under the direction of the Army’s Division of Information and Education between 1943 and 1945 “to increase the effectiveness of the soldiers and officers as fighters during the war and as citizens after the war.” The accent in the pamphlets is on what the postwar world would look like, and reassuring servicemen that they would have a place in postwar America. As I note in my review of somewhat similar sites on the web, this is strikingly different from the way the war years are generally presented online, where all eyes are turned toward the military events, and even the home front is generally depicted only in relation to the battlefields of Europe and Asia. These pamphlets provide an intriguing indicator that the postwar world was being seriously considered and developed fairly early in the military campaign. Even if historians of the present want to divide the 20th century neatly at 1945, the series reminds that at the time, many people were looking to the pre-war years as a guide to build what was to come after the war.

This web archive consists of the 42 pamphlets the Association prepared for the War Department, and a variety of supporting documents that describe the process for selecting the topics, preparing the pamphlets, and making them available to service men and women around the world. The pamphlets themselves will provide students of the period with contemporaneous glimpse at the issues people were considering at the time, on topics ranging from economic and cultural anxieties at home—particularly around women, crime, and jobs—to foreign policy issues in a postwar world. The domestic pamphlets offer a fairly detailed social scientific analysis of the state of affairs on the home front, and an early glimpse at the issues overseas that Americans would deal with over the next few decades. However, as the background documents will attest, an important part of the way the topics were selected and the pamphlets were ultimately written was through the manipulation of historians’ ideals of objectivity. Not surprisingly, the “objective” norms the military advisors pressed on the authors of the series reflected their white upper-middle-class frame of reference. As we note in the larger analysis, the AHA tailored its pamphlets to paint an idealized image of a postwar world that was essentially free of minorities, where women happily moved out of the factories and back into the kitchen, and where America would largely dominate the world stage.1

Beyond their value as an archive of primary documents, the pamphlets and background materials invite further exploration on a number of largely unexplored topics in contemporary historiography of the Second World War. The series is highlights a novel effort by military leaders to assess troop morale through polling and to address soldiers’ concerns through a process of “democratic education” modeled on progressive models of education and corporate morale-building techniques. Contrary to the image of self-sacrifice that now seems to prevail in the historiography of the period, the pollsters found a high level of ambivalence about the war, and widespread ignorance about the government’s intentions.2 Drawing on new social science models linking education with morale, the Army launched an extensive program aimed at boosting morale by encouraging conversation around selected topics and publications. As the list of titles reflect, the subjects were far removed from the specifically military purpose of the enterprise. The archives contain a number of items from the businessman in charge of the Army’s Morale Branch, which clearly describe how he intended to apply social science processes and techniques developed in a business environment to the military.3 Regardless of the overt references to its democratic character, the pamphlet series was a key part of a process aimed at developing a sense of identity in a larger hierarchical culture.

The digital medium provides a unique opportunity to share this series and the materials that expand our understanding of how and why they were written. The series itself was printed on exceptionally cheap paper that is beginning to degrade and seems unlikely to last much longer without transfer to an electronic medium. Similarly, the online environment provides the prefect opportunity to make them available to a much wider audience than they could ever receive in print.

Background Documents

To explain some of the context for the decision to accept the pamphlets as a project, the selection of authors and topics, and the difficulties encountered in their preparation, we include the following documents. It is worth noting that the series introduction and all of the minutes of meetings in this site were prepared by the executive secretary, Guy Stanton Ford, whose 19th-century style of writing makes the prose sound a bit arcane.

Foreword to the Bound Edition of the Pamphlets

Colonel Spaulding’s Report to the AHA Executive Committee, September 2, 1943

Abstract of Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, September 2, 1943

A special meeting organized and paid for by the War Department, at which the Association agreed to prepare the pamphlets.

Excerpt: Minutes of the AHA Council Meeting, December 28, 1943

Council receives a preliminary report on the formation of the Historical Service Board in Washington D.C., under the directorship of Theodore C. Blegen (on leave from his position as Dean at the University of Minnesota).

Excerpt: Minutes of the AHA Executive Committee Meeting, June 24, 1944

Council weighs whether to renew the contract for the Board, given difficulties in getting the pamphlets into print. It might reflect some concern on the Army’s part about whether the AHA would agree to renew that Major General Frederick Osborn of the Army’s Morale Services Division came to the meeting to make a formal request. The Association agrees, but Blegen resigns as Director.

Excerpt: Report of the Executive Secretary and Managing Editor, 1944

A further review of the series and its ongoing difficulties, after Guy Stanton Ford assumed the directorship following Blegen’s return to Minnesota.

Excerpt: Report of the Executive Secretary and Managing Editor, 1945

A final report on the conclusion of the Historical Services Board by Ford.

About This Site

The idea for this site germinated for about six years. When I began casting about for “content” to post on the AHA web site in 1996, I often pulled down the bound volumes of the G.I. Roundtable series and maintained that they represented an ideal example of what the web could provide—an archive of primary materials that was interesting on its own terms as something that made you rethink some of the easy divisions we sometimes make about the 20th century. The images and text also resonated with the stereotypes we have of the fifties, and yet the pamphlets themselves were clearly looking to the immediate past to pose questions and shape answers for the future. At the same time, the cheap wartime paper was disintegrating, with the acids in the paper slowly burning the pages and destroying the bindings. The web seemed like a last opportunity to preserve the texts, while making them available to a wider audience.

However, the modest capacities of our first scanner made the effort of converting the text seem impossibly difficult—at a pace of almost 20 minutes per page to scan, proof, correct, and code the 1,726-page project seemed an impossible challenge for the simple intellectual pleasure of the thing. And the problems involved in making the images even somewhat viewable seemed insurmountable at the time.

So the idea remained dormant until I needed a fresh project for a pair of courses on History and New Media at George Mason University. Advances in high-speed scanning, improvements in the object-character recognition capabilities of Omni Page Pro, and a little time spent actually learning to use Photoshop made the project seem doable, if not easy.

A preliminary sketch and site design was prepared as the final project for Roy Rosenzweig’s Clio Wired class in the fall of 2001. With encouragement from Roy and his colleague, Paula Petrik, the project was carried forward in her “Creating History in New Media” course in the spring of 2002. Despite my firm conviction at the time that the web is really just a vehicle for transporting text, Paula slowly (patiently) convinced me that the structure and aesthetics of a site were a crucial part of the web publisher’s responsibility.  At the same time, a research seminar project under the guidance of Peter Stearns provided an opportunity to delve into the archives and produce the analysis connected to the site. Wil Murphy, of the Modern Military Division in the National Archives at College Park, offered essential guidance into the sources there. Subsequent readings by Frances M. Clarke (now at the University of Sydney) and Lawrence Levine helped to sharpen the analysis. Special thanks are due to all of them for their inspiration and guidance. And particular thanks are owed to Liz Townsend who proofed each pamphlet as it came (often poorly) off the scanner.

Whatever faults remain in the site are entirely my own, and I welcome any and all comments and criticisms. Regardless of whether it makes you angry, uncomfortable, or amused, if it made you think about the past in a new way, it will have served its purpose.

Robert B. Townsend
February 23, 2002

A Cautionary Note on Proper Use of Primary Sources

A certain caution is in order when using the materials on this site. While the pamphlets contain numerous facts and figures, and venture a number of opinions on everything from the role of women to the best place to work, it is important to remember that they reflect the facts and opinions of historians and social scientists at a particular moment in time. As such, these pamphlets are reproduced here for use as primary sources, and they should not be used as the source for a particular statistic, or support for a particular opinion.

Many of the statistics, for instance, have been superseded by improved statistical methods or new data. Likewise many of the opinions in these pamphlets (and their analysis) reflect the limitations of a given moment in time. The purpose of this web site is not to support the return of the worldview represented in the pamphlets, but to provide evidence of this worldview and sources for its examination.

Historians use sources like these to look at change over time, both within a particular era, and in comparison to today. We hope that the materials on this site will stimulate further interest and exploration of the past.

Copyright Notice

The materials in this site were originally prepared for the War Department by the American Historical Association. As materials written under contract to the federal government they became part of the public domain. However, the design, encoding, and photo retouching in this electronic version have been copyrighted in 2002 by the American Historical Association.

Original analysis of the series is copyright 2002 by Robert B. Townsend.


  1. This deficiency did not go unnoted at the time, as a number of newspapers took issue with the fairly misogynistic portrayal of women in Do You Want Your Wife to Work After the War?. See, for instance, “Help Wanted!” Christian Science Monitor (September 18, 1944), 1 and “Incredible Temerity,” New York Herald Tribune (September 13, 1944), 24. []
  2. These findings were based on a series of surveys conducted by the Research Branch of the Special Services Division of the Army. Particularly three reports “What the Soldier Thinks: Quarterly Report, with Charts, of Research Studies Indicating the Attitudes, Prejudices, and Desires of American Troops,” Number 2 (Washington, D.C.: Army Service Forces, War Department, August 1943); “What Questions Would Soldiers Ask Their Commander-in-Chief?” (January 25, 1943) and “Survey of Soldier Opinion, Number 2: United States Army Forces in the Middle East, July 21-August 7, 1943,” AHA Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Reading Room, Box 382. Perhaps most surprising, almost a third of those polled expressed more interest in their place in America after the war than they were about the prosecution of the war or their more immediate day-to-day concerns. []
  3. In a speech to delivered to the headquarters staff in the European Theater of Operations, Major General Frederick H. Osborn, Director of the Army’s Morale Branch, compares the Army to a large national corporation and notes how these large businesses are now engaged in internal public relations directed at employees, to remind them that they belong to “a great organization that is rendering a great public service” and that “they have a sense of their own personal part in this great job of public service.” []
Robert B. Townsend
Robert B. Townsend

American Academy of Arts & Sciences