Six African- American sailors who
were given the Navy Cross for
standing by their gun when their
ship was damaged by enemy attack
near the Philippines, 1945.

World War II pitted freedom against totalitarianism. Images and rhetoric of freedom filled wartime propaganda in America. Women achieved a certain economic freedom by filling jobs in factories left by soldiers gone overseas, while men by the millions joined the fight, a testament to Americans’ willingness to make sacrifices for freedom.


Roy Takeno, a
Japanese-American and
editor of the
Manzanar Free Press,
reads a copy
of the newspaper
in the Manaznar War
Relocation Center, where
he was interned
during World War
II, 1943.

Wartime rhetoric had the ironic effect of accentuating a glaring lack of freedom for minorities. African-Americans, segregated at home and in the Army, pressed for civil rights with a “Double V” campaign, victory against prejudice at home and against the enemies of democracy abroad. African-American trade unionist A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders planned a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the armed forces, but canceled it when President Franklin D. Roosevelt barred discrimination in defense industries and federal agencies. Fears of subversion and racial animosity led to the mass relocation of Americans of Japanese descent. With little opposition, the government uprooted 150,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans, relocating them to internment camps. The World War II rhetoric of freedom did not always match the reality at home.

A Works Project Administration poster with caricatures of Axis leaders Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito, imploring Americans to buy war bonds, 1943.

A wartime propaganda poster, c. 1943