American Indians and World War II Essay

American Indians and World War II Essay

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By 1940, Native Americans had experienced many changes and counter-changes in their legal status in the United States. Over the course of the nineteenth century, most tribes lost part or all of their ancestral lands and were forced to live on reservations. Following the American Civil War, the federal government abrogated most of the tribes’ remaining sovereignty and required communal lands to be allotted to individuals. The twentieth century also saw great changes for Native Americans, such as the Citizenship Act and the Indian New Deal. Alison R. Bernstein examines how the Second World War affected the status and lives of Native Americans in American Indians and World War II: Toward a New Era in Indian Affairs. Bernstein argues that natives’ experiences in the military and munitions factories reduced isolation by getting them off of reservations and increasing their contact with mainstream American society. Native American contributions to the war effort led both Indians and whites to reconsider the future of Indians’ political and cultural autonomy. “By war’s end,” the author states, “Indians were part of the American political process, their economic, social, and cultural status irrevocably altered by the conflict.”
The book’s seven thematic chapters form a roughly chronological narrative. The first chapter introduces the state of Indian affairs prior to World War II, following the Indian New Deal of the 1930s. Chapter 2 deals with Native American responses to the institution of American’s first peacetime draft in 1940, including legal challenges based on tribal sovereignty. Chapters 3 and 4 examine Indians’ experiences at war and on the home front. The remaining chapters deal with the political repercussions of ...

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...ive American history. Beyond its value as a historical work, the book can also inform opinions on contemporary issues affecting Native Americans. As reviewer James L. Morrison, Jr. notes, “It casts new light on the attitudes and behavior of whites as they cope with the incredibly complicated problem of what to do with a proud racial minority which treasures its separateness and… continues to grow in size.” Larry Burt calls it “a helpful aid in understanding recent Indian affairs.” American Indians in World War II is an insightful and accessible read for professional scholars, undergraduates, and laypersons interested in twentieth century Native American history or a little-known aspect of the Second World War.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Alison R. American Indians and World War II: Toward a New Era in Indian Affairs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

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