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#195: World War Two on the Home Front

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An American soldier at home on leave, learning about point rationing of food from his friend who runs the general store in Bowman, South Carolina, 1943.
An American soldier at home on leave, learning about point rationing of food from his friend who runs the general store in Bowman, South Carolina, 1943.

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember

(MUSIC)

The United States entered the Second World War in December of forty-one. Europe had already been at war since nineteen thirty-nine. But the United States did not enter World War Two until Japanese forces attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

(SOUND)

The attack was a surprise. But American military and political leaders had believed that the United States, sooner or later, would be pulled into the fighting. And they began to prepare for war.

(MUSIC)

President Franklin Roosevelt had been assistant secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson during World War One. He remembered how American troops were not ready for that war. Now that he was president, Roosevelt wanted to be sure that the United States would be ready when it had to fight. Throughout nineteen forty-one, Roosevelt urged American industries to produce more weapons and other military supplies. He established new government agencies to work with industry to increase arms production.

A wartime shipbuilding center in the United States
A wartime shipbuilding center in the United States

Some business leaders resisted Roosevelt's efforts. They felt there was no need to produce more arms while the United States was still at peace. But many others cooperated. And by the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the American economy was producing millions of guns and other weapons.

Still, this was not enough to fight a war. After the Japanese attack, Roosevelt increased his demands on American industry. He called for sixty thousand warplanes, forty-five thousand tanks and twenty-thousand anti-aircraft guns. And he wanted all these within one year.

A month after the Pearl Harbor raid, Roosevelt organized a special committee to direct military production. He created another group to help companies find men and women for defense work. And he established a new office where the nation's best scientists and engineers could work together to design new weapons.

These new government organizations faced several problems. Sometimes factories produced too much of one product and not enough of another. Sometimes tools broke. And some business owners refused to accept government orders.

But the weapons were produced, and American troops soon had the guns and supplies they needed.

(MUSIC)

Women putting together gun parts at the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Women putting together gun parts at the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The federal government had to quickly expand its own workforce to meet war needs. Federal spending increased from six billion dollars in nineteen forty to eighty-nine billion in nineteen forty-four. That was fifteen times as much spending in just five years.

Roosevelt had to take strong steps to get the money for all this spending. He put limits on wages. He increased income taxes to as much as ninety-four percent on portions of incomes over two hundred thousand dollars. And he asked the American people to lend money to the federal government. The people answered by purchasing almost one hundred billion dollars in war bonds.

The great increase in public spending raised the threat of high inflation. Roosevelt created a special office with the power to control prices. Many Americans agreed with the idea of price controls. But every business wanted somebody else's prices controlled, not their own.

Federal officials had to work hard to keep prices and supplies under control. They restricted how much meat, fuel and other goods people could buy.

The price control program generally worked. Its success kept the American economy strong to support the troops fighting in Europe and Asia.

One reason these strong economic steps worked was because most of the American people fully supported the war effort.

(MUSIC: "Rosie the Riveter")

Rosie the Riveter came to represent American women who worked in factories during World War II. This government poster was designed to get women involved in the war effort.
Rosie the Riveter came to represent American women who worked in factories during World War II. This government poster was designed to get women involved in the war effort.

STEVE EMBER: You can look at photographs of people from those times and see in their faces how strongly they felt.

In one picture from the state of North Carolina, a group of men are standing in front of old rubber tires. They are planning to give the tires to the Army to be fixed and used for military vehicles.

Another photo shows a woman visiting a hospital. She is singing to a soldier to lift his spirits.

Still another photo shows a man who owns a small food store. He is placing signs on meat and cans of food to tell people how much they are allowed to buy.

You can also get an idea about the feelings of the times by the names of some of the popular songs during World War Two.

(MUSIC: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition")

STEVE EMBER: In addition to "Rosie the Riveter," there were songs like "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."  One of the most hopeful songs was this one, recorded by Britain's Vera Lynn.

(MUSIC: "When the Lights Go on Again All Over the World")

STEVE EMBER: Not all Americans supported the war. A small number refused to fight because of religious or moral beliefs. They were known as conscientious objectors. And some Americans supported Adolf Hitler and other fascists. But almost everyone else wanted to win the war quickly and return to a normal life.

(MUSIC)

Many Japanese-Americans served with honor in the United States armed forces. But many Americans were suspicious of anyone whose family had come from Japan. They refused to trust even Japanese-American families who had lived in the United States for more than a century.

Manzanar internment camp in the desert near Independence, California
Manzanar internment camp in the desert near Independence, California

Many banks refused to lend money to Japanese-Americans. Many stores would not sell to them.

The federal government relocated thousands of Japanese-Americans in California and other states into internment camps. They were released only after the war ended. It was many years before the government officially apologized for mistreating Japanese-Americans.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: But World War Two did lead to progress for another group that was often the target of discrimination: black Americans. Black leaders spoke out. They said it was unfair to fight a war for freedom in Europe while black Americans did not have all the same freedoms as white citizens.

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH: "Negros want the same things that white citizens possess - all their rights, and no force under the sun can stem and block and stop this civil rights revolution which is now underway."

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-one, a leader in the black community, A. Philip Randolph, threatened to lead a giant march on Washington for civil rights for blacks. President Roosevelt reacted by issuing an order that made it a crime to deny blacks a chance for jobs in defense industries. He also ordered the armed forces to change some of their rules that discriminated against black service members.

Blacks made progress in the military and defense industries. But most other industries still refused to give them an equal chance. Major progress on civil rights would not come until the nineteen fifties and sixties.

(MUSIC)

Life was busy during the war years. There were many changes in the economy, business, music, race relations and other areas. But in many ways, life continued as it always does.

Americans did what they could during the hard years of World War Two to keep life on the home front as normal as possible. But almost everyone understood that the first job was to support the troops overseas and win the war.

This strength of purpose at home gave American soldiers the support they needed. And it also helped President Roosevelt as he negotiated with other world leaders. Diplomacy and foreign relations became much more complex during the war. That will be our story next week.

Our program was written by David Jarmul. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #195. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

欧洲1939年开始第二次世界大战,而美国直到1941年12月日本偷袭夏威夷的珍珠港美国海军基地后,才参加到二战中去。珍珠港事件让美国措手不及。不过,美国军事和政治领导人其实明白,美国参战是迟早的事情,所以一直在为战争做准备。

当时的美国总统罗斯福一战期间曾在威尔逊政府里担任海军部助理部长。罗斯福记得,美军当时完全没有准备的情况,如今他是总统了,他决心一定要保证美军的战备能力。1941年整整一年,罗斯福总统不断要求美国军工产业生产大批的武器和军事装备,还专门成立了新的政府部门,跟军工产业配合,增加武器产量。

一些商界领袖对罗斯福的做法采取抵制态度。他们觉得,美国在和平时期没必要生产更多的武器;但是另外一些人则密切配合罗斯福政府的政策。日本偷袭珍珠港的时候,美国已经在大批生产数以百万计的枪支等各种武器了。

然而,要打仗,这还远远不够。珍珠港事件发生后,罗斯福要求美国军工产业生产六万架战斗机、四万五千辆坦克和两万架高射炮,限期一年完成。珍珠港偷袭事件发生一个月后,罗斯福组建了一个特别委员会,指挥军工生产。他还建立了一个小组,帮助军工产业招募员工,此外,罗斯福也建立了一个新的办公室,把全国最优秀的科学家和工程师召集起来,设计新型武器。

这些新的政府机构也遇到了不少麻烦。有时候,工厂某种产品产量过剩,而另外某种产品又产量不足;有时候工具坏了,没法用;还有一些公司老板拒绝接受政府订单。但最后,武器还是生产出来了,美国军队有了打仗用的枪支和装备。

联邦政府也不得不迅速增加公务员人数,满足战争需要。联邦开支1940年只有60亿美元,到1944年的时候已经增加到了890亿美元,短短五年内增加了15倍。

为了支持政府开支,罗斯福不得不采取大胆的措施。他对工资设限;超过20万美元的那部分收入最多需要交纳百分之94的所得税,他还呼吁美国人民借钱给联邦政府,美国民众响应号召,购买了将近一千亿美元的战争债券。

大幅度增加公共开支带来了高通货膨胀的风险。罗斯福建立了一个特别办公室,控制物价。很多美国人赞成控制物价的做法,但是私人企业都希望看到别人的价格受到控制,而自己产品的价格不受限制。因此,联邦政府官员为控制物价和供给量费了很大力气。肉类、燃料等产品全都限量供应。

控制物价的努力取得了很大成功,让美国经济保持强劲,支持美军在欧洲和亚洲的战斗。政府这些强有力的政策之所以能奏效,一个重要原因是得到了人民的支持。从当年的一些照片上,我们可以清楚地看出美国百姓的坚定和决心。

一张来自北卡罗来纳州的照片上,一群男子站在一些破旧轮胎前,他们正准备把旧轮胎捐给美国陆军,经过修理加工后,用在军车上。另外一张照片上,一位妇女到医院去,给一个受伤的战士唱歌,给他带去安慰。还有一张照片上,一个小食品店老板正在肉类和罐头食品旁边标注,告诉顾客他们购买的限量是多少。

从当时一些流行歌曲的名字里,大家也能感受到战争的气氛,其中比较有名的包括:铆钉女工罗、,赞美上帝传递弹药,以及当全世界再次点亮明灯。

不过,并非所有的美国人都支持这场战争。一小批人基于宗教信仰和伦理观念拒绝参战,这些人被称为非战主义者。还有一些美国人支持希特勒和其他法西斯主义者,但是其他几乎所有的美国人都希望能尽快打赢这场战争,恢复正常的生活。

很多日裔美国人也参军作战,但是不少美国人不相信日本移民,甚至是那些已经在美国生活了一百多年的日本家庭在那个时候也同样受到怀疑。很多银行拒绝借钱给他们,一些商店甚至不卖东西给他们。

联邦政府把加利福尼亚州和其他一些州成千上万的日裔美国人集中看管,战争结束才将他们释放,直到很多年后,美国政府才正式为这种不公正的做法,向日裔美国人道歉。

与此同时,二战又使原本倍受歧视的非洲裔美国人的地位得到了提升。黑人领袖高声疾呼。他们指出,美国在欧洲为自由而战,而非洲裔美国人却无法享受跟白人公民同等的自由,这种情况是不公平的。当时一位黑人领袖菲利普.伦道夫说:"黑人想要拥有白人公民所拥有的所有东西--他们享受的所有权利。太阳底下没有任何力量能够消除,阻止或是让这场已经开始的民权革命停下脚步。"

1941年,黑人领袖伦道夫威胁说,要为争取非洲裔美国人的民权,在首都华盛顿组织一次大规模游行。罗斯福总统迅速做出反应,下令说,剥夺黑人在军工行业的就业机会属于犯罪行为。他还下令军方改变了一些歧视黑人士兵的规定。

非洲裔美国人在军队和军工行业的地位有所提升,但是在其他行业,他们还是无法得到平等机会。黑人民权的长足进步还要等到二十世纪五、六十年代的时候。

战争年代的生活紧张忙碌,美国经济、商业、音乐、族裔关系等领域都发生了很多变化,但是在另外一些方面,生活则一如既往。二战的艰苦日子里,美国人尽量保持正常生活,但是几乎所有的人都明白,大家的首要任务是支持海外的美军部队,打赢这场战争。

这种坚定信念让美国士兵得到了应有的后援,也支持了罗斯福跟其他国家领导人的交涉。战争期间的外交关系变得尤其复杂。

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