Mid & Late 20th Century: 1941 to the Present
When we think about the enormous investment of lives and energy made by the United States in the Second World War, it is difficult for us to imagine that many Americans were not enthusiastic about our entering the war. Some believed, as with the First World War, that it was a European War. Harry Woodring, a former Democratic Governor of Kansas and President Roosevelt's Secretary of War, was dropped from the cabinet because he disagreed with President Roosevelt's policies regarding the war.
To drum up support for the war, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies was formed in 1940, with William Allen White as its chairman. Even though many did not wish to commit to war, it was good for business in Kansas. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation helped pay for expansion of the Stearman Division of the Boeing Aircraft Corporation. Boeing made parts for the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in Wichita. Beech Aircraft received a multi-million dollar contract to make training planes for the military. There was also expansion of Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley for training troops. It is estimated that fifty million dollars came into the Kansas economy as a result of defense-related spending during World War II.
Approximately 3,500 Kansans were killed in action during World War II. Most notable among Kansans serving in the war was Dwight D. Eisenhower. "Ike" was born in Texas but grew up in Abilene, which is the sight of the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He was the supreme commander of the allied forces for the D-day invasion that ended the war in Europe.
The atomic bombs dropped on Japan ended the war in the Pacific. Kansans living today may have been indirectly affected by the project that created the atom bomb. In the early stages of development, bombs were routinely exploded in the atmosphere in the Southwest, and Kansans, along with millions of others living in the Midwest, were exposed to radioactive fallout which drifted to the east. The exposure has recently been linked to increased rates of cancer in individuals in some areas.
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