During WWII women and minorities served in the military, and despite discrimination, proved themselves to be invaluable to the war effort in administrative or combat capacities. In many ways they faced the same problems as returning white male veterans, but to a more extreme degree as society expected women and minorities to retain the social roles they had before the war. The war, however, had provided them with self-confidence, discipline, and more, and they were unwilling to return to conventional social norms and discrimination.
The GI Bill, described by Gambone as gender blind and color blind, provided women and minorities new opportunities to change their traditional outlooks. However, much of the medical, job training, and educational benefits were lesser than those provided to white men. For instance, female colleges were often ambivalent towards female vets and made no effort to have them join their ranks, and black colleges were much poorer than their white counterparts (a point that motivated desegregation). Veteran organizations made no move to allow women and minorities to join, though newer organizations gladly accepted women. Minorities created their own organizations to represent their interests, such as the American GI Forum for Hispanic vets. Blacks, Latinos, and Japanese veterans battled through the court system for inclusion into the mainstream society they had been denied. Female and minority vets led and inspired the next generation to fight for equal treatment, and the liberty they had fought for, in all aspects of American society.
Gambone discusses Hispanic veterans, their standard of living at the time before the war (very poor), their exceptional war performance, and the discrimination they faced and their reactions. I’ll admit I often don’t think about them in this context, so I certainly found this interesting to read. Oddly though, he makes no mention of Native American veterans, who were certainly a minority and also made a rather important contribution to the war effort.
The movies Hollywood produced during the war were often blindly patriotic and morally (as well as visually) black and white. The general public, who had no real concept of war, accepted them as generally true. However, returning veterans, knowing the realities of war, were uninterested in such simple depictions, and Hollywood realized it needed to keep the interest of such a large incoming population. The results were movies not about the glory of war, but about what its lasting effects. Many films followed the veteran and his trouble readjusting to a changed society, to his disablement, and to his conscience. In a world of cynicism and moral ambiguity, film noir arose as a popular genre, with the veteran often displayed either as a disillusioned criminal or a victim of mistreatment and greed, both largely forgotten by society.