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Portland residents responded to American intervention during World War I with unbridled patriotism. As warships were being assembled at plants in Portland's harbor, local newspapers covered the exploits of Oregonians who were fighting in Europe. Residents enthusiastically volunteered time and money for war bond drives, and women's organizations canned food to be donated to hospitalized soldiers. In addition, Portland schools were supplied with barrels in which students collected peach and prune pits that were gathered to make filters for use in gas masks. In the midst of this positive response, however, a rather ominous event took place. Louise Hunt, an assistant librarian for the Library Association of Portland and a pacifist, was pressured by community groups and newspapers to resign from her position for refusing to buy war bonds.
World War II brought a feeling of excitement to daily life in Portland, but also anxiety. Fearing raids by Japanese bombers, the city organized an extensive civil defense system in which as many as one-third of the city's residents would have mobilized in the event of an attack. Despite assurances by Portland's Japanese-American community of firm loyalty to the United States, federal and local officials were convinced this group would commit acts of sabotage against Americans and the U.S. government. Consequently, Portland—like other West Coast cities—cooperated with the federal government in relocating West Coast Japanese Americans to internment camps in the country's interior. En route to the inland camps, they were gathered at regional assembly centers, one of which was located in Portland at the current site of the Expo Center (at that time, the Pacific International Livestock Association Building).
The war effected Portland lifestyles and the city's social and economic life. The government rationed petroleum and food products. While customers continued to pay for goods in cash, each item was also worth a certain number of points, which varied with its scarcity. A can of juice might cost 19 cents and two points, while a can of beans went for only 15 cents but four points. Residents were apportioned a limited number of points each year, and they could not count on receiving more if they used their points before the end of the year.
Military enlistment during World War II represented significant opportunities for women and minorities. The military enlistment of Portland's working men reduced the city's labor supply, and the Kaiser shipyards, which were building Liberty ships for the war effort, required many more workers than were available. Consequently, Kaiser brought in workers from the South and Northeast to relieve the shortage of workers, which opened positions, including skilled industrial jobs, to women and minorities.
The social and economic consequences of World War II were not all permanent. The shipbuilding industry was dramatically reduced as the country demobilized, and as veterans returned from war to reclaim the jobs they had left behind, women returned to the home or settled for administrative work. The greatest impact on the city, however, was the influx of newcomers, including African Americans from the South, many of whom stayed after the end of the war.
The Cold War Era in America was a period of anxiety and protest. The nation was divided between citizens who championed nationalism, advocated the spread of American-styled democracy, and supported American soldiers abroad, and those who protested nuclear proliferation, U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and the military draft. Peace marches, war protests, and student strikes were frequently seen and heard in Portland’s busy downtown district or on college campuses during the 1960s and 1970s.
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