Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pearl Harbor, WWII, and Minnesota Cities

The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the U.S.'s entry into World War II—as well as a massive change in the daily routine of municipal government.

In a letter to members in the January 1942 issue of Minnesota Municipalities magazine, W.J. Kirkwood, mayor of Crookston and League president, addressed the sudden transition, including this nugget of can-do spirit in the face of an uncertain future:

Let each of us do his part, and let each municipality and each department of every municipality so arrange and so carry out its functions that our municipal governments may smoothly and efficiently fit into America's war efforts. Only in this way can the interests of democracy best be served at its grass roots—in the villages and cities of this great nation.

Cities and the League began to swiftly pivot their daily activity around the war:
  • Councils and staff became occupied with evaluating and often times deferring public improvements to free up resources. 
  • Staff considered ordinances for blackouts, and the role of eminent domain in providing land for things such as military training facilities. 
  • A new emphasis was put on the importance of municipal and federal government cooperation. 
  • Directors found themselves with a dearth of qualified workers, as many city employees were deployed or chose to fill the ranks of government agencies in the war effort.
The League offices were not immune. For example, research assistant Howard Kohn was called up on Oct. 1, 1942, just three months after his hire date. Replaced in November by Bernard Moritz, the position was again left empty when Moritz was called up in December. 
League lawyers were kept busy evaluating war time considerations such as the legality of cities investing in war bonds, and what emergency powers would be available to cities in case of invasion or attack (can a city sell food and fuel if no business is operational enough to do so?). 

When the conclusion of the war finally appeared on the horizon in late 1944, cities again prepared for transition, making plans for the return of veterans, mobilizing public works projects that had been put off, acquiring surplus goods, and building war memorials. 

But the impact on Minnesota cities was felt again in April 1945, when a lingering ban on large conferences issued by the Office of Defense Transportation forced the cancellation of the annual conference for the second time in League history.

To cooperate with the ban's intent to limit gas usage across the country, the League instead held board elections that summer via mail ballot and delivered a robust series of Regional Meetings later in the fall—coincidentally timed with the official surrender of Japanese troops and the closing of yet another dark chapter in American history. 

Do you know how WWII affected your city's operations? Share your city's history in the comments.

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