Attitudes of American Soldiers During WWII


National Endowment for the Humanities

During World War II, the U.S. Army conducted surveys to reveal attitudes toward, and between Black and White Soldiers. These responses hold insights regarding attitudes about race, gender, and family roles of the time. Our research team used computational text analysis and social network analysis of handwritten responses to learn about the dynamics and language of soldiers in the 1940’s.

The National Endowment for the Humanities funded this project as part of a larger American Soldier in World War II initiative. Its intent is to make available to scholars and the public a remarkable collection of written reflections on war and military service by American Soldiers who served during the Second World War.

Project Overview

To analyze U.S. Soldier attitudes, we employed various strategies from computational text analysis and social network analysis to examine what is called “Survey 32.” This was a brief survey conducted during World War II to understand whether or not Soldiers preferred separated or integrated units and the ability for soldiers to provide a written explanation elaborating on their responses to the survey as well as their views on the survey as a whole.

After an initial phase of data wrangling, parsing and cleaning, we conducted exploratory data analysis to find out more about the backgrounds of the Soldiers who completed the survey. Our team also did a sentiment analysis to gain a better understanding of what emotionally-charged words Soldiers used to weigh-in on racial and gender relations.

To further round out our understanding, topic modeling captured prominent themes that emerged from survey responses.


A soldier's written survey


Using a novel dataset from a unique, historic collection gathered by the U.S. Army during WWII we analyzed Soldiers' handwritten responses by using natural language processing methods and social network analysis to dig deeper into Soldiers' attitudes:

  • Race relations attitudes showed that Black Soldiers discussed their position within the military and society in the context of their race more frequently than White soldiers. White soldiers more frequently discussed the war or their career plans.
  • Gender relations attitudes showed that the majority of male Soldiers did not think that women belonged or could contribute to the military; and tensions existed due to interracial relationships.
  • Race and spatial arrangements showed that some White soldiers wanted to desegregate the military outfits; did not view their Black counterparts as equals; and did not want to live, eat or sleep alongside fellow Black Soldiers.

Soldier Characteristics

Overall, the characteristics of soldiers who took Survey 32 were on the younger side (Figure 2), Black soldiers surveyed were not as educated compared to the white soldiers, of which most had at least some high school education (Figure 3). Overall, White soldiers were predominately against integrating outfits while Black soldiers were mostly split or didn't care (Figure 3).

General Themes and Sentiments Among Survey 32 Respondents

Understanding general themes of attitudes from both Black and White Soldiers in longer responses were revealed by topic modeling to identify groups of related words. The size of the nodes in Figure 7 correspond to the degree that words are connected and illustrate what was on the minds of each group.

Gender Roles

While women were unable to serve in the military in the same capacity as men during WWII, they did contribute to the war effort through the Women's Army Corps (WAC). Both Black and White Soldiers surveyed did not have a positive view of women in the U.S. Army.


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