Finding Aids: Reference Information Paper 78 Part I

Reference Information Paper 78

A Finding Aid to Records Relating to Personal Participation in World War II ("The American Soldier" Surveys)

Table of Contents


I.1 "The American Soldier in World War II" is a large set of surveys of opinion conducted among U.S. Army personnel during the war by the Army Research Branch of the Army Service Forces. The range of subjects studied via these surveys is impressive. They include race relations; the enemy; training; the U.S. Army's own publications, broadcasts, and films; our allies; combat experience; the role of women in the military; and the quality of the "demobilization experience." As a large-scale sociological survey of opinion, "The American Soldier in World War II" occupies a special place in the history of such activities and also represents a rather remarkable and timely change in the manner in which the U.S. military establishment approached some of its personnel management issues.

I.2 The best known American Soldier records are the survey data sets themselves and the documents resulting directly from analyses of them. This body of records represents the original approach to the information in the surveys. The emphasis is on the production of a "composite" view of the American soldier's thoughts and feelings during World War II. For the surveys for which microdata exist, it is possible to repeat these analyses or to subject the data to secondary analysis. But the total collection of records of "The American Soldier in World War II" yields much more and many different kinds of information. The program records reveal a great deal about the bureaucratic and methodological origins and progress of the studies. In addition to the data sets and the program records, there is a significant collection of narrative statements by the respondents to the surveys. Through these records we can "reach down" to the thoughts and feelings of soldiers, recruits, and combat veterans and almost hear their concerns, their complaints, their fears, and their pride. The words are anonymous, but it is possible in many cases to identify the unit or type of unit, the time, and the location associated with an individual's response.

I.3 These narrative statements are responses to the "Free Comment" question that was included on nearly every survey. Many touch upon themes of the war, of American society of the time, and indeed upon the timeless reactions of individuals to military duty and to waging war. Some examples:

    By far the largest grievance of the average soldier is LACK OF WOMEN. The USO manages to produce 1 female for every 20 men. . . .

    Why mix Northerners and Southerners together? We're not alike--haven't lived in the same circumstances--not much in common--an all-Northern and all-Southern, etc., divisional set up would promote the efforts of each to surpass the other--the way it is now it's no more than tolorence [sic] (temporary) for each other . . . .

    I have been sleepy ever since I joined the army. I think that if I could sleep until 6:00 AM instead of 4:00 AM, I would feel better and study and work better.

    Train the officers a little better, too--particularly non-coms (tho' I'm one)--God help us with some we've got now--they're swine and do more than anything else to ruin a company and the morale of the men in it.

Note: Compiled by Ben DeWhitt and Heidi Ziemer. Published by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, 1991 (Revised, 1997).

Web version prepared 1999. Additions and changes incorporated in the Web version are between brackets [] and in italics.