When the Second World War broke out in Europe, Berlin needed to make a musical statement. "I'd like to write a great peace song, but it's hard to do, because you have trouble dramatizing peace," he said in an interview with the NEW YORK JOURNAL AMERICAN. "Yet music is so important. It changes thinking, it influences everybody, whether they know it or not." He found a song that he had written for his World War I show but had not included in it. He updated it a bit and found a radio singer who wanted a peace song for Armistice Day. When Kate Smith sang Berlin's "God Bless America" on November 11, 1938, the country gained a new -- if unofficial -- national anthem. Feeling uncomfortable about capitalizing on such sentiments, Berlin donated the copyright and royalties to the Girl Scouts of America and the Boy Scouts of America.
When the United States entered World War II, Berlin took it as a personal call to action. He offered his services to the army, and created "This Is the Army." The stage show toured the United States and then played for the troops in Europe; it was made into a movie in 1942 and earned ten million dollars for the Army Emergency Relief fund. Even more important to the country and composer than the money was the moral support it drew for the war effort. Writer Laurence Bergreen said in AS THOUSANDS CHEER: THE LIFE OF IRVING BERLIN, "Through his songs, Berlin managed to inject human touches that made life in the armed services comprehensible to civilian audiences."
Once the war was over Berlin returned to working for himself. He continued to turn out the hits. "Annie Get Your Gun" (1946) contained more hit songs than any other musical on Broadway and was his most successful show ever. Movie moguls in Hollywood also demanded his songs. The almost universal popularity of his music insured their appeal for years. Songs that Berlin wrote in his early career were given new life in the movies. WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) not only included the title song, which was written for an earlier movie, but also used "Mandy" and "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," both of which were written in 1918 for "Yip! Yip! Yaphank!"
In the 1950s Berlin's creativity began to slow down. While his old hits played well, he wrote fewer new songs, and they were less successful. Financially secure, he did not need to work, for his royalties exceeded the income of any other songwriter ever. In 1954 he earned $101,000 in royalties, and in 1956 he earned $102,000. Finally, after his last Broadway show, "Mr. President" (1962), flopped, he retired.
Resigning from songwriting, Berlin also withdrew from public life. He spent the last decades of his life privately in his New York City town house, or in retreat at his estate in the Catskill Mountains. He made no public appearances. In 1972, when the cast of "This Is the Army" held a reunion party, he did not attend. But the public did not forget him. His 100th birthday in 1988 spawned many public tributes, including a televised celebration at Carnegie Hall, complete with old and new stars and even Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts marching on stage singing "God Bless America." The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., had a six-month exhibit of Berlin memorabilia, including his transposing piano. He also received many private tributes as well. For almost 20 years, a small group of people met on Christmas Eve outside his home in New York City and sang to him their favorite carol, "White Christmas."
Berlin died on September 22, 1989. The number and length of the subsequent printed obituaries and articles attests to the respect the world holds for him. To many, he symbolizes the sentiments of an era and the music of a nation. Fellow songwriter Jerome Kern was quoted as saying in Alexander Woollcott's biography of Berlin: "Irving Berlin has no place in American Music. He "is" American Music."