Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Freedom's Forge by Arthur Herman

How American Business Produced Victory in World War II This book reveals the previously untold story on how America was able to rapidly produce the materials needed for our Armed Forces to prevail over the AXIS nations. There have been countless books written about the war itself, but little about how we could not have prevailed if our industries with their skill at mass production had not done their job with such overwhelming success. Americans still remembering the First World War were united in resisting fighting another war in Europe. As a result America was totally unprepared to engage the enemy until war material could be produced. In 1939 our military was ranked eighteen in the world just ahead of Holland. As the NAZI juggernaut swept thru Europe and Russia in 1939 and 40 the attitude gradually changed. Should England succumb America would have been cut off from the whole of that continent with the prospect of being attacked at a later time without Allies to fight with us. The book recognizes the primary industrial leaders called forth by FDR to spur the creation of weapons. William Knudson, Henry Kaiser, Andrew Jackson Higgins and others. Much of the book traces their lives from humble beginnings to the giants of industry that they became. I found this very engaging. I am always searching for biographies of how great leaders come to be. My general assessment is that the greatest of these are people dedicated to improving themselves through hard work and study. William Knudson was called to the Oval Office by FDR on May30, 1940 to head up a new agency to prepare for war. He signed on for zero pay for the duration. He told his daughter “This country has been good to me, and I want to pay it back”. Under his leadership he gathered together industry leaders of small and large companies and received commitments to produce what was required. Of interest to me was that the military was so unprepared they didn’t even know what they wanted. Industry took the lead and did provide. The following are comments Knudsen made during these times. “No one can do what we can do if we all get together,” he liked to boast. American’s love of freedom, of individuality, of doing things differently from the other guy—these were the sources of strength, he believed, not weakness. He believed in the power of the average American worker—“Progress in the world is accomplished by average people,” he would tell audiences—and the power of American business. “American ingenuity has never failed to cope with every specific problem before it, he told a national radio audience,” and if we have your support and confidence, we will surely succeed.” It turns out that it was he who coined the phrase “Arsenal of Democracy”. From 1940 until war end, the United States produced 141 Aircraft Carriers, eight battleships, 807 cruisers, destroyers and destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, and, thanks to Henry Kaiser and his colleagues, almost 52 million tons of merchant shipping. Also produced were 88,410 tanks, and self-propelled guns, 257,000 artillery pieces, 2.4 million trucks, 2.6 million machine guns and 41 billion rounds of ammunition. Total aircraft from 1942 to war’s end was 324,750. This was an unbelievable achievement all through the genius of American industrialists and American workers. Chapter 16 and 17 describe the creation and production of the B-29. Of interest to me was that the concept was visualized in June 1939 by Charles Lindbergh. Testing began in1942 and serious production in 1943. I believe I learned something from reading this book which could be the answer to our declining industrial base. The key ingredient to the rapid change over was stimulus from the government. Industry on their own didn’t have the reserves needed to build huge factories in open fields where nothing had been before and fill them with equipment necessary to produce the product designated. Contracts were awarded with a cost plus eight incentive. What if today our leaders would stoke the engine of manufacturing in a similar manner? We are all aware of how China builds factories, provides cheap energy and transportation to encourage our manufacturers to relocate there. It seems to me they have read this book. Too bad our leaders haven’t. Instead of throwing billions to save the huge mega banks take those funds and restart production here in America. Well paid American workers would be paying taxes and start pulling us out of debt. This is a must read book for those who care. I give it my highest recommendation. My book is available. Jack B. Walters August 8, 2012

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