February 16, 2017

World War III: "Miracle of American Production" by Harry Schwartz

Miracle of American Production
"Illustration is artist's conception of Air Force B-61 Matador pilotless bomber" in a Martin Aircraft advertisement in Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 49
In 1951, Collier's magazine published a special issue entitled "Preview of the War We Do Not Want" speculating about a hypothetical World War III and what it might look like. The war begins in 1952 and ends in 1955 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by a UN occupation of Russia. Writer Robert E. Sherwood provided an extensive history of the war.

A number of other notable figures contributed fictional reports about the war and its history, including Edward R. Murrow, Hal Boyle, Walter Reuther, Marguerite Higgins, Walter Winchell, Kathryn Morgan-Ryan, Allan Nevins, Hanson W. Baldwin, Oksana Kasenkina, Lowell Thomas, and Arthur Koestler.

In this article, economist and New York Times editorial writer Harry Schwartz analyzes the "miracle" of American industrial output during the war.

From Collier's magazine, October 27, 1951, p. 100:


Economist Harry Schwartz, specialist for the New York Times on Soviet affairs, has been working on a comparison report of U.S. and Russian economies during World War III. Here, in abbreviated form, is his report on the U.S.

Every analyst of World War III recognizes that the United States accomplished a production miracle. Put most simply, the nature of the miracle was this: American industry at the peak of the war produced more arms and munitions than at the height of World War II, enough to make possible the great offensives of 1954 and afterward which brought victory. American agriculture turned out enough food to feed our people, help our Allies, and provision a large fraction of the troops in combat. The feat was miraculous because it was accomplished under the most adverse of conditions, during a period when some of our greatest industrial cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia—were severely damaged by atom bombs and when millions of men and women were drafted into military uniform.

Many factors made all this possible. But if we ignore details, the salient forces and circumstances involved can he stated briefly as follows:

1. The American economy was already largely on a war footing by May, 1952, when World War III broke out. In the earlier struggle, real conversion to military output had not taken place until after Pearl Harbor. One of Stalin's major mistakes was that, by permitting the Korean war to start and by encouraging the Chinese intervention, he alerted the American people and got them well started along the road to all-out war output before the main struggle actually began.

2. The civilian economy of the U.S. was in far better shape to meet the tests of war in May, 1952, than it had been in December, 1941. From 1946 well into 1951, consumers'-goods production had been at record levels, with automobiles, refrigerators and the like coming off production lines in incredible volume. Thus, the nation, when it was plunged into World War III, started from a well-stocked position—thanks to the War Production Board under Charles E. Wilson. It could, and did, stand deep cuts in civilian production without suffering serious hardship. Moreover, the insatiable volume of consumer demand during 1946-'51 had caused a substantial expansion of productive facilities and a sharp increase of productive efficiency; both factors played a major role when these plants were converted to armament production.

3. The sheer, overwhelming size of the American economy and its widespread dispersion was certainly a most decisive factor in the miracle. The atomic bombings caused great loss of life and much damage, but they never knocked out as much as 10 per cent of American industrial capacity. It must be remembered that even in a city so badly hit as Detroit, productive facilities were sufficiently dispersed in and around it so that many suffered no physical damage and worked with little interruption all through the war. Other major industrial centers—Cleveland, Houston, Topeka, Wilmington, Birmingham, Gary, and others—were never touched by enemy action at all.

4. The highly developed transport and communications facilities of this country, with the thick networks of railroad tracks, highways, telephone cables and the like, were never seriously interfered with. Though there were important sporadic crises, as when Chicago—that major rail hub—was bombed, the damage was quickly repaired. Goods, passengers and ideas were moved rapidly from place to place as needed all through the war.

5. Labor supply proved to be one of the knottiest problems, but a combination of measures provided an adequate work force for industry and farm. The five-day, 40-hour week became, as in World War II, only a memory as workers, realizing the gravity of the situation, went on a six-day, 54-hour week. To replace those called up, housewives, retired oldsters and teen-age youngsters flocked to work. "Rosie the Riveter," now a decade older but no less able, went back to the workbench with a will, while a wide network of communal nurseries took care of her children. Those employers and unions who traditionally restricted certain minority groups cheerfully accepted all the workers they could get. And hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers, hired at decent wages, proved invaluable, particularly at harvest time, on the farms over the country.

6. The managers of American industry, made flexible and alert by years of training to serve the ever-changing demands of the American public in competitive markets, applied that flexibility to the problems of war. When old sources of supply for parts and materials were destroyed, the managers found new sources, or instituted production of needed parts at their own plants. Small machine shops by the thousands became subcontractors for giant plants producing planes, tanks, guns and the like. Millions of hobbyists with well-equipped home workshops joined together into small co-operatives feeding needed wood and metal parts to the war plants.

7. The problem of raw materials, particularly those which had to be imported, would have been insoluble if it had not been for the stockpiles accumulated during the interwar years. These helped bridge the gap when submarine activity reduced receipts of such items as rubber, manganese and mercury.

In brief outline, these were the economic factors behind the production miracle. But behind that miracle was the spirit of the American people, the enthusiasm and determination of a nation which realized that its most precious heritage was in danger and could be saved only by all-out effort. Freedom was victorious because those who enjoyed it were willing to pay the high price required. — THE END