Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XLIII
ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF THE WORLD WAR YEARS.-- (Continued)

The Accomplishment. The account of the difficult problems that arose in speedily equipping the fighting forces with the required goods and services at the same time that the necessities of the civilian population were served, together with the elaborate organization developed to effect this, has required considerable space. The more significant results achieved can be stated rather briefly.

The total number of men serving in the various branches of the armed forces of the country during the war was 4,800,000, or nearly one out of every twenty in the population. In the North during the Civil War about half as many were in service but they made up one out of every ten in the population. The selective draft was eventually extended to include all men from eighteen to forty-five years of age. This universal draft, which provided 60 per cent of the armed forces, was generally accepted as a much more democratic, equitable, and far less expensive method of securing recruits than was employed in the North during the Civil War when bounties were offered and only about 2 per cent were drafted. Of the total armed forces in the first World War, nearly 4,000,000 were in the army and one-half of them went to France; however, nearly four- fifths of this latter group did not go oversea until after May, 1918, and only two-thirds served in battle. Since most of the supplies for the oversea army came from the United States, this meant waging war at a distance of 3,000 or 4,000 miles from the ultimate base of supplies, an undertaking hitherto unequaled in the scale of operations involved. There was thus, in addition to the task of producing the supplies, the unusually difficult task of transporting and distributing them. All things considered, it must be said that the achievements were truly remarkable, far greater than anyone appreciating the difficulties involved would at the start have deemed possible.

It was, indeed, in the task of producing shipping for oversea transportation that the accomplishment of the tremendous organization set up to provide for war needs fell furthest short of what was desired. The efforts made have been described and, though mistakes occurred, it is clear the main reason for not accomplishing all that was desired was the physical impossibility of the task imposed. Though the need for ships

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