The New Deal: The National Level

By John Braeman; Robert H. Bremner et al. | Go to book overview

David Brody


The New Deal and World War II

IN 1948, BRUCE CATTON PUBLISHED AN ANGRY BOOK ABOUT THE American war effort. The War Lords of Washington, written with an insider's perspective by a newsman (and later famed Civil War historian) who had served as information chief for the War Production Board, took as its central theme the wasted opportunities of World War II. Not that Catton denied the magnitude of the military achievement. On the contrary: "In terms of sheer physical effort, America did the greatest job in the history of the human race." 1 War production multiplied four times in the first year of war, and outdistanced the combined output of America's enemies. At the peak in 1944, the country was producing for the military effort alone at a rate nearly as high as the gross national product in 1929. The economy turned out a total of 300,000 aircraft, 100,000 tanks, 70,000 landing craft, and the atomic bomb. The accomplishment was all the sweeter because it confounded the initial pessimism about the country's vitality. After the fall of France, from all sides, from Charles Lindbergh on the right to Dwight Macdonald on the left, came dire warnings that American capitalism could never hope to match the dread efficiency of the Nazi war machine. 2 In fact, the American war effort, though slow to start and hardly lacking in mistakes, far surpassed either Germany's or Japan's in the efficient use of national resources for making war. 3 All this Catton granted. But he had another standard for measuring the American performance:

Do we try to pick up all of our peacetime affairs, after the war, exactly where we were before, in exactly the same old way, as if nothing at all had been changed?

Or do we, on the contrary, accept both change and the need for change, and use this tremendous effort which the people have made in such a way that the

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