Academic journal article McNair Papers

5. Mobilizing for War: 1939 to 1941

Academic journal article McNair Papers

5. Mobilizing for War: 1939 to 1941

Article excerpt

With the defeat of Poland and the onset of the Sitzkrieg (between October 1939 and May 1940) during the so-called Phony War period, there was little bureaucratic momentum in Washington affecting industrial mobilization, although the General Staff, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War, and the Joint Board were busy. There was no "referee of claims made by either armed service except the Army and Navy Munitions Board." (1) With the attack on the Low Countries and France, however, several key industrial mobilization decisions were made. On 25 May 1940, Roosevelt established by Executive Order the Office of Emergency Management inside the Executive Office of the President. This new organization helped coordinate and direct emergency agencies that were beginning to proliferate, and it spawned a number of important war organizations like the National Labor Relations Board, Office of Civilian Defense, Office of Defense Transportation, War Food Administration, War Manpower Commission, National Housing Agency, and Office of Price Administration--all of which germinated in the Office of Emergency Management, headed by William H. McReynolds, as Liaison Officer for Emergency Management. He was to assist the president in information clearance and to maintain liaison between the chief executive and the Council of National Defense and its Advisory Commission, which was reestablished 3 days later, also by Executive Order, and any other agencies, public or private, the president might direct to meet the demands of an emergency. (2)

Immediately after creating the Office of Emergency Management, Roosevelt resurrected the Council of National Defense anti its Advisory Commission. The Office of Emergency Management served as a secretariat for the Advisory Commission. (3) These bodies had been sanctioned by legislation in 1916, and Congress had never repealed the authorization. The president, therefore, could recreate these agencies without congressional approval, an important element in Roosevelt's political tactics. The Council was made up of key cabinet officials: Secretaries of War, Navy, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, and Labor--those departments essential to mobilizing for war--but the Advisory Commission "made no pretense of reporting to the Council." (4) Its seven civilian leaders (chosen with "political astuteness" by Roosevelt)--Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., (advisor for industrial materials matters), William S. Knudsen (advisor for industrial production), Sidney Hillman (labor), Leon Henderson (price stabilization). Chester C. Davis (agriculture), Ralph Budd (transportation), and Harriet Elliot (consumer protection)--reported individually and directly to Roosevelt. The National Defense Advisory Commission (emphasis on the third word in the title) did meet often, but it had neither a chairman nor decisionmaking authority. (5)

The members of the Commission organized into many divisions and subdivisions to be productive. Knudsen's industrial production element had subdivisions run by senior, experienced industrialists: W.H. Harrison (of American Telephone and Telegraph) advised on construction, Harold S. Vance (of Studebaker) on machine tools and heavy ordnance, Dr. George Mead (inventor of the Wasp aircraft engine) on aircraft, E. F. Johnson (retired executive from General Motors) on small arms and ammunition, Rear Admiral Emory S. Land (chairman of the Maritime Commission) on shipbuilding, and George M. Moffett (of the Corn Products Refining Company) on food anti chemicals. Stettinius, who ran the Industrial Materials Division had three subdivisions: mining and mineral products, chemical and allied products, and agricultural anti forest products, all of which were run by big businessmen. (6)

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However it was divided and subdivided, and no matter the caliber of the people in it, the Advisory Commission was not the agency to supervise industrial mobilization--it had no formal leader (critical in an organization with powerful men who see themselves as equals), and more importantly, no authority. …

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