Magazine article National Forum

Wartime Planning for the "American Century"

Magazine article National Forum

Wartime Planning for the "American Century"

Article excerpt

One comparative set of figures may suffice to illustrate this point: in 1943, the United States alone produced military goods worth almost three times as much as those manufactured in the Third Reich. The overall balance between America, Britain, and Russia, on the one hand, and Germany and Japan, on the other, was 62.5:18.3 billion dollars during the same year. More detailed production figures for tanks, guns, and other hardware confirm this essential power imbalance, however impressive the mobilization of the German industrial war machine by Albert Speer, Hitler's armaments minister, may have been even as late as the summer of 1944.

The fact that an Allied victory was virtually assured after 1941 also is reflected in the peace planning that began straightaway in Washington at this point. The basic principles of this peace were first laid down in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941.

Other documents pointed in the same direction, such as Henry Luce's famous article in Life magazine, entitled "The American Century." In it the influential owner and editor of Time and Life argued that if American ideas on how to organize society and politics had failed to carry much weight abroad in the first half of the 20th century, the United States would certainly want to see them realized after the end of the current world conflict in the second half of the century.

Economic Restructuring and Recasting

One central aspect of Washington's peace planning and visions of a new world order concerned the structure of the international economy. Here the aim was to reestablish the kind of liberal-capitalist free trading system that had existed before 1914 -- a multilateral "Open Door" global economy that President Woodrow Wilson had advocated at the end of World War I and that Secretary of State Cordell Hull had promoted in the wake of the Great Slump of 1929 as a way of securing peace and prosperity at home and abroad. Hull's dream collapsed in 1939 when Hitler and Mussolini launched their aggressive war of looting and extermination; but the idea of a system of peaceful economic exchange among the nations of the world persisted and was now taken up by a number of think tanks charged with designing the institutional framework for the new world order.

Given the destruction that Hitler's armies had already inflicted on Europe by the end of 1941, it was clear from the start that there would have to be material reconstruction with American economic aid. But Washington's notions of reconstruction always went beyond the material and conceived of postwar tasks in terms of an unavoidable recasting of the structures of Europe's industries. The objective was to make these structures compatible with those of the United States. The Pax Americana (American Peace), not surprisingly perhaps, was to be based on the U.S. model of industrial and financial management that was just then demonstrating its superiority over that of the Axis powers.

What To Do with Germany

Within this picture of European reconstruction and recasting, Germany quickly emerged as the crucial factor. Although her powerful industrial system had increased impressively, it was clear that it would be badly battered by the end of the war. But its potential continued to exist. In particular the Ruhr region in the west was expected to remain Germany's and, indeed, Europe's industrial heartland. It is against the background of these perceptions that a major dispute erupted in wartime Washington over how to treat the Ruhr after V-E Day. The most radical solution emerged from the Treasury Department in cooperation with various peace planners in the Justice Department. It came to bear the name of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau.

The Morgenthau Plan

Much emotional argument, especially in postwar Germany, has occurred about the aims and implications of the Morgenthau Plan, and this argument has led, in turn, to misconceptions. The Plan did not propose to convert defeated Germany into an agricultural economy and society. …

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