Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II

By Anderson, David A. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II


Anderson, David A., Joint Force Quarterly


By James G. Lacey

Naval Institute Press, 2011

280 pp. $34.95

ISBN: 978-1-59114-491-5

James Lacey, a scholar of strategy and national security studies, writes a fascinating book detailing the evolution of the munitions plan (victory program) in support of the U.S. war effort to defeat the Axis powers during World War II. The author asserts that the magnitude of this undertaking, necessitating extensive industrial mobilization of the U.S. economy, made World War II the "economist's war." Lacey supports his thesis by chronologically covering the major events and activities that led to the plan's acceptance and execution.

The author first dispels the widely held belief that Major Albert Wedemeyer, USA (later, Lieutenant General), was the originator of the victory program. Lacey carefully discredits historians, and Wedemeyer himself, through credible scholarly forensics. He does note that Wedemeyer proposed a plan, as he claimed; however, it was not the one embraced by his superiors, let alone the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. In fact, Lacey shows the plan to be outright wrong anyway.

Lacey subsequently describes the trials and tribulations of military and civilian leaders as they organized and prepared the Nation for war--progressing from a humble ad hoc working group into the powerful War Production Board (WPB). He includes in this discussion the complex dialogue that took place among these eventual planning power brokers (for example, Kuznets, Hopkins, Nelson, Knox, Knudsen, Nathan, and General Somervell), which was complicated by the number of their diverging personalities and agendas, all working toward a common endstate but often visualizing different ways and means to achieve it. Interwoven throughout are the philosophical debates that took place, such as those addressing funding, sourcing, and mobilization requirements, and how much of the U.S. economy would have to be directly committed to support the war effort. Also included are the conversations addressing assistance requirements in support of Great Britain's and the Soviet Union's war efforts.

The industry-by-industry assessment of U.S. production capacity, led by statistician Stacy May, and the mobilization analysis, led by Simon Kuznets, was instrumental to the fruitfulness of these discussions. They came to several notable conclusions. They determined that the military had underestimated its budgetary needs by some 50 percent. The country would run out of production capacity long before it ran out of money to finance munitions production. America needed to shift large segments of the labor force from one geographical location to another to meet military output objectives. President Roosevelt's "must have" munitions were in direct conflict with the Nation's production capacity. …

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