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

By Stanchak, John | America in WWII, August 2011 | Go to article overview

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


Stanchak, John, America in WWII


Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II, by Jim Lacey, Naval Institute Press, 280 pages, $34.95.

For decades, the children and grandchildren of America's WWII generation were taught that their nation's industrial might and capacity and its people's work ethic were two big elements in defeating Germany and Japan--that the United States had a victory plan conceived by its brightest men and, running like clockwork, it produced ships and guns and equipped soldiers and sailors on a timetable that almost guaranteed military success by the mid-1940s. At least that was the semiofficial version of the story. And inside military think tanks and US schools for generals and admirals, much of the credit for the plan and the estimates of the material requirements for victory were given to an American general named Albert Wedemeyer, and to an internal government paper dubbed "The Victory Program."

The new Naval Institute Press book Keep from All Thoughtful Men, by Jim Lacey, a defense analyst and scholar and a former US Army officer, corrects this picture. It does not claim the American people didn't outwork and out-produce its enemies in World War II and thereby achieve victory. But it does reveal that for far longer than Americans might have cared to believe possible, there was no victory plan or Victory Program. Lacy's work explains that well into 1942 and 1943, US administrators flailed about desperately trying to figure out what the US armed forces did need and what it would take to produce it all. It also reveals that when a plan was finally in place, it was not the lone effort of Albert Wedemeyer, but the work of a collaboration of economists and statisticians.

Keep from All Thoughtful Men is a work of scholarship, made up of 136 pages of text and 103 pages of appendices and notes, and Lacy acknowledges that military history fans prefer stories about action and derring-do. Nevertheless, I was surprised to discover the book was not a daunting read.

Most fans of American military history know that the United States was not prepared for World War II. The country had been economically weakened by the Great Depression and it was home to a large population of isolationists--voters and opinion leaders who preferred to keep the nation uninvolved in European and Asian affairs. But many fans are probably unaware of exactly how little time and effort the country's military had spent coming up with plans to meet emergencies of any kind and how uninformed it was about the size of the nation's resources.

Lacy recounts economist Robert Nathan's experience in the months before the Pearl Harbor attack, when he went to authorities in the army and navy and asked if the country were pulled into the world war "what raw materials, what factories, what machinery, what tools and what components we would need for the production of armaments. …

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