The outstanding characteristics of World War II were its magnitude and its highly technological nature. The victory of the United Nations in that war was attributable basically to their ability to wage technological warfare on a scale far surpassing that of the Axis Powers, and indeed that of any other military coalition in all history. This capacity for technological warfare on a global scale required an abundance of superior weapons in the hands of highly trained troops. But behind the lines of battle it required the capacity to develop, manufacture, and deliver a torrent of equipment and supplies sufficient to overwhelm the enemy. It was predominantly the United States that demonstrated this capacity and furnished the economic and industrial power which proved to be the decisive factor in the winning of the war.
The United States was fortunate in having a superior combination of total resources--materials, manpower, productive equipment, widely diffused skills, and technical know-how--long before the outbreak of World War II. Contrary to popular feeling, however, superiority in economic resources carried no automatic guarantee of victory in war. As the United States learned to its peril, there was a wide and dangerous gulf between "economic potential" and the capacity to deliver specific munitions in the quality, quantity, and time needed to win a major war. When America belatedly undertook rearmament after the British armies were swept into the sea at Dunkerque and France surrendered to Adolf Hitler at Compiègne, there was grave doubt that the U.S. industrial effort could, bear sufficient fruit in the limited time available to forestall a German invasion of the Western Hemisphere. And in the dark weeks and months after Pearl Harbor, despite a year and a half of intensive preparation in the United States, the outcome of the battle of production was still far from clear.
The task of harnessing a nation's economic potential for war has come to be known as "economic mobilization." Its basic purpose is to insure the procurement of finished munitions--the sum total of equipment, supplies, and services required by the armed forces--while at the same time supplying the essential needs of the civilian economy. The demands of modern technological warfare, when suddenly thrust upon a nation lacking the specific equipment for war, are so novel, so complex, and of such magnitude that their fulfillment requires a nationwide industrial and social revolution. Such a revolution does not automatically "occur" when a nation goes to war. It must be planned, directed, and carried out in a manner which will accomplish its objectives with a minimum of hardship and dislocation. A faulty program of economic mobilization might easily bog down in a welter of confusion and disorder,