World War II Aftermath: A Changed America--The Economy

Figure 1.--Americans throughout its history, the 19th century and early-20th century, werecinvinced that they lived in exceptional country. The seire of millions of Europeans to come to america to improve their lives only confirmed this as well as the rapid economic growth, transforming ailderness to an indutrial giant. The Depression shook the faith of many Americans in both their country and capitalism--in part because the Government's role in creating the Great Depression was hid by left-wing academicians and journalists admiring President Roosevelt. World War II became a national crusade, the only war in which there was a massive national consenus. It helped restore the faith of Americans in their country and capitalism. It was an extrodinary national effort and accomplishment--essentially saving Western Civilization. The press caption hear read, "First Boy Scout Poster Presented at City Hall: First of the 52,ooo Third War Bond posters to be dustributed throughout New York City, September 4, by 5,000 Boy Scouts, goes to Acying Mayor Newbold Morri at City Hall. Frank Conley, 12, First Class Boy Scout of Troop 613, N.Y.C., presents the poster as one of the Government Dispstch Bearers. Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau has authorized the Boy Scouts of America to distribute hundreds of thousands of these posters throughout the nation, tomorrow." The photograph was dated September 3, 1943.

The most important impact of the war for most Americans was changes in the economy. Fundamentally it is the economy that determines the quality of our lives. For most Americans, however, the War brought new experiences and opportunities. The War finally ended the Depression. American became as President Roosevelt proclaimed, the Arsenal of Democracy. American at the time of the War was the greatest industrial power in the world, although the factories because of the Depression were not being fully utilized. The United States not only brought closed factories back to full operation, but built vast new productive facilities. The increases in production suroprised American industrialists and far beyonfd what either the Germans or Japanese thought possible. American war production was a central factor in winning the War. And of course to produce workers were needed. The NAZis used slave labor to man their factories. Britain and the Soviet Union mobilized women. America also mobilized women as well as minorities that had previously been largely excluded from good paying factory jobs. Employment opportunities expanded dramatically, and most Americans experienced substantial increases in their incomes. Many Liberal Americans took the lesson already disproven that by theNew Deal that massive Government spending can end adepression or severe recession. There was, however, a difference between New Deal and World War II spending. World War II spending was accompanies by 1) globelization, 2) productivity, and 3) technology.


World war It put people to work, a process that begun even before America entered the War as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Even before that war orders flowed in from Europe and American defense preparations helped stimulate the economy. Of course this was nothing compared to the industrial expnsion after Pearl Harbor. Ot needs to be pointed out that this is something that the New Deal failed to do. Infortunately this is something most Liberal Americans are unaware of. There is a popular liberal narrative that Government spending, virtually any government spending can end a depression or severe recession. This is not the case. American World War II spnding was accampnied by globelization, real profuctibity, and technological advances. This mean sustaninable increases in employment.

Revived Faith in Capitalism and America

Since the creation of the American Republic, the United States applied capitalism more fervently thn anyoyher country. At the beginning it was a rural country with only small cities and almost no industry. It had to rely on France for much of the weaponry and ordinnce needed to wage the War. As a result of its capitalism system and supportive government, America rapidly developed and within a century had over taken the European industrial powers. Europeans flooded into America seeking jobs in American factories and mines which because of their efficeny offered higher pay than European industry. That efficency was in large measure due to the fact that America had adopted capitalism to greater extent than any other country, including Britain and rapidly rising Germany. The Great Depression badly shook America's faith in business and capitalism. The President Roosevelt referred to 'economic royalists and jokingly to 'grilled millionairs' although the fact that he made that jibe illutrates the public mood. The President turned, however, to the veryvsme industrialists he hadbeen disparaging, immediately after Pearl Harbor to save the country. He turned to none other than William Knudsen to build the Arsenal of Democracy. Knudsen was the most important industrialist in the country--chairman of General Motors. The War ended for a time the self destructive attitude that American industry and corporations were enemies to the national well being. The public in general and the soldier on the front lines realized it was industry tht saved them. It was business and corporations that made America different and were the central factor in defeating the Axis. And most Americans recognized that--The Germans and Japanese certainly did. While there were differences between Democrats and Republicans after the War, there was a general consensus that business and corporations were good for America, something we have now lost once again.


The war greatly increased Ameica's utilization of existing industrial plant and actually expanded it. And American had an industrial capacity beyond the imagination of the Axis. Actually the U.S. Army and our World War II allies were surpried about the rapidity with which Anerican retooled for War and the dimensions of American war production. The American Arsenal of Democracy not copiousonly equipped its own military and that of its allies, but fed them as well. The american soldier was the best fed and supported soldier in the history of warfare, although some of his weapons left something to be desired. World War II was an industrial war on a unprecedented scale far beyond any war in history. Germany's inditrial capacity did not even match that of its European enemies and was swamped by the tidl wave of American profuction. And Japan had to gught America with its Army bogged down in China and industrial cpcity far below that of Germany. American production of combat munitiins in 1944 was roughly equal toall other couties and double that of Germany and Japan. When British and Soviet production is added not even including the Empire the supply situation of the Axis can be seen. [Goldsmith, p.75.] An American combat division required somwthing like 650-750 tons of supplies per day. An equilent German division required much less and this included some 50 t of animal feed. And the Americans with all their trucks could deliver supplies anywhere on the battlefield while the Germans were much more tied to railheads.

War Damage

America suffered lmost no war damage. Americn industry was essentially untouched. German cities wherevthe industry was located were left mounds of rubble. And Japanese paper and wood cities were left buring cinders. The transport systems were destroyed. There was massive damage throughout Europe, in both countries occupied by the Germans and in Britain which defied the NAZIs. A NAZI goal was to deindustrialize the East. And that process was well underway in the Soviet cities overrnn by the Germans. Millions of peopole had been killed, maimed or dislocated. The destruction in Germany and Japan was largely done was by the Allied strategic bombing campaign. A great amount of damage was also done in eastern Grmny as a result of the fighting between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army. Much of this area was transferred to the Poles and Soviets. As a result, America had the only indistrial economy left in tact. And in an unprecedented action, America would proceed to rebuild the economies of both its allies and defeted enemies. America also offered to to help rebuild the Soviet Union and Soviet occupied Eastern Europe. Stalin preferred, however, to estanlish Communist police states in Easter Europe and supprress democratic freedoms.


America before World War II was an industrial giant, but not a leader in high technology. The U.S. Goverment financed very little technological research. American corporations of course did research, but mostly targeted, oratical work with short term business objectives. American universities were expanding and engageding in a range of theoretical resesrch. Limited Government appropriations were available meaning results were not impressive. This can be seen in an assesment of Nobel Prize awards. America won a fair number, but was not dominant before World War II. Gemany actually won a lot more and Britain and France won a few more. Given that these cointries had much smaller economies, the differential was notable. This changed decisevly after the War. America had dominated Nobel Prize awards. Britain, France, and Germny are still important, but no where near the number of Nobel laureates. This is just a rough depiction of technological achievements, but it is a good overall, unbiased assessment. This shift began with the British transfer of technology (October 1940). They turned over all of their secret weapons research to the Americans. The U.S. Government began massive financing of hifg tech research. And the NAZI penchant for driving Jews and other educated people out of their country or killing them resulted in masssive transfer of talent to America. An extodinary number of Nobel lauarates are Jews. We have noted estimates that approximately one-third of all Nobel prize laureates in science have been of Jewish ancestry, meaning not necesarily practicing Jews. And most of those Jews are Americans--thanks to the Russians and Germans. And at the end of the War, the United States along with the British and Soviets acquired masive amounts of high tech reserarch from the Germans. As a result, the United States since World War II has been the world leader in high rechnology.


World War II set in motion major changes in the U.S. transport system. President Eisenhower impressed with the German Autobahns began the construction of the Interstate Highway System. It also began the era of air travel. These shifts, especially the Interstate Highway System, signiicantly increased the efficency with which goods move in America. This was a substantil step in increasig productivity.

New Industries

The War led to the creation of whole new industries and the significant expansion of others, most of which America dominated. These industries included aerospace, electonics (leading to a large number of new industries) , information technology, medical technology, metalurgy, nuclear physics, rubber, synthetic fibers, and much more. In addution to new industries, major advances were made in established industries. These new industries resulted in important increases in American living standards.


World War II intensified major demographic shifts. During the War, America's efforts to create the Arsenal of Democracy meant a massive industrial expansion. This meant drawing large numbers of rural americns into the cities. This essentially ended the substantial difference between rural and urban America. Then after the War, the process of suburbaniztion that had begin in the 1920s, but slowed with the Deo=pression of the 1930s, again was renewed with inbcreasing intensity in the 1940s. American GIs returning home could finf well-paying jons in booming factories or pursue college degrees with the GI Bill. Either huge numbers of working-class Americans enteresd the middle-class--most moving to the suburbs.


Goldsmith. Power of Victory.


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Created: 12:28 AM 4/30/2007
Last updated: 12:28 AM 4/30/2007