The World’s BIGGEST Production Job
Planes, tanks, ships, guns— Roosevelt orders them and Nelson has to get ’em built
RICHARD L. HARKNESS
WASHINGTON. Hitler need not rely on his intuition to fathom what the United States is doing about Mr. Hitler. The United States is working around the clock gearing its industrial might to the greatest arms production program in world history. Each passing day brings Hitlerism that much closer to eradication.
Today, less than three short months after Japan’s stab-in-the-back attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Government is spending at the rate of almost $2,500,000,000 a month to crush the Axis. In November, the month before the Japanese hit Honolulu, Federal expenditures for airplanes, tanks, and guns was little more than $1,500,000,000. The billion dollar increase is only the beginning.
Our automobile industry is in process of almost complete conversion to wartime production. The country’s so-called “little businessmen” have been told in so many words: “Find a way to fill war
orders—or close up shop.” Six, eight, and possibly ten American Expeditionary Forces already are overseas. The obvious need for secrecy forbids revelation of specific details and figures on mobilization of the United States’ machines and men.
But this is no secret—the man who is getting production results in this country is Donald M. Nelson, head of the new War Production Board. He is the Beaverbrook of the United States.
No halfway measures—no dawdling—no “business as usual”— will do for Nelson. As his first administrative act, he abolished the Office of Production Management as a separate war agency. It had been unsatisfactory. As his first order of business, he let some $3,000,000,000 worth of war contracts in three weeks. The OPM had been too slow. He is not only the spark plug cf the U.S. war effort. He is the drive shaft.
Congress has kept pace with Nelson. Since midJanuary, the Senate and House have appropriated more than $40,000,000,000 for the Army, the Navy, for industrial-plant expansion, and for Lend-Lease aid to other United Nations.
For the first two years of the war, the United States played—frittered away our time, would be putting it more honestly—at what President Roosevelt and his Administration spokesmen called “national defense.” By September, 1941, our
monthly expenditures for airplanes, tanks, guns, and other weapons amounted to a mere $1,424,000,000. By November 30, we had sent Great Britain, Russia, and China only $1,202,000,000 in Lend-Lease aid, and most of that was food.
When on December 7 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, both the Army and Navy were caught off guard. The Army’s airplane detectors had been turned off at 7 a.m., with only a green noncommissioned officer and an inexperienced lieutenant on duty because they desired training. Our Navy failed that morning to perform its routine assignment of sending planes to patrol 700 miles out to sea from America’s Gibraltar of the Pacific.
Army and Navy commanders at Honolulu had not conferred with each other for weeks, believing that the .other branch of our armed service was performing its “protective tasks” ordered in fre-
quent “alert” warnings dispatched to them from the War and Navy Departments in Washington. This is no off-hand indictment of the Army and Navy based on rumors and gossip. It is a formal finding of the five-man board of enquiry headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, which charged “dereliction of duty” against Lieut.-General Walter C. Short, Commander of the Army’s Hawaiian Department, and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the United States fleet, for failing to prepare Honolulu against attack. There is only one charge more serious—treason.
On the civilian front here at home the country was equally unprepared for its plunge into war—a real war—with the Axis. Our “defense” program had been bungled by the Office of Production Management, stalled by shortsightedness and red tape in the Army and Navy, hampered by a greed
for profits on the part of both labor and capital. Again, that is no statement of opinion. It is the considered judgment of the special Senate Defense Investigating Committee headed by Senator Harry S. Truman, a Democrat from Missouri, and dominated by Administration supporters.
Up to the very day of Pearl Harbor, the committee concluded after six months of public and executive hearings, the Government produced enough airplanes to arm only skeleton forces of the Army and Navy Air Corps—and seventy-five per cent of those planes were inferior. The OPM, the Army, and Navy failed to plan adequately for conversion of the vital motor car industry from peacetime to wartime production. The OPM’s personnel was loaded with dollar-a-year men who were, in reality, “lobbyists” for big business. The Navy was permitting private shipbuilders to make “ridiculously” high profits. The defense program had been seriously hampered by labor trouble, with 26,000,000 man days of work lost through strikes
Nelson has set the following monthly goals for U. S. war production:
January ..... 52,240,000,000
March ....... 2,760,000,000
April ........ 2,980,000,000
May ........ 3,270,000,000
June ......... 3,490,000,000
July ......... 3,710,000.000
August ...... 3,910,000,000
September ... 4,120,000,000
November .... 4,480,000,000
December .... 4,670.000,000
January ..... 4,850,000,000
March ....... 5,130,000,000
April ........ 5,230,000,000
for wage increases or to settle jurisdictional disputes. You could dip into the Truman report at almost any page and be shocked to read how this Government and its people had been playing the part of a dilettante—defense had been strictly a pastime with us.
The Answer Action
T WAS a dark picture. But President Roosevelt did not despair. He had faced a national crisis before, when he first took office in 1933 with the country’s banks closed and the bread lines jammed with millions of hungry jobless. Pie had the answer — action.
In rapid-fire order, he relieved Short and Kimmel of their commands. He submitted to Congress a new $56,000,000,000 “war victory production” budget. He called on the people to shoulder $9,000,000,000 more taxes this year.
Almost overnight, the picture changed.
Fighting back with the admittedly few weapons at their command, the Army and Navy joined other United Nation forces in the southwest Pacific to blunt Japan’s thrust into the East Indies toward Australia. Their inspiration came from the warriors of General Douglas A. MacArthur, rising begrimed from their fox holes in the Bataan peninsula of the Philippine Islands to smite down each Japanese onslaught.
The $56,000,000,000 war production program was adopted with breath-taking swiftness. Including the $18,000,000,000 to be spent on arms in the first half of 1942, the United States will pour out $74,000,000,000 in the next eighteen months to produce 185,000 war planes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 antiaircraft guns, and 18,000,000 dead-weight tons of shipping.
Completing the change in the picture from one of lackadaisical complacency to one of electrified action, Mr. Roosevelt wiped out the inefficiencies of the Office of Production Management as revealed in glaring detail by Senator Truman’s investigating committee. He slashed red tape hamstringing the procurement and specification divisions of the Army and Navy. He put an end to the political tug of war being waged undercover by “New Dealers” and “big businessmen” seeking to control war production.
All this the President accomplished with a single stroke of his pen. He merely wrote his signature — Franklin D. Roosevelt—in a characteristically bold hand at the bottom of a White House Executive Order creating the War Production Board with Donald M. Nelson as its head.
Few Presidents ever held as much personal power as Mr. Roosevelt gave to Donald Nelson. He wields full authority to determine policy, plans, procedure, and methods for all Govern-
mental agencies participating in production and procurement for war. He is director of all Government purchasing, contracting, specifications, and construction to smash the Axis. He is “czar” of the nation’s industry for the duration, holding rule over conversion, requisitioning, plant expansion, and federal financing of any facility needed in the war effort.
Few Americans—and practically no Canadians - had ever heard of Donald M. Nelson before Mr. Roosevelt centred responsibility for winning the war on his broad shoulders. But already his actions have indicated that he’s the right kind of man for the job. After reading the Truman report, he served this candid warning to the OPM, and to the Army and Navy: “Any organizational changes that have to be made to do this job will be made.” When a group of businessmen sought to wheedle priorities for the continued manufacture of a certain civilian product, Nelson literally shut them up by barking: “You can’t stop a panzer division with a row of refrigerators.”
The country’s record until Pearl Harbor had been “too little and too late.” His guiding motto became “too much and too soon.”
DONALD NELSON, now a robust fifty-three, grew up in the little hamlet of Hannibal, Missouri, probably living “on the wrong side of the tracks” of Mark Twain’s old home town because his father was a railroad engineer. As a boy, he played along that stretch of the Mississippi River made famous by the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Unlike Tom and Huck, Donald Nelson liked school. A chemical engineering degree from Missouri University led to ambitions for a Ph.D. from Princeton. But he needed a nest egg first, so he went to work in the summer of 1921 for Sears, Roebuck & Co., in Chicago. Instead of going on to Princeton, he remained with the big mailorder house to become a director and executive vicepresident at $70,000 a year.
A patriotic interest in government—and perhaps a. personal curiosity regarding the New Deal— brought Nelson to Washington, in the pre-emergency days of 1939, to spend two months setting aright the Administration’s civilian procurement system. At the end of the month he took on coordination of all buying for “national defense.” One of Nelson’s transactions caught Mr. Roosevelt’s eye. He sold the Army and Navy on the idea of buying winter underwear in the spring, saving money for the taxpayers and stabilizing the textile industry in an otherwise slack period. If Nelson owes his appointment as the U.S. arms production chief to any one quality, it was his acumen in procuring “woollies” for soldiers and sailors.
Nelson has the physique to stand up under his new load. A strapping six-footer, he carries more than 200 pounds on his sturdy frame. He arrives in his office, on the dot, at eight o’clock every morning, stokes up one of the five man-sized pipes on his desk, and wades into the job at hand. He arrives back home—an apartment in Washington’s swank Broadmoor Hotel—around 7.p.m., demanding dinner. His companions in the evening are usually other men associated with him in directing the war drive—hard-hitting William Batt, Philadelphia industrialist, who is his right-hand aide; the effervescent Leon Henderson, Federal Price Administrator and darling of the New Dealers, and sometimes sage old Bernard M. Baruch, who headed the War Industries Board under President Woodrow Wilson in World War Number One.
The first thing Nelson did after his appointment as generalissimo of the War Production Board was to write down what President Roosevelt had called on the country to do as its share in winning the war —spend $74,000,000,000 by July 1,1943, to produce 185,000 war planes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 antiaircraft guns, 18,000,000 dead-weight tons of shipping.
Then, pondering, he began figuring on a scratch pad. The Government, he decided, must have a monthly spending goal for the next year and a half.
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World's Bggest Productkn Job
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For January, of this year, Nelson set $2,240,000,000. By June, the country should increase its arms output to $3,490,000,000. By December, the figure must rise to $4,670,000,000. By June, 1943, the United States must be producing arms at the staggering rate of $5,320,000,000 a month to achieve President Roosevelt’s $74,000,000,000 program.
To show how closely Nelson figured for this January, actual war disbursements from the Treasury for the month were $2,100,754,425—only $139,000,000 less than his estimate. The comparison is all the more significant when it is recalled that the motor-car industry still was producing civilian automobiles in January, and one hundred per cent conversion for war production largely remained in the blueprint stage at that time.
REALIZATION of Nelson’s goal will mean utilization of fully one half the country’s entire national income for the war after July 1. That development, coupled with the meshing of the economies of this country, Canada, Great Britain, and other United Nations for a combined production drive against Hitlerism, will soon be felt by all Canadians.
In the immediate future, Canadian war production should spurt under impetus of the United States’ great new war effort. Free exchange of machines, material, and perhaps even labor, across the border, will serve to remove any bottlenecks and shortages in Canada’s booming industries. That much is certain in the minds of both Canadian and American observers in Washington.
Taking the long-range view, experts in production and economics see far-reaching possibilities in three United Nation pooling boards established by Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill—the Combined Materials Board, the Munitions Assignment Board, and the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board.
Canada’s raw materials, munitions, and shipping will become a part of this great pool to hurl against Hitlerism in any part of the world, just as Canada’s men are fighting
under Allied high commands. Will these pooling boards work? There is only one answer—they must work. And why shouldn’t they work? They control some seven eighths of the strategic raw materials in the world, and will be directed by the best business and military brains in the world. They have been operating too short a time, however, to list tangible results or make pontifical prophecies at this time.
Forward - looking economists in Washington see the pooling arrangement carried on even after the war— particularly between Canada and the United States. Some of them believe that never again will tariff walls separate the two peoples. The economies of the two will remain meshed, they are convinced, to bring a higher standard of living to the whole of North America.
Canada also will be drawn more closely to South America under an American plan for the entire Western Hemisphere which came to light only recently in Washington—a fairly well outlined proposal to form an economic union for the entire hemisphere for the duration of the war.
The scope of the union was broad —removal of tariff barriers from civilian as well as war supplies, the doing away with differences in exchange, the financing by the U.S.A. of war production plants in Canada, Mexico, and South America as well, and perhaps formation of a hemispheric war labor pool to man those plants.
Even the most daring of Washington economists admit their inability to foresee the full effects of such a breath-taking plan. But, for Canada, this much appears certain—Canadian industries now operating with tariff protection would be mightily concerned by any such development. Yet, in the opinion of some trade experts here, the problem might be simple—United States production for civilian use will soon be curtailed so sharply that there will not be enough to go around here, to say nothing of having a surplus to ship north to compete with Canadian enterprise.
But Donald Nelson is not worrying
about any such problem these clays and nights. His responsibility is to produce arms to whip the Axis. He has his mind on that job—and on that job alone. He made that plain the other night, while speaking to a group of industrialists in New York— “. . .to the devil with stopping to count the cost,” he said. “One
weapon produced this year will be worth two in 1943, and ten in 1944. Turn those weapons out by inefficient methods if necessary. You can figure out better ways as you go along.
“We can overtake Hitler. The man who says we can’t is either blindly ignorant or believes democracy and freedom are played out...”