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U.S. Military Industrial Complex

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By mid-1942, World War II was looking bleak for the Allied powers. The German Wehrmacht was blitzing through Soviet Russia, the Luftwaffe had laid waste to much of London, Rommel was about to take Africa, and the Japanese nearly had control of the Pacific. Then a funny thing happened on the way to global domination: the Axis started running low on materiel while America was simultaneously increasing the Allied supply dramatically. This enormous production capacity displayed by the U.S. was the product of their new military-industrial complex, as plants across the country geared into production of weapons and combat vehicles and the government began pumping resources into the creation of new military-oriented production facilities. The American industrial surge turned out to be not only the deciding factor in World War II, but also the greatest protection against the Soviet threat during the Cold War that followed.

In the wake of his defeat at El Alamein, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel declared, "The bravest men can do nothing without guns, the guns nothing without plenty of ammunition, and neither guns nor ammunition are of much use in mobile warfare unless there are vehicles with sufficient petrol to haul them around". While Germany and Japan struggled to reproduce materiel at the speed at which it was being lost--leading to shortages for the Afrika Korps in the African desert and the Wehrmacht during Operation Barbarossa--the U.S. began producing it almost as quickly as it could be shipped out. There was virtually no military-industrial complex to speak of before 1940, and America went woefully under prepared into conflict after its losses at Pearl Harbor. However, by 1944 America was turning out 8 aircraft carriers a month, 50 merchant ships a day, one fighter plane every five minutes, and 150 tons of steel every sixty seconds (Walton 540).

While other factors certainly aided in the momentum switch that occurred in late 1942 and 1943 and accelerated to the cessation of hostilities, historian Francis Walton writes that,

For the reduction in bloodshed much credit must go to the miraculous tools of war, most of which, in the hands of the victors, were 'Made in the U.S.A.' It is the considered judgment of the military experts that in World War II 'our victories were the product of massed materiel rather than the highest military skill'(4).

Walton isn't the only one who thought so. Indeed, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin themselves gave full credit to the industrial power of the U.S. Stalin, in a toast to his brief allies, made it "to American production, without which this war would have been lost", while Churchill, in his book recalling the war, claimed, "Through the materials and weapons [the U.S.] gave us we were actually able to wage war as if we were a nation of fifty-eight millions instead of forty-eight".

While the onset of war led to a hugely inflated military production capacity, American industry never completed reversion back to the pre-war focus on purely civilian items. In fact, the value of military production facilities increased by 3300% between 1939 and 1944, and less than a third of all plants created during the war were converted to civilian production (Walton 551). Paul Koistinen writes,

By slow stages, large and sustained military expenditures produced an enduring Military-Industrial Complex with the self-serving consequences suggested by the World War II economy and, more seriously, with the potential for perpetuating the forces of modern warfare which had provided for the initial growth of such a complex (90).

This perpetuation fed right into the arms race created by the new Cold War between the USSR and NATO.

It was less than a year after war ended in Europe that Churchill revealed in his "Sinews of Peace" address that, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent". The Soviet Union became extremely aggressive and began establishing a communist bloc across the Eastern hemisphere. Wary of the Communist spread, the United States, rather than attempt to secure a lasting peace, pushed for the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and adopted a policy akin to that of world policeman:

The new United Nations was pushed aside by the Cold War with the Truman Doctrine forbidding all future revolutions, lest they might turn Red, and proclaiming the "containment" of both the Soviet Union and Communism everywhere...Commitments to defend forty-four states...reinforced by the desire to protect expanding American investments...[gave] us a world police role of global proportions. Naturally this gigantic undertaking entailed enormous armaments and a huge military establishment (Hickman 14-5).




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