Six months after the Pearl Harbor incident, American industries were eager to build tanks, planes, and ships to defeat Japan. Higgins Shipyard had no choice but to give up the contract to build a cargo ship that was signed only a few months ago. Higgins lacked the steel needed. The irritated "New York Times" editorial board asked: "Did you not foresee such a shortage of steel at the beginning of the contract, or even a few months ago?"
Today, the whole The world faces COVID-19, which many have compared to a crisis similar to war. Countries around the world are struggling with multiple severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment. With the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, these shortages could leave curable patients untreated and health professionals could face serious consequences. This has led to calls for the use of US defense authorities to force industry to shift production from consumer goods to key medical supplies.
For many, the model was World War II, when American industry shifted from civilian production to military production, and its scale drowned Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. Images of Ford's B-24 bombers have sparked hope that American industrial forces will be mobilized to respond to today's war-like emergencies. But the experience of Higgins Shipbuilding and hundreds of other companies that have turned civilian manufacturing into military production provides important lessons and warnings today.
Today's problems are easier in important ways. Combat COVID-19 does not require a large number of land, air and sea weapons, and can be used in thousands of different designs-today, a few key equipment will be available. 1940's planners worked with slide rules and typewriters-computerized planning tools in today's information age go far beyond coordinating complex affairs.
However, the analogy of World War II has some practical value in terms that its advocates may not have realized. In particular, it highlights the often overlooked organizational and political challenges that can fundamentally slow down mobilization and create long-term problems from short-term repairs.
The mobilization time of the Second World War in the United States is much longer than many people realize today. The Roosevelt government began aggressive planning two years before Pearl Harbor. Following the Japanese attack, Japan issued an executive order on January 16, 1942, setting up a war production committee with the power to force industrial production of war materials, and immediately and actively used this power. The U.S. economy, which emerged from the Great Depression, has enough idle capacity to use huge potential unemployed labor forces and funds suddenly available from the federal government for war production. But it was not until the end of 1942 that a large number of new weapons and equipment began to enter the battlefield. And it was not until the end of 1943, nearly two years after the establishment of the War Production Committee, that production peaked.
Did it take so long?
A major contributor is the organizational challenge of rapidly adjusting large-scale manufacturing systems. Even in the 1940s, industrial production involved opaque supply chains, each of which was a potential bottleneck, leading to severe delays and inefficiencies. In the early 1940s, companies suddenly turned to weapons production and found themselves competing for key materials. And components, leading to shortages and supply bottlenecks downstream of the assembly plant floor. The shortage is accompanied by inefficiencies as companies scramble to pack and store machinery and equipment that others need. Sometimes a company desperately looks for a machine that is wrapped in grease and wrapped in a waterproof hood, placed in a company's storage warehouse, right on the street. Manufacturers can hire workers, but these workers have no experience in manufacturing complex aircraft or radar components. The burden of training and educating an adequate workforce becomes as severe a bottleneck as scarce materials.
For example, in 1942, the American steel industry was a potential behemoth. However, unless steel mills receive about 32 million tons of scrap, US steel production is expected to be below the 1941 level. Scrap can be found (it's true that government photographers have a lot of scrap photos in the dealer's yard), but it didn't enter the factory because the middleman ho accumulated 2 million tons, forcing the maximum price to increase by $ 20 / ton. In addition, the scrap metal labor force has been swallowed up by other industries, and many of its workers have found higher pay in newly available factory jobs. However, those plants needed steel, and steel production was hampered by the shortage of scrap. In an emergency, a purely market-based approach to resource allocation can cause confusion; the problem disappears only when the government intervenes and strategically eliminates the allocation management system. Stamping sheet metal in new ways may happen quickly, but the process of reorganizing complex supply chains to prevent suppliers and producers from interfering with each other takes longer.
If producers hold all of this in their minds, it is that political threats from public dissatisfaction or officials are seen as profiteering from the crisis. Collapsed spending creates opportunities for corruption. Rally effects in emergencies can mobilize short-term public support, but public outrage over abuse can lead to cyclical condemnation, which could risk the entire effort. In World War II, unethical actors violated restrictions on civilian production, sold inferior government steel, and built substandard housing for military workers.
In 1942, the wartime housing project in Linden, New Jersey was designed to provide housing for civilians. Laborers working at the nearby Kearny shipyard produced roofs of production houses blown away by wind and the basement was filled with four feet of water flowing from a leaky foundation. The Roosevelt government was aware of the political dangers of such abuses, and mobilized a special Senate committee to investigate the then-defense plans of the Sen. Harry Truman's aggressive but well-balanced supervision reassures the public and provides ongoing support for the full effort-the investigation of the Linden housing project has led to a lawsuit by the Justice Department and has attracted media attention to show the public its taxes
There are important lessons here today. First, don't be surprised that mobilization takes longer than we expected. Constraints Constraints may once again lie in the complexity of the supply chain and organizational challenges that may not be immediately apparent. This means being careful to help those who are honest but can't solve the problem overnight. Franklin Roosevelt did not publicly eliminate Henry Ford for failing to provide thousands of B-24 bombers in a month. Bashing GM CEO Mary T. Barra may be in line with President Donald Trump ’s political goals because he believes the car company should adhere to unrealistic timetables, but this may Stop other executives from running for people deemed suicide. 19659002] Second, the pure market approach has advantages in terms of innovation and steady-state efficiency, but in a crisis, it may cause the supply chain to kill each other or other cooperation challenges, thereby slowing down mass production. The fastest way to reach the 10,000th unit output may require government action and coordination.
Third, rapid development brings political risks. Even in the shadow of Pearl Harbor, there are traitors and greedy people. There will be today. Roosevelt took action to reassure the public through transparent and careful investigative oversight. We should also strengthen, not weaken, the institutional basis for public confidence in the use of public funds, and at the same time exercise careful monitoring of emergency funds.
Finally, the United States should do better in terms of quietness, professionalism, and advance planning. The next crisis. If it weren't for the Roosevelt administration's careful planning long before Pearl Harbor, the mobilization of World War II would have taken longer. One of today's problems is the concern and disrespect for civil servant experts who plan and implement plans. The combined experience of World War II and 2020 should inspire us to do better next time.
Stephen Biddle is a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and a part-time senior fellow in defense policy at the Foreign Relations Committee.
Tami Davis Biddle is a professor of history and strategy at the US Army War College. Her next book is "Conduct: America in War", 1941-1945 (Oxford University Press).
This article reflects the author's views. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the United States Army or the Department of Defense.
Picture: US Air Force picture