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A CALL TO ARMS by Maury Klein


Mobilizing America for World War II


Pub Date: July 16th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59691-607-4
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Klein (History, Emeritus/Univ. of Rhode Island; Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration: America's Greatest Railroad from 1969 to the Present, 2011, etc.) delivers a sprawling account of the struggle to mobilize the moribund American economy for World War II.

In 1939, much of the country was unwilling even to think about going to war again. The legacy of the previous world war hung heavy on industry, which had created costly productive capacity that proved to be unnecessary and was then vilified as profiteer and punished by boneheaded tax policies. Even after Pearl Harbor, it was difficult to persuade companies to expand plants and completely retool to produce unfamiliar products like tanks, while unions viewed mobilization as a pretext to roll back gains of the previous decade. By 1942, the military, arms industries and civilian economy had to compete for access to increasingly scarce materials like oil, rubber and steel. Balancing demands for manpower was a constant problem, as was keeping prices from ballooning out of control. The Roosevelt administration attempted to manage these challenges as it had the Depression: through an alphabet soup of boards and bureaus, often with overlapping mandates and vague powers, resulting in confusion, frustration and inefficiency. Much of Klein’s book is taken up with the constant reshuffling of these agencies and their battles with each other and the armed services; they seem ultimately to have succeeded in putting the country on a war footing almost in spite of themselves. Throughout, the author demonstrates the astonishing complexity of mobilization and illuminates the difficulties of attempting to impose central planning on a modern economy outside of a fully totalitarian system, which Roosevelt, to his credit, resisted creating.

Thoroughly researched, objective and authoritative in tone, this is likely to be the definitive work on this topic for years to come, though it is likely too detailed for casual readers.