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Opinion

The Amazing Story of America’s War Production


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • May. 10, 2022 - 5:00 PM

The Amazing Story of America’s War Production

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.

Shortly before America entered World War II in December 1941, top officials in Berlin and Tokyo scoffed at reports of what American factories could turn out if they switched to war production.

Germany and Japan eventually learned a painful lesson: Do not underestimate what Americans will do if freedom is at stake.

According to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Adolf Hitler himself predicted that American war supplies would not be enough to help the Allies win the war. Hitler said that “an American intervention by mass deliveries of planes and war materials will not change the outcome of the war.” He couldn’t have been more wrong.

The amazing story of our nation’s World War II production is the subject of a multi-media “Lunch & Learn” presentation at the Newnan Carnegie Library this Friday at noon, May 13. The speaker, Willard Womack of the Georgia Commemorative Air Force in Peachtree City, knows the subject well. As he will explain, we earned the description, “arsenal of democracy,” for indisputably good reasons.

William S. Knudsen was an automotive industry executive and a decorated General in the U.S. Army during the war. “We won,” said General Knudsen, “because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible.”

After the Battle of Midway in June 1942, Japan produced just six aircraft carriers. America manufactured no less than seventeen.

The Ken Burns documentary titled “The War” reveals that “America launched more vessels in 1941 than Japan did in the entire war. Shipyards turned out tonnage so fast that by the autumn of 1943 all Allied shipping sunk since 1939 had been replaced. In 1944 alone, the United States built more planes than the Japanese did from 1939 to 1945. By the end of the war, more than half of all industrial production in the world would take place in the United States.”

The American government may have paid for it, but it was American industry that produced it. Private businesses provided almost two-thirds of all the Allied military equipment produced in the war years: 297,000 aircraft, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks and two million army trucks. “In four years,” notes the Burns documentary, “American industrial production, already the world's largest, doubled in size.”

And while those private businesses earned a profit for their efforts, they and millions of private citizens also paid the high taxes and bought the government bonds that made it possible for the government to pay for all this production. If instead of buying the stuff from competitive private enterprises, we had purchased planes and tanks from government factories, we would have paid twice the price for half the quality.

When American enterprise is turned loose to produce, it does so at a staggering magnitude that still makes us the envy of the world.

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear about America’s remarkable World War II production when Willard Womack speaks at the library on Friday, May 13. The event is free and you can register via EventBrite on the Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation’s website, or via this link: https://tinyurl.com/2t9pjp58.

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.