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The Battle of Production


One of the joys of summer is catching up on your reading.  I just completed “The Arsenal of Democracy,” an under-appreciated 2014 narrative of World War II by A.J. Baime.  It is highly recommended for students of history, as well as students of dysfunctional families.

For students of history, accustomed to war stories of blood & guts, this book instead traces the “battle of production” as America, that sleeping giant, puts aside partisanship and focuses on building the armaments necessary to defeat Hitler,. . . who already had a five-year headstart building up his armaments.   To do so, capitalism was temporarily suspended.  Virtually all contracts became “cost-plus”.  The industrial leaders became virtual commanding generals working to fight the Nazis.  One of the surprises for me was the amount of time that President Roosevelt spent studying production charts, particularly airplane production.  He was convinced that dominating the sky was the only way to defeat Hitler.

Answering the call to build airplanes was the Ford Motor Company, who stopped manufacturing automobiles and began manufacturing armaments of all types, including the desperately-needed long-range B-24 Liberator bombers.  Edsel Ford, son of the iconoclastic founder Henry Ford, promised the President he could manufacture one of those complicated machines every single hour.  Such was the power of “Fordism” or assembly-line production.  While Edsel didn’t live to see it, he still made it happen!

Supply-chain problems were really enormous then, dwarfing today’s experience.  Storefronts posted such “gallows-humor” signs as “God Bless the Inventory Gods.”

There was also some interesting blood & guts history, such as the failed bombing attempt of the Allies to destroy Hitler’s oil supply based at Ploesti in Romania.  Imagine Hitler using a train with anti-aircraft guns to track airplanes!  That really happened.

And, of course, there was political intrigue, such as Henry Ford’s hatred of Roosevelt.  In fact, he demanded that the world’s biggest factory be L-shaped, so none of it could be built across a county line into a county that had voted for Roosevelt.  Ford comes across as a bitter old Nazi-loving pacifist, who harbored anti-semitic and rascist beliefs, unlike his son Edsel, who was a real patriot.  At first, Henry fought entry into the war, even though he would make a great deal of money.  His relationship with Hitler became an issue.  Chaos resulted when he declined to build armaments, AFTER agreeing to do so.  Fortunately, Edsel saved the day!

For students of dysfunctional families, Edsel Ford grew up in enormous wealth.  He associated with “high society”, including Franklin Roosevelt.  However, his father grew up poor and hated “high society”.  Henry badgered his son constantly, giving him little respect.  As Henry increasingly became a victim of “elder-abuse” by one of his own employees, life became worse for Edsel.  After Edsel’s death from stomach cancer in 1943 at age 49, his widow blamed Henry for killing her husband.

Some armchair psychologists have speculated that Edsel was born with the troublesome “good son” gene, which means approval of his parents was TOO important?

My respect for the “great” capitalist leader Henry Ford has decreased, while my respect for his patriotic son, Edsel, has increased.

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