TW Viewpoint | World War Two and US Industrial Production

September 25, 2019 | Jonathan Riley

The morning of December 7th, 1941 saw Pearl Harbor awake to a Japanese surprise attack meant to remove the USA from WWII before this "sleeping giant awoke". What did Japan see in this isolationist nation that caused them such fear?


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The US was, and still is, a vast land of abundant crops and natural resources. It was also one of the most thoroughly industrialized nations of the world. Paul Kennedy, a Yale historian ranked the major players in WWII according to their war potential, factoring in industrial capacity, agricultural production, and economic power among other things. He ranked the United states with a war potential of 41.7%, followed by Germany at 14.4% and the USSR at 14%.

War Potentials

"Paul Kennedy, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," P.332"

The American way was one of hard work and high rewards. It was this that the Japanese, and even the Germans feared, the industrial capacity and weight of determination of the American people.(source?) Admiral Yamamoto wrote this is response to the outcome of Pearl Harbour to a Japanese journalist:

"A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack." "Admiral Yamamoto, as quoted in "The Reluctant Admiral," P.285"

And what followed on the industrial front, as well as the war front, was indeed a determined counter attack. Having already begun gearing industries nation-wide to the war effort in support of Britain, the declaration of war the morning after Pearl Harbor brought the full weight of the American industry to bear.

Over the next 4 years American shipyards built:
6 Battleships to Japan’s 2,
99 Aircraft Carries to Japan’s 18
And 206 Destroyers to Japans 63

These US ships were built assembly line style with major components being manufactured across the country and transported by rail. In the case of the Liberty cargo ships, sections weighing up to 250 tons were transported at a time. Shipyard competed against shipyard to produce more ships at faster and faster rates, with one liberty ship being built in just 4 days, 15 hours and 29 minutes, while on average these ships took 42 days to build. It represented an unprecedented level of unity and organization on the home front.

This was the type of industrialized effort that was also put into building planes for aerial bombardment, amphibious landing craft for beach assaults and tanks for advances on the ground. It was one of the major factors that led the allies to victory.

From this stand point it can be argued that World War 2 was won based on economics and industry just as much as by military might. Most historians would also agree that the Cold War, ended by the economic collapse of the USSR, was likewise more about this industrial power of the US

However, the US has not been faced with a large opponent like the USSR, or the Axis powers since. We now live in the age of the global economy, where almost all countries are connected through trade, industry and economics. The US has continued to be an economic powerhouse, and today is still the world’s #1 economy by a number of standards. However, there have long been concerns of jobs being outsourced to foreign countries as businesses seek to increase profitability, especially in manual labour jobs of resource extraction and heavy industry.

Steel production has long been a sound metric of a countries industrial might both due to the processes required in creating quality steel, and due to it’s wide spread use in all manner of construction and manufacturing, increased production indicates a strong economy that requires that material. Looking at the years 2000-2017 US steel production declined 19.8% from 101,803 MT to 81,612 MT (Metric Tonnes), while in the same time Chinese steel production rose a whopping 647.2%, from 128,500 MT to 831,728 MT. "Steel Statistical Yearbook 2019"

If the industrial power, and thus economic power, is increasingly shifting away from Western countries, specifically the United States and Great Britain, how long until we see the capacity to wage war, and thus protect or impose interests globally as well as uphold international law go with it?.

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