Paul A. C. Koistinen. Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940-1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004. vii + 656 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-1308-3.
Reviewed by Joseph Stoll (Department of History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond)
Published on H-War (March, 2005)
The Contours of Power in the United States
Paul Koistinen's fourth book on the study of the political economy of American warfare is of epic proportions. Meticulously researched in both primary and secondary sources, it is another installment on the evolution of the United States as a developing industrial country. Koistinen's goal in this multivolume study, "is to provide scholars and other readers with what is now unavailable: a comprehensive, analytic, and interdisciplinary study of the economics of America's wars from the colonial period to today." (p. 1). In this volume, Koistinen focuses on World War II to argue that the mobilization of the economy during that war was created by the military and the industrial power elite. That combination set the stage for the emergence of the military-industrial complex of the Cold War. In essence, Koistinen is arguing that the mobilization, rather than being the necessary response to total war was, as Robert Cuff put it, "Anti-democratic in its political and economic decisions ... Top policy makers functioned essentially to preserve private corporate capitalist power."
The reader is advised that this book is not an economic history of the mobilization per se but rather a business or organizational history. If one is looking for supply and demand or any micro-economic empirical explanations, this is not the appropriate work. If one is looking for a detailed history of the myriad organizational structures (usually defined by their acronyms) that emerged to run the wartime effort, and the personalities involved this is perhaps the final word on the subject. Koistinen has a rich vein to mine. The economic mobilization of 1939-45 required a new layer of civilian economic input and control. This layer existed already, thanks to the larger government infrastructure of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. How industry and the military took over national economic mobilization from the New Dealers is chronicled step by step by the author. Koistinen argues that the root of the shift lay with FDR--as the war effort geared up--shifting New Dealers out of power positions and moving in a bloc of the leaders of American industry. Koistinen points to the appointment of the "quintessentially elite" Henry Stimson to the office of Secretary of War as perhaps the most important step in this transition. (p. 39).
This is not to say that there was not a strong argument to put these leaders in charge. Most had experience in the task ahead of them. The War Industries Board of World War I gave most of these industrial leaders their initial experience in a wartime economic mobilization, Koistinen points out. The military learned from this era too, and the Army Industrial College was created explicitly to instruct officers in the logistics of modern warfare. The inter-war period allowed the military to study and plan for the next conflict. The importance of the Nye Committee of 1934-36 on civilian thinking has to be taken into the equation too. That experience helped them manage what was a daunting task. Koistinen shows this clearly in a fascinating chapter concerning the history of contract awarding and clearance that led to statutory authority to procure. To get some idea of the immensity of this small part of the business picture in 1941, over seventeen thousand contracts were cleared (p. 165). In the pre- computer era the work load in looking at and approving such contracts was simply overwhelming. But business and legal executives were thrown into the breach and organizational systems were put in place that mandated clearance and approval of contracts within 48 hours.
The book is valuable, with the caveat that truly to understand this question of the United States national economic mobilization in wartime, one should start in chronological order with Professor Koistenen's previous two volumes, Mobilizing for Modern War: The Political Economy of American Warfare,1865-1919 and Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare,1929-1939. This is a difficult subject to cover and Professor Koistinen does an excellent job of following every nuance of the convoluted social and class settings that stratify the subject. With minor objections, this book is an essential scholarly work on the subject and this writer eagerly looks forward to the next volume.
. Paul A.C. Koistinen, The Home Front In The Twentieth Century: The American Experience in Comparative Perspectives, ed. James Titus (Colorado Springs: U.S.A.F.A and office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1984).
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Joseph Stoll. Review of Koistinen, Paul A. C., Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940-1945.
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