The Buzz

What Really Won World War II (and It Wasn't Nuclear Weapons)

“We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible.”

The above quote is attributed to William Knudsen, president of General Motors and Roosevelt’s wartime director of production management, a man who was intimately involved in the massive production drive that made the U.S. military the best supplied military in the world during World War II.

That is the argument made by This Is Capitalism, in conjunction with the WWII Museum in New Orleans, a website by Stephens, Inc. dedicated to reinforcing the appreciation of Capitalism in American society.

This Is Capitalism has teamed up with the WWII Museum in New Orleans to produce two fascinating videos on the role of U.S. private industry in WWII. These short but informative videos discuss the ways in which two of America’s most influential entrepreneurs during World War II impacted the strategic course of the war.

William ‘Bill’ Knudsen’s story is detailed in the video Capitalism in World War II: The Arsenal of Democracy. President of General Motors Bill Knudsen’s chief contribution to the war effort was his role as Roosevelt’s wartime director of production management. The Arsenal of Democracy describes how the merger of political and economic leadership in the United States created the greatest war economy of World War II.

Capitalism in WWII: Andrew Higgins “The Man Who Won WWII” covers Andrew Higgins, whose landing craft designs, based on his own experiences building shallow-water boats in New Orleans, dramatically shaped the way the U.S. military fought World War II. With its enemies oceans away, the U.S. military relied on these small, purpose-built crafts to put boots on the ground.

The videos also discuss the role of capitalism in the integration and desegregation of the workforce. With demand for labor rising, capitalists were incentivized by market forces to integrate the workforce with static labor pools, namely women and African Americans who had previously been excluded from certain sectors of employment by discriminatory practices. Integration in the war economy would change America’s peacetime economy for good and would lead to broader societal integration in the postwar era.

Both videos are great primers on the industrialization of America’s military might in World War II, and are great as an introduction to the subject for both war buffs familiar with the military side of the war and for educators as a classroom tool.

An Interview With Rob Citino, National WWII Museum Expert

To gain a better understanding of the role that capitalism specifically had on the outcome of the Allied war effort, we sat down with National WWII Museum expert Rob Citino for a comprehensive comparative discussion of economic policies.

Rob Citino, Phd is an award-winning historian and scholar who has published ten books on military history. His principal academic focus has been on the Wehrmacht. Dr. Citino is one of the experts featured in the This Is Capitalism videos.

Our discussion with Dr. Citino ranges from the interplay of government and private industry in the U.S. war economy of World War II to the economic challenges, successes, and failures of four key belligerents of World War II to the rise of the United States as an economic superpower in the postwar era.

Warfare History Network:

The This is Capitalism videos hone in on Bill Knudsen of GM and Andrew Higgins who invented the Higgins boat. These were individuals whose contributions not only made US industry more productive, but also dramatically changed how we fought war, on a strategic and even tactical level. What other capitalists and industrialists shaped the US war effort in such a way?

Rob Citino:

Well first of all, what America was able to do as a result of individuals like Bill Knudsen and Andrew Higgins, and also as a result of our social economic system and as a result of our fantastic material wealth (much of which was lying fallow during the depression) was to mass produce and employ an economy of scale on a way that was just unheard of to the other countries, with the possible exception of the Soviet Union. We’ll have to nuance that when we get to the Soviet Union.

If you look at others, another name that has to be mentioned up top is Henry Kaiser. He was the master builder of the war. Kaiser was an energetic and hard driving guy, he was always going in all directions at once. So he started a road construction business, a lot of innovation was there in the 20s and 30s. Earth movers and Mac trucks, caterpillar tractors, even the use of hard hats on building sites. Kaiser would help build the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam.

Kaiser went from construction to shipbuilding, having never built a ship before in his life, during World War II in Richmond, California and Portland, Oregon. They were Liberty Ships, a kind of a floating train car, the most ungainly think you could ever imagine, and he banged them out with abandon.

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