ON AMERICA’S FUTURE
SPEAKER: ERIC A. JOHNSTON
President, Chamber of Commerce of the United States
The confusion attendant upon setting up a great war machine has brought us vexatious problems. The country has heard many discouraging statements. Among other things, it has heard that facts about our production are “sugar-coated”; that American aircraft are inferior to enemy aircraft; that our fighting men are improperly equipped; that the administration of the war effort is hopelessly and irretrievably out of gear; that the average person is failing to do his part in the war effort. We have heard, in short, that we are losing the war on production and battle fronts.
What is the purpose behind negative and discouraging propaganda? The avowed intent is to awaken the American people to the dangers of total war, and to spur them to further effort on the home front.
Let us analyze this objective sanely. Who in this country is not perfectly aware of the fact that we are fighting a bitter and bloody war? Who is not fully aware that the price of victory will be measured in terms of a priceless currency — the lives of young Americans? Who does not realize that it will cost us treasure in astronomical quantities? Who in this country is not awake to the peril confronting our civilization?
Strangely, it is always the other fellow who does not have a total awareness of this total war. I submit that the American people — businessmen, workers, farmers — know we are at war with ruthless and powerful enemies whose design is to enslave us.
I do not, of course, advocate that criticism cease. The right to constructive criticism is the right to free speech, and the right to free speech is a fundamental of our democracy.
Let us not make the dreadful mistake of underrating our might. We are the greatest industrial nation on earth, possessing more of the resources, the technical skill, and the plant capacity to produce the machines of war than all our enemies combined. We are the people who brought this age of mechanics to its present high pitch, and we can wage mechanized war. As a technician in one of our great war plants said, when asked if he could construct an intricate item of war equipment, “Why not? It’s a machine, isn’t it?”
Examine the facts. If I held before you a chart indicating the rise in American war production since Pearl Harbor, you would see a line rising steadily at an angle of 45 degrees. Of course, we do not consider our production good enough. It will never be good enough until winning the war is assured.
What about our planes?
What about the quality of our aircraft as compared with that of the enemy? The quality of our planes has been widely criticized. I happen to know that this unjustified criticism has been a definite blow to the morale of the workers in our aircraft factories and to the morale even of our pilots.
What are the facts about our planes? The facts show that we have been winning air battles at a conservative ratio of three to one. Our planes, built by American technicians, workers, and managers, flown by American pilots, have been blasting three enemy planes from the skies for every American plane downed by the Axis. On the basis of those facts, do you believe that American planes are inferior to Jap or German planes? The Japs don’t; the Nazis don’t.
Our great construction industry deserves special commendation. The construction industry is responsible for the work which is at the foundation of our war effort. As if by magic, military cantonments have sprung up in forest and field; vast munition plants have been erected. Hundreds of thousands of houses have been provided for war workers in those plants.
The automobile industry — mother and master of mass production methods, an industrial empire in itself — alone more than matches the output of our enemies in the production of many war items.
I need only mention the remarkable performance of our shipbuilding industry. All have heard of Henry Kaiser’s amazing feat: building a ship from keel to launching in ten days.
Miracles have been accomplished in months. Certainly there have been muddles and maladjustments in the administration of this vast production effort. One cannot turn the national economy inside out overnight without expecting mistakes to be made. Material and manpower shortages inevitably appear. These are the labor pains of a great nation eagerly and hurriedly transforming itself from a peacetime industrial giant to a Martian colossus. As a nation we have always done everything in a hurry. This is the biggest and fastest job we have ever undertaken.
To any thinking person who prides himself on being objective, the sins of omission and of commission should be apparent. Therefore, the question might well be asked, “Why broadcast these facts to Axis nations whose chieftains can turn them to their own propaganda advantage?”
You may rest assured that the wonderful achievements of Donald Nelson and his associates in the area of production will not be rebroadcast by Goebbels to Axis-dominated nations. We can and do congratulate Mr. Nelson, but downtrodden friends in occupied lands will not hear of his accomplishments.
When the United States declared war against the Axis, it gave the conquered peoples of Europe new hope. They look to American production and the fighting men of the United Nations to release them from Axis oppression. They remember World War I, and they pray that history will repeat itself. Their faith in the future of free men has been rekindled. It is easy to imagine the shadow of despair which must spread through their minds when they hear reports from this land of liberty that we are losing the war. And one may be sure the Nazis use this nation’s negative statements, based on unjustified criticism, for their own propaganda purposes.
One does not hear the Germans say they are losing the war — that their production is not going so well. But think of their difficulties, with underground enemies continually seeking to sabotage their efforts, and with Allied planes continually bombing their factories. One does not hear of any negative psychology among the Russians. They are imbued with an incomparable morale, a never-say-die spirit — and we can see its effect on the German offensive.
The people who win wars are motivated by a positive psychology — a positive psychology which springs from confidence in the nation’s strength and will to win. It is this positive determination which pushes production on the home front and inspires the soldier on the battlefront.
The national psychology of the French was negative. Their defeat was swift and disastrous. The American people can face the facts of this war. But they do not want unjustified criticism of their efforts and unwarranted pessimism designed for the good of their morale. The American people do not have to be told what they are not doing; they want to be told what to do — and they will do it. The American people are willing to pay higher taxes, to work harder, to accept rationing, and to do everything else that will contribute to victory.
We need a positive national psychology for victory. That inspiration can come only from our country’s leaders. We must all talk victory, think victory, and act victory. We must realize our might, know that the most powerful peacetime nation on earth is fast on the way to becoming the most powerful wartime nation on earth. We must know that we shall overwhelm, smash, devastate the enemy.
We realize we are fighting hardened, well-trained, and long-prepared enemies. We do not underestimate them. At the same time, we do not consider them super-beings. And we know the quality of our fighting men is superior to the quality of our enemies’ fighting men. We know the quality and the quantity of our production are superior to the quality and the quantity of Axis production. We know that the combination of better men and better equipment inevitably will spell victory for our fighting forces.
Our enemies have prepared for war for years, we for months. The first phase of fighting a war is preparing for it. The United States is in the first phase, and we are winning the war of preparation. Business is winning the battle of production and fulfilling its wartime responsibility to the nation.
Businessmen must win the peace
When victory is ours, the responsibilities of businessmen will continue. The future of the freedoms for which we are fighting will depend upon our leadership. We must win the peace as well as win the war, facing the future with clear-eyed vision, unblurred by the fogs of selfishness. What will the winning of the peace entail?
We in business know that free enterprise offers the greatest hope for security and opportunity, the greatest hope for permanent peace. A regimented economy finds people poor and leaves them bankrupt. Free enterprise finds people poor and brings them more than they had before. A standard of living which has been the hope, the admiration, and the envy of the other peoples of the world has been developed in America with democratic processes under the economic system of capitalism.
But in spite of the accomplishments of this economic system, there are people who say that this war will end capitalism in the world. They say that after the war the unemployed will roam our streets; that the great new industrial capacity we have erected will be idle and become cobwebbed with disuse; that a huge, strangling national debt will stifle new initiative and development in the great democratic countries of the world; that the horrors and destruction of war will destroy that thing for which we are fighting.
Is this the future of our great, progressive, forwardlooking country? It is not my future. It is not the future of the United States. For our country is not ripe to be “pensioned off,” now or after the war.
Every index of economic growth in democracies shows a steady and predictable rate of advance which has only slightly and temporarily been disturbed, even by war and depression. The people of our country want to continue that growth.
We are perfectly willing to endure the hardships and regimentation of war. We will go further — much further — in these privations than has yet been requested of us, because we know and understand the reasons for regimentation in war. But after this war is over, any politician who attempts to impose regimentation upon our people will be quickly removed from office. We shall want the freedoms of democracy promptly restored after this war.
The millions in uniform and the men and women left behind have the votes to control any future election. And they are going to judge all issues and movements in terms of the shortest possible ending of the war with complete victory.
I know what those boys are thinking today: they are talking about the time when they can get home, and whether they will open up a shoe store, or a gasoline filling station, or a bakery. They want to get home, to go back into business, to become a part of the free enterprise system, to continue democracy. There is no question about the determination of our people to perpetuate this system in the future — provided only they can find jobs at reasonable compensation and with reasonable hope in the future.
Long-range prophecy is always hazardous. Who today can give a complete accurate picture of postwar conditions? But this much is sure: there will be modifications of the capitalistic system, with growth and development. There will be adaptations due to changing conditions and changing times. There will be a leveling-off process, with fewer huge incomes, with a greater number of middle-class citizens, with far less poverty.
The job to be done
There must be freer trade in the world, a more complete understanding of the problems of other countries. There must be leadership by those in business who are endowed to lead. This leadership can result in a steady, upward movement in world trade, in world investment, in world employment. There can be new industrial development in South America, in Asia, in Africa. Nor does industrialization stifle trade. In our own country, we have always had the most trade with those countries that were the most highly industrialized.
There are vast new continents to discover — continents of science, of physics, of medicine. The technological advances forced by war have opened up a whole range of new developments. Our transportation facilities will be completely revolutionized. Our automobiles will have an engine less than half its present size, but with more horsepower. We could today make the car that would normally be turned out in 1960, because of the improvements forced by war. The discoveries in fertilizers, plastics, synthetics, medicine, physics — all are beyond the realm of present-day thinking.
We can bring happiness, greater contentment, and a higher standard of living to our people than was ever dreamed of before. We in business can bring smiles to the faces of our citizens — not the smiles of smugness and self-complacency, but the smiles of selfreliance, the smiles of strength and happiness. We in business can boldly strike forward to explore this new world.
I realize, of course, that problems lie ahead. But nothing is worth while that does not have to be struggled for. The greatest prize requires the keenest battles. Stones in our path? Of course there are. But the war has jolted business out of the beaten paths that are for beaten men. We still have the right in democracies to dream great dreams, to do great deeds — dreams and deeds which the stern self-discipline imposed by the war wall prove and temper.
With such a program, this will be the American century. We are coming of age! We are reaching our most productive period. We can lead the world, and, with the help of God, we will do so.