The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
ON THE WORLD TODAY
THE main news out of Washington for the duration will concern jurisdictional disputes. These arise from inadequate overall organization and from insufficient definition of function.
Outstanding is the military versus civilian conflict. The military for the time being have had to yield to civilian supervisors of war production. That was the intent of the President’s order setting up the War Production Board last year. But the military kept control as a result of Mr. Nelson’s failure to assert himself. The consequence was that scheduling of war production — that is, the synchronization of production of component parts of an end product-went somewhat awry.
Mr. Nelson at last put production under the supervision of Charles E. Wilson. The military vented their indignation by hinting that probably the two Under Secretaries might resign. They are Robert P. Patterson and James V. Forrestal, who are responsible for procurement of supplies in the Army and the Navy, respectively. But lately the threat has died down. Perhaps one reason is that the military are now facing criticism on questions other than on those relating to production.
Take the military analysis of our first combat experience with the Germans. The unfortunate beginning in Tunisia was officially put down to the “greenness” of our troops. But this was not sufficient for most of the commentators.
In Tunisia we had no fighter planes equal to the German planes, our anti-tank artillery only made dents in the armor of the big German tanks, and our mortars were far inferior to Hitler’s. Senator Bankhead expressed the charge in more general terms by saying that “our soldiers were at great disadvantage and thousands lost their lives because of the lack of adequate and effective war equipment.”
What ails the Ordnance Department?
Army Ordnance is headed by the energetic and enterprising General Levin H. Campbell, Jr. It is one of the departments under the equally energetic command of Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, head of the Army’s Services of Supply. Under Secretary Patterson is in titular authority over SOS’s relations with the war factories through WPB. There is one thing that none of these three can tolerate. That is criticism of Army equipment.
Remember the case made against the General Grant tank a year ago? Criticism of this tank was rebutted on every side. Yet the General Grant was so deficient that it had to be discarded. Now the same blanket denial is made to the fresh charges. In reply to Senator Bankhead, General Somervell says, “We have got the best equipment in the world.”
The General may be right. But we require more than generalizations. About our tanks, for instance, the American people have been left wondering whether we have anything to touch the new Nazi monster Mark VI which rolled over our Tunisian forces. This tank is a 56-tonner, with armor 4 inches thick, two heavy machine guns, and an 88-millimeter gun that in itself weighs a ton and a half. We have nothing like this rolling fortress in action. But our new General Sherman tanks are more maneuverable, and they mount a better gun. The British say that this tank, which weighs 33 tons, is the world’s best. They are equally enthusiastic about our mortars. Certainly the authorities ought to deal with the current charges factually and intelligently.
A similar explanation ought to be made about our aircraft. To be sure, in only two classes, fighters and heavy bombers, are American aircraft deficient. Unfortunately these types are the most important so far as the European front is concerned. American fighter planes have lagged behind British and German in speed, altitude performance, armament, and armor. Our bombers carry a disappointingly small bomb load.
We learn the hard way
This is a shocking commentary on our stubbornness. Here we had the benefit of time while others were fighting; of their combat experience; of their offers of better models. Yet we chose for the most part to go our own way. The price undoubtedly is a lengthening of the war, for the conviction is growing in Washington that Nazi Germany could be brought speedily to her knees by continuous air bombardment.
For weeks a remarkable series of photographs has been on exhibit at various centers of the Capital showing the awful effects of RAF bombing in German industrial centers. It is obvious that Germany is already punch-drunk from the huge RAF raids on Cologne, Bremen, Mainz, and other cities. She must be allowed no time to recover. We should at once pool our bomber resources with Britain’s for an unremitting attack on German cities while the Germans are reeling from demoralization at home and disaster in Russia.
The size of our army
The case for the 8,000,000-man army is encountering more and more criticism in and out of Congress. Hitherto military men and the President have contended that the size of the army is purely a military problem. Now they have been sharply challenged to justify “irrevocable” decisions which in reality are issues in high state and not military policy.
Soldiers for peace
The military case turns out to rest upon a comparison between the divisions at our disposal and the divisions under the Axis. And the President has been sold on a big army because he has been convinced that only with a big army can he control the peace. Both propositions are arguable.
The implication that a nation’s total effectiveness either in waging war or in controlling a peace is measured primarily by the number of men it can put into uniform might have been admissible in a simpler age. But this is a total war. It is also a mechanized war. If the British had created a strong rather than a large army, they would today have been stronger vis-à-vis Germany.
The same holds true for America. It is a fact admitting now of no dispute that in our infatuation for a mass army we have neglected our granary. Instead of increases in agricultural production this year of 7 per cent over 1942 and 37 per cent above the average, as planned by the Department of Agriculture to meet food requirements, such production in 1943 is likely to show a drop of perhaps 20 per cent, in the opinion of 78 per cent of 2780 county agents throughout the nation.
Without food all our ships and planes and tanks and soldiers are worthless. Without food all our plans for controlling the peace are equally useless. A fat economy back of him will make our President’s word far more decisive than a fat army.
Congress challenges directives
The animus exhibited in Congress toward War Manpower Commissioner McNutt and Food Administrator Wickard might have been mitigated somewhat if those officials had been approved by the Senate. The disposition now is to use the power of the purse to force the resignation of both officials. In the case of the War Manpower Commission, not only has money been withheld, but the Senate has voted for Senate confirmation of all WMC officials receiving $4500 or more.
In recent years similar moves in the Senate to cover other executive offices have been rejected in the jealous House. Perhaps the House will restrain the Senate in the new move to make all appointments carrying $4500 or over subject to Senate ratification. Such a move is expressed in the McKellar bill.
Senator McKellar, of Tennessee, has never forgiven the Administration for putting the Tennessee Valley Authority outside the spoils system. The Senator has not been able to name a single official of the TVA. As a result he takes every occasion to curb the executive power of appointment.
Senator McKellar’s bill would virtually give the Senate the power of appointment. Senator Hatch says that the measure would wreck the merit system in favor of the spoils system. It certainly would. The wonder is that so many Senators are in favor of it. The newspapers have denounced the measure as a patronage grab pure and simple.
But it would be a mistake so to castigate those Senators who are honestly alarmed over the trend of executive government. They envision a Federal establishment bloated beyond the point of efficiency and filled with appointees chosen without regard to merit. The remedy lies in subjecting policy makers of the highest rank to Senatorial ratification. That is implicit in the Constitution, Article 11, Section 2, and it could be made explicit by law. Undoubtedly the McKellar bill will be toned down considerably prior to passage.
Not content with showing more vigor in supervising the administration of the war effort, Congress is taking an interest also in post-war arrangements. An informal committee to study procedures and plans has been meeting with Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles. It appears to be united only upon its antipathy to negotiating an “international new deal” on the Wallace model.
Symptomatic of the attitude of Congress was the brusque refusal of the House Appropriations Committee to continue funds for the National Resources Planning Board. Liquidation of this board gives us a premonition of a break between the executive and the legislative branch on postwar national policy.
Assertion of Congressional independence comes more slowly in the Ways and Means Committee. But the attitude taken by the Treasury toward the Ruml Plan has disturbed a strong minority of that committee. Members already are irritated over the Administration’s order setting $25,000 after taxes as a top for salaries. They are now impatient with the Treasury’s astigmatism over the Ruml Plan.
Some form of pay-as-you-go taxation is inevitable. Yet the Treasury continues disingenuously to distort the meaning of the Ruml Plan. With supreme disregard for equality before the law, the suggestion has been made that the plan should apply only to the lower brackets. There is a constant stress on assets that the Treasury would sacrifice. With national income rising, there would be no loss to the Treasury. But harping upon a lost asset is the Treasury’s way of raising more than one year’s taxes in one year. The Treasury, in other words, would agree to a pay-as-you-go tax plus a contribution for the “lost” year.
THE MOOD OF THE CAPITAL
The mood of the capital is a troubled sense that the pulling and pushing between the Executive and Congress may be having far-reaching consequences in our social and political organization. The cost may be high in a retarded war effort — how high nobody knows.
The failure of the coördinate branches of government to pull together inhibits governmental policy-making in such great problems as the battle against inflation. As a result, the danger of inflation has failed to alarm the American people as it would have done if a lead had been given by a government acting as a unit. Government conflict in wartime will progressively whittle down our national solidarity if it is not soon resolved.