Lend-Lease Saved the Bacon

by DAVID L. COHN

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LEND-LEASE is a made-in-America device by which the United Nations aid one another with supplies and services. It is a two-way, world-wide trade for war, moving unhampered by tariffs, debts, equal pay for goods delivered, and other factors of peacetime commerce.

This instrument was born of hard necessity in a hard world. Let us consider what it is and how it operates.

In the period 1931-1938 (Manchuria to Munich), when the Second World War was germinating, our contributions to world peace were something less than distinguished. Out of our desire to remain aloof from the world struggle, we retreated behind the cheesecloth shelter of statutes and oratory; but out of our desire for security we enacted cash-and-carry to enable us to arm those who, in fighting for their own security, might also assure ours. We concluded that we might have 1914-1916 again, but we should never again experience 1917-1918.

War came. Britain and France poured their gold into our markets. But since our productive capacity for building tanks, planes, and other munitions was small, the Allies built the plants with their money and then paid through the nose for the things they produced. Here — at the other fellow’s expense — we got those early lessons in the mass production of planes which were to be invaluable to us in the days to come.

By the spring of 1940, France was out of the war. Britain stood alone against a Germany and an Italy at the peak of their might, while Japan moved ominously in the East. By 1941, Britain had little money left to spend. Without help from us she could not continue the war. What should we do?

Our alternatives were: (a) To enter the war. This we would not do. (b) To lend Britain the money to keep her in the war. This we could not do because the Johnson Act forbade us to lend money to countries whose debts to us were in default. (c) To permit Britain, China, and others who were fighting the Axis, to perish. This we dared not do.

The solution of our dilemma was the LendLease Act, passed by Congress in March, 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor. Thirty-one Senators (nearly one third of the Senate) and seventy-one Representatives voted against it. Significantly, it is entitled “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States. ” By statute we said to the world that the defeat of the Axis was essential to our security; we must, therefore, aid the nations fighting or threatened by the Axis; but since they could not pay for goods furnished them by the United States, dollar exchange would be ruled out and things needed would be leased or lent to them.

But the Lend-Lease agreements stipulate that the benefits to the United States in return for aid under the Act “shall not be such as to burden commerce between the two countries, but to promote mutually advantageous economic relations between them and the betterment of world-wide economic relations.”

By this provision the United States declares its intention to avoid the disastrous political and economic mistakes of international debt experience during the twenties, and removes a great obstacle to the peace and economic wellbeing of the post-war world. The wisdom of Lend-Lease is so self-evident that by the Gallup Poll of January 27, 1943, some 82 per cent of the voters questioned were in favor of it. It is nonetheless significant that in this radio-obsessed, newspaper-intoxicated country approximately one fourth of the voters questioned knew little about Lend-Lease.

Lend-Lease is rooted in stark necessity, washed clean of moralistic sentiments, and devoid of muddleheaded confusion. It saves us from wreaking upon the world (and ourselves) that peculiarly pervasive kind of harm which is frequently wrought by “good” men. Here there is no charity and no suggestion of charity. We pay for what we get, and others pay for what they get. In addition, the provision for reciprocal aid permits each of the United Nations to aid the others, closes the mouths of demagogues who might protest that we are acting as an international Santa Claus, and makes the anti-Axis group an effective, rounded coalition engaged in the task of destroying the common enemy. And no nation need hang its head in shame, or fear post-war retributions, because equality of sacrifice is assumed.

All this is to the good. But, for whatever it may be worth in the future, it is salutary to note that prior to Pearl Harbor the mighty United States officially recognized by statute that it was largely relying for its defense not upon its own high heart and strong arm but upon the high hearts and strong arms of Chinese, Poles, Greeks, Frenchmen, Serbs, Maltese, Indians, Dutchmen, Englishmen, New Zealanders, South Africans, Russians, Canadians, and Australians.

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Lend-Lease is operative not only between the United States and other members of the United Nations but also between the other members. Until the spring of 1942, for example, Great Britain, with one third of our population and industrial capacity, was producing more armaments than we were, and up to the end of 1942 had sent more weapons overseas to fighting fronts than we had, besides supplying most of the arms required in the British Isles. She sent Russia more than 2600 tanks and more than 2000 planes. In the meantime Russian armies, engaging in the most titanic battles of the war and killing more Germans than all the rest of the United Nations combined, had been armed chiefly with Russian-made weapons.

Consequently, while American supplies are enormously important and in some cases decisive, our allies are not relying solely upon us, nor are our supplies the only stream that is flowing into the great coalition pool. Canada, for instance, is furnishing the United Kingdom with over one billion dollars’ worth of equipment without payment, which on the scale of our population is equivalent to twelve billion dollars’ worth of American materials.

We are fairly familiar with the fact of huge supplies going from this country to the United Nations, but we are less familiar with the reciprocal aid being given us by others. Let us see what a small country — New Zealand is doing for us.

All the meats, vegetables, eggs, fresh fruits, butter, and cheese eaten by our troops in New Zealand are furnished us without charge under Lend-Lease, while the government has just taken over 150,000 acres of land to be put into truck gardening. Last fall our soldiers got so many eggs that New Zealanders were reduced to eating three eggs per person per week for several months. Last August after a severe earthquake had hit Wellington (it was wintertime there) damage was left unrepaired and rubble remained in the streets for weeks because the New Zealand government refused to release workers employed on construction projects for our forces. Two large hospitals and many hotels have been requisitioned for American troops, and American servicemen are transported free of charge on New Zealand railroads. New Zealand, incidentally, is in the war up to the hilt; with a population of only 1,640,000 she has made a heavy contribution of manpower to the war. Half the men in the age bracket sixteen to sixty are under arms.

Australia began to aid us at Bataan when she sent shiploads of food to our beleaguered forces. Some of these shipments got through and helped to prolong resistance. Australians are the world’s biggest meat eaters, but when our ships began to discharge thousands of American soldiers in Australia, the habits of the civilian population changed radically. They now eat beef when they can get it. Australia supplies the greater part of the food rations of our troops quartered there, and Australians are going short of many things in order to do it.

They have little wrapping paper and almost no canned goods; they get ten cigarettes a day when they are available; pleasure driving is not permitted; no civilian can travel on the railroads across state boundaries without a war necessity permit. Australians have stopped practically all new building construction in order to free materials for Americans; they erect new hospitals for us or turn over old ones; they repair our mechanical equipment; they perform many of the innumerable services essential to our fighting machine in Australia. In this manner Australia not only returns what she receives from us under Lend-Lease but releases an enormous quantity of shipping that would otherwise be supplying our armed forces over a water route ten thousand miles long.

The American forces in New Caledonia are receiving reciprocal aid from the Fighting French; South Africa supplies naval aid; India manufactures uniforms for our troops; Belgium aids us in the Congo; China ships us raw materials. The largest amount of reciprocal aid that we have received, however, has come from Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

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Lend-Lease aid for our forces in the British Isles actually begins before the troops leave American ports; for thousands of our men, and mountains of supplies, bound for Britain are carried in British ships convoyed by the British Navy. In many parts of the world, United States warships and merchant ships in British ports are provided with repairs, fuel, services, and supplies without payment by us.

In Britain itself all accommodations and facilities for our troops are furnished without dollar payment on our part. So great is the task of housing our men that two thirds of all the British Army and civilian labor force available for military construction has been engaged in building barracks, airfields, hospitals, supply depots, roads, and other facilities for us. The cost to Britain is $240,000 a week in wages for civilian workers in the direct employ of our forces. In addition, many existing facilities have been turned over to us, while the maintenance costs of our airfields alone run into tens of millions of dollars and these are paid by Britain. She estimates that the total cost to the British Treasury of new construction for United States forces in Britain is in excess of half a billion dollars. The British government also pays the transportation cost of moving American soldiers within the British Isles.

British-made arms requested by our forces are supplied without cost as mutual aid. In addition to several hundred Spitfire planes and many field guns and howitzers, Britain has provided us with 1,450,000 square yards of portable airfield runways and is furnishing several million more. We have received such supplies as 15,000 bombs ranging from 250-pound incendiaries to 2000-pound blockbusters; 70,000 rounds of 6-inch shells; millions of rounds of small-arms ammunition; more than 250,000 anti-tank mines; electric batteries at the rate of 500,000 a month; 500,000 hand grenades; and more than 1000 parachutes. Several score new hospitals of semipermanent construction with a bed capacity of 89,000 have been provided.

Supplies other than construction materials furnished to our forces from May to November, 1942, would have taken 1,200,000 ship-tons if transported from the United States. This is more than the tonnage of supplies we sent to our own forces from the United States during that period.

Most of our troops in the British Isles receive American Army food rations, but these are supplemented from the limited British food stocks by fresh vegetables, tea, chocolate, sugar, cereals, and other items. Almost all the bread for our soldiers is made from British flour under reciprocal Lend-Lease. Already providing us with large quantities of food, the British have agreed to supply us in 1943 with 290,000,000 pounds of edibles, including flour, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, mixed rations, syrup, jam, and salt. Canteen supplies are also lend-leased by the British — with the exception of cigarettes, because our men prefer the brands they smoked at home.

It is not yet possible to estimate how great such savings will be throughout the course of the war. We do know, however, that in the First World War the United States War Department alone spent, more that two billion dollars in Great Britain and France for supplies and services for our troops that are now being provided as reciprocal aid.

Aid from Britain, moreover, has played a part even in our home defense. Soon after Pearl Harbor, she rushed barrage balloons to our West Coast for defense against possible Japanese attack. British anti-aircraft guns are ranged alongside our own in a number of our cities and at the Panama Canal. British-built corvettes and other small craft, manned by American crews, have assisted us in anti-submarine warfare off the Atlantic Coast.

Perhaps Britain’s most precious possession, and one which she shares freely with us by way of reciprocal aid, is the knowledge that she bought with blood in battles all around the earth; the lessons that she learned in combat on land, at sea, and in the air; the instruments she worked out when she faced Germany alone. She had been at war for twenty-six months before we entered the struggle; and since she faced an incomparably stronger enemy, she owed her survival as much to her skill as to her courage. What she has learned — the secret scientific instruments born of her knowledge, and the manner in which they function — may not be stated specifically.

But Great Britain has furnished us with specifications for her system of aircraft detection developed during a long period of bitter and widespread air warfare, together with much apparatus. In addition there is a constant exchange of full information on the development of new and highly secret weapons; the Office of Scientific Research and Development in Washington and its counterpart in London mobilize for mutual aid hundreds of American and British scientists and inventors whose findings are freely pooled. Thus through Lend-Lease the entire resources, intellectual and material, of both Britain and the United States are brought to bear against the Axis.

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The ultimate objective of Lend-Lease is the destruction of the common enemy. Let us see it at work on the battlefield. Last year Britain’s Eighth Army was chiefly equipped with British-made weapons for its drive from Egypt across Libya. But the 1000 planes, the 500 medium tanks, and the many anti-tank guns that we exported to the British in Egypt, gave the United Nations forces superiority in fire power, air power, and armor. The General Sherman tanks, moreover, which proved so successful in this campaign, were jointly designed by British and American experts using the lessons they had learned in earlier battles.

Shortly after the drive from Egypt was launched, British and American forces started their North African campaign. Great Britain provided two thirds of the warships and transports used in the original landing operations. Sixty per cent of the ground forces were American, and half the air forces. Most of the landing craft were American-built, but some had been lend-leased to Britain and were manned by British crews. On the other hand, American pilots flew 160 Spitfires. Britain also provided 100 miles of port aide airfield runways, 130 reconnaissance boats, four complete 1000-bed hospitals, medical supplies for 100,000 men, and enough 25-pounders to equip one United States division.

In terms of dollars expended, Lend-Lease has cost the United States from its inception in March, 1941, to January 1, 1943, something more than eight and one quarter billion dollars, minus the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of supplies and services which we have received from others under reciprocal aid. It is probable that we shall deliver more goods to others than they will deliver to us. This is inevitable since we have the world’s largest and only bomb-free industry among the United Nations, as well as a vast agriculture.

But other countries — notably Great Britain, Russia, and China — were fighting our common enemies long before we joined them on the battlefield. If we have expended more dollars than they have, they have spilled more blood; if we shall put large armies into the field, they already have large armies in the field and, to the extent of their manpower, will match our contributions of men. Who shall say what the Russian victories over Germany are “worth” to the United States in terms of Lend-Lease dollars? Or Chinese resistance against Japan? Or the British naval and merchant marine and air forces?

It is to our credit that we shall never attempt such an accounting; the figures will be totted up solely for internal statistical purposes. It is enough that Lend-Lease has saved and will save thousands of American lives.

If Lend-Lease is an example of ingenious and intelligent coöperation for war, its basic assumptions must underlie a stable peace. These are that no country, however rich, is actually self-contained; that no country, however strong, can stand alone against a coalition of powerful enemies; that all countries are interdependent; that each is enriched by economic collaboration with the others; that real wealth is not money, but goods and services. But only time will tell whether we are intelligent enough to bring to the peace and put into practice the assumptions upon which we have erected one of the most powerful weapons of a war of coalition, among more than a score of diverse nations ranged around the world.