The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


THERE has been considerable restiveness on the civilian side of government over the slow pace of demobilization. The civilian contention is that the Army, by hoarding men, is aggravating the reconversion crisis. With the end of the war in the Far East, millions of men will be thrown out of their jobs; millions more will be unable to get jobs when they step out of uniform. The difficulty then will be not lack of manpower, but widespread unemployment.

Unemployment would be ironical at a time when all consumers’ goods are in short supply. Yet industrial payrolls cannot be re-created overnight. Neither can industrial inventories be manipulated at short notice. President Truman’s five-point directive to Chairman J. A. Krug of the War Production Board emphasized the seriousness of the situation.

The speed of reconversion depends on the availability of raw materials. Industry, which doubtless is ready with blueprints, needs to have on hand the materials for fabrication. However, the raw materials are simply not there. Take the building industry. As the Mead Committee pointed out, building operations throughout the country are being delayed for want of lumber. And the lumber is unavailable for want of manpower.

The building industry is not alone in its demand for more manpower to put raw materials at the disposal of manufacturing industry. The railroads are in a worse plight. No segment of industry has done a greater job in this war than the railroads. Their achievement has been miraculous. Their safety record is likewise miraculous when one considers that it has been impossible to keep up repairs. Now they say they are near the breaking point.

Another bottleneck of reconversion is the steel industry. The reconversion program calls for 350,000 tons of sheet steel for reconverted industry by the end of the year. The steel is required for automobiles, refrigerators, and the like. The program cannot be met.

Coal or anarchy

The thing which liberated Europe needs most is coal. For lack of coal, utilities cannot operate, mills cannot turn available raw cotton into clothing, railroads cannot move desperately needed foodstuffs from rural areas to urban centers. Populations are threatened with decimation this winter.

There is an awareness of this situation in Washington, but little progress has been made toward remedying it. A coal commission representing all nations has reported the need. The Army has suggested the creation of an international coal corporation which would trade Ruhr coal for the surplus foodstuffs of, say, Denmark. But Britain seems to be laggard in taking up the idea.

Europe can help herself, but, no matter how much she does, aid is still needed from America. Harold Ickes, as Solid Fuels Administrator, has suggested that America’s contribution be 6,000,000 tons of coal for the remainder of the year. This is not so much as it sounds. The United States produced 75,000,000 tons last year. This year we shall have 35,000,000 tons less. But even with the loss of another 6,000,000 tons, we shall be warmer than any other people, and our industry will not suffer.

The stakes, in Mr. Ickes’s words, are “Coal or Anarchy,” and nobody with any knowledge of the problem thinks he exaggerates.

Railroad jam

Blame for the jam on the railroads was first put on the railroads, then on the Office of Defense Transportation, and finally on the Army. It is asserted that the Army did not give adequate notice of its redeployment program and that it subsequently stepped up the original schedule rate of troop movements without prior consultation with the ODT.

Judging from their testimony in Congress, Army officers showed little realization that the lack of adequate liaison with the railroads was creating a serious tie-up of essential freight. The situation is the more extraordinary, not only because of the existence of the Office of Defense Transportation, but because the American Association of Railroads itself maintains a Washington office in the sprawling Pentagon Building.

Truman’s new brooms

Most of President Truman’s Cabinet appointees are engaged in cleaning house prior to dealing with policy. Perhaps the biggest tasks in this respect are those of Secretaries Anderson and Schwellenbach. Anderson in the Department of Agriculture found that letters would get attended to only after a tenday delay. He now has adopted a new system which will assure prompt attention to mail.

Secretary Schwellenbach found much the same procrastination in the Department of Labor. He has laid down a precedent-shattering principle in the conduct of his Department: that the Secretary of Labor ought to be the advocate in the government of all laboring people, and not merely of those organized into unions. The same principle might well be followed by Secretary Anderson.

In the Roosevelt administration both departments were under the thumbs of special interests: Agriculture, of organized agriculture; Labor, of organized labor. An example is a pernicious bill passed in the closing session of the House and sent on to the President. This bill would permit loans to be made on tobacco products far above their parity prices. Here is an entering wedge for other farm producers. It was promoted by the interested legislators with the aid and connivance of the Department of Agriculture.

The Truman jaw

Few Senators realized that the President had either the knowledge or the firmness that he has displayed in office. They are searching back in their memories for evidence of the former. One Senator recalls a speech by Mr. Truman that showed his intimacy with the ramifications of the railroad problem. Another remembers that when he could not make a speech on civil aeronautics, he asked “Harry” to substitute for him, and that Truman did better than he could have done.

As for the President’s firmness, the Truman Committee should have prepared the people for it. There was never a dissenting vote on that committee. Mr. Truman handled the committee with a velvet glove, but the members now realize there was an iron hand underneath, and put their unanimity down to the combination.

It is now known that it was Mr. Roosevelt who selected Truman for this position. Several proposals of committees to investigate the war effort had been made. Of them all, the Truman proposals got the President’s blessing and, because of that, were given the right of way in Congress. Roosevelt felt that Truman would be the most helpful and the least obstructive committee chairman. So he proved. His example has encouraged Senator Mead to turn in a performance for which the public can be equally grateful.

The Truman statesmanship was particularly exemplified in the surrender ultimatum to Japan and in the last-minute intervention in the Senate debate on the United-Nations Charter.

The ultimatum was prepared and issued without benefit of the State Department. The revelation shows the condition in which the State Department was left when the Truman party went to Potsdam. The current joke was that the department was “fiddling while Byrnes roams.”

Secretary Byrnes is closer to President Truman than any other recent head of the State Department has been to his chief. They think alike. Their intervention in the Senate debate on the United Nations Charter was an inspiration.

The Senate voted virtually unanimously for the Charter, even though it had knowledge at the last minute from the President that he would ask both houses of Congress to approve by a simple majority vote the arrangements by which the United States would provide its quota of armed forces to the United Nations organization.


The mood of the Capital is serious. Now the pressure is on for a speed-up in both demobilization and reconversion. It is felt, in addition, that our thinking must be recast on all other problems of post-war reconstruction.

President Truman, with the hope of promoting the idea of a world republic, is leading the way in accenting universalism instead of internationalism: the United States wants the nations of the earth banded together according to one set of international rules applicable to all.

Post-war military policy will certainly have to be reoriented. Instead of resting on military service, it is felt that security must rest on technological research and military intelligence. How to harness the energy of the atom to the economic and political benefit of mankind has suddenly captured the imagination of everybody.