At its best, Herman’s book is a rousing tribute to the magnificently creative chaos of the U.S. economy. Centered on the tale of two key industrialists, William Knudsen and Henry Kaiser, Herman traces the economic mobilization from its first hesitant steps in the late 1930s to the behemoth of 1945 through the rarest of all U.S. wartime experiences: a successful demobilization and return to peacetime.
Beginning with Knudsen, Herman shows how the uneducated but fiercely determined and practical Danish immigrant worked his way from the factory floor to the chairmanship of General Motors. After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called him to service in 1941, Knudsen dealt with failing munitions production by contacting major corporation heads and asking for volunteers in his parceling out of tasks. Almost comically uncomplicated in its approach, the method worked for one simple reason.
Military readers will quickly recognize this approach as a form of objective or outcome-based management. Knudsen was specifying what to produce, not how. Because he allowed producers to self-identify what they were (and, equally important, were not) willing to make and then left them to sort out the details, they were best able to harness their available resources and methods.
Henry Kaiser’s story captures this completely. Drawing on prewar construction-industry experience, Kaiser set up multiple shipyards (the text focuses on those in Richmond, California; and Portland, Oregon) and challenged them to out-produce each other. By focusing more on their products than on methodology, each yard innovated and adapted until collectively they arrived at the best way to produce a Liberty ship. Indeed, when that program began in 1940, each ship took nearly a year (355 days) and 1.5 million working hours to build. By 1943 this had been reduced to approximately 41 days and less than 500,000 hours.
As Herman explains, this and many more equally inconceivable increases in production were achieved by harnessing preexisting channels and the desire for profit. It was U.S. business harnessed to the purpose of victory, and at Herman’s best, this story will make any American proud.
Yet it is not a tale without flaws. While presented in part as an economic history, the basic financial aspect of the analysis sometimes falls short. Much of what Herman describes is not a free market but rather the negotiation of a monopsony (a single large buyer, the government) with a collection of oligopolies (small groups of large producers, the major industrial firms). And he invokes Scottish economist Adam Smith’s metaphor of a butcher and baker to illustrate how working for oneself can benefit society as a whole, but this image is not really applicable to Ford or General Motors. Yet Herman makes such disingenuous comparisons throughout the book. This is a story of the success of capitalism and the economies of scale in mass production, but it is not the triumph of purely competitive markets, as the author sometimes suggests.
He also omits contributions from the public sector. It is worth remembering that the battleships salvaged from Pearl Harbor were rebuilt not in private shipyards, but in the Bremerton Navy Yard. The division of tasks between government and the commercial sector is no less a victory of production than the mobilization of private industry. For as Herman notes, only Boeing can produce a B-29, but only the U.S. government can create the Manhattan Project.
Lastly, a small but steady anti-union and anti–New Deal streak runs throughout the book, culminating in an anti-Keynesian conclusion that is simplistic almost to vulgarity. Given Herman’s background with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, this editorial slant is not unexpected, but it does detract from the book’s tenor. Readers familiar with Paul Koistinen’s Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940–1945 will contrast his nuanced and measured approach with Herman’s sometimes oversimplified take. Overall, though, this is a thoroughly readable and enjoyable popular history of U.S. industrial mobilization during World War II. The history makes for quite an adventure, but, as noted, the economic analysis has limits. The book must be read with those in mind.
War Is Not Just for Heroes: World War II Dispatches and Letters of U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent Claude R. “Red” Canup
Linda M. Canup Keaton-Lima, ed. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press 2012. 264 pp. Illus. Bibliog. Index. $29.95.
Reviewed by Colonel Dick Camp, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Immediately after the United States entered World War II, Lieutenant General Thomas A. Holcomb, Commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the establishment of the Division of Public Information and chose World War I hero Brigadier General Robert L. Denig to head the organization. Denig immediately embarked on a nationwide advertising campaign to attract experienced civilian reporters to join the fledging organization, nicknamed “Denig’s Demons.”
One of those who answered the call was 33-year-old small-town newsman and radio broadcaster Claude Richard “Red” Canup.
He was selected and soon on his way to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Upon graduation, he was assigned as a combat correspondent to Marine Air Group 45 (MAG-45) and deployed overseas. There he covered the amphibious assault of Okinawa, the last major campaign of the war, and the occupation of Japan.
During that time, Canup wrote hundreds of eyewitness dispatches, stories, and articles that put a human face on the war for newspaper consumption in the United States. “My deepest satisfaction was in helping see to it that there were no unknown Marines,” he wrote in describing his news releases. “The Joe Blow stories seemed to count most with the men and their families.”
Canup was a meticulous record keeper. He kept carbon copies of all his wartime dispatches and in later years taped highlights of his experiences. His daughter, Dr. Linda M. Canup Keaton-Lima, has now taken those unrecorded accounts and turned them into a unique record of its own. Her book, War Is Not Just for Heroes , is the story of one man’s attempt to document the service and sacrifice of ordinary Americans during war.
Filled with excerpts from Canup’s dispatches, letters he wrote home, and oral accounts from his tapes, the book provides a rare insight into the fraternity of Marine combat correspondents, a select group that included Pulitzer Prize–winner Jim Lucas, Washington Post reporters Sam Stavisky and Alfred Lewis, Cyril “Cy” O’Brian, whose hundreds of stories of the fighting on Guam and Iwo Jima bore the dateline Somewhere in the Pacific , and dozens of others who were chosen to record the story of America’s Marines at war.
Today’s combat correspondents are still active providing accounts of Marines at war—and sharing the dangers of combat. For example, 25-year-old Corporal Aaron Mankin was severely burned in Iraq when the vehicle in which he was riding hit an improvised explosive device. He became the subject a 2007 ABC special about treatment and recovery.
In World War II, Canup covered air combat, including dogfights, aerial victories, and pilots’ debriefs. His daughter combed through all his records, offering to the contemporary reader eyewitness accounts of the day-to-day activities of young men at war. One chapter describes the Japanese airborne suicide attack on Okinawa’s Yontan airfield. Canup’s absorbing report is the only first-person description of that incident that I have had the pleasure of reading. In all, the book makes a fine contribution to the literature and history of on-the-scene war reporting and writing.
The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows
Brian Castner. New York: Doubleday, 2012. 238 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by Charity E. Winters
Brian Castner wants you to know he is crazy, but was not always. In this book, he chronicles eight intense years as an Air Force officer, during which he deployed twice to Iraq as the commander of an explosive-ordnance-disposal (EOD) unit. His tale is not unfamiliar—a young, optimistic man goes off to war and returns disillusioned and traumatized. What sets Castner’s story apart is his determination to understand the changes he experienced and find the strength to carry on.
Castner deployed to Iraq in support of Army ground combat operations in January 2005 and again in May 2006. He earned the Bronze Star on his second deployment. The book’s title refers to the path taken by a lone Kevlar-protected EOD technician to reach a bomb he’s been asked to disarm; the phrase also serves as a metaphor for the isolation Castner experienced upon returning home. He left combat only to discover that he could not leave the war behind.
The author portrays himself at first as a motivated young officer and engineer passionate about his team and its mission. But as the years and tours pile up, the war takes its toll on him. Castner sees combat in all its horror and madness. After leaving active duty, he runs a gauntlet of mental-health professionals who diagnose him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and blast-induced memory loss.
The history is well presented, creating a vivid picture of time and place. The book bleeds loss and grief. After Castner’s combat experiences, his return to the mundane comforts of home is jarring. In combat he fought a flesh-and-blood enemy; back home he found himself still fighting, this time an internal struggle against a state of being Castner calls “the Crazy.” In painful detail he describes living in a physical and mental state of constant hyper-alertness and at times anxiousness to the point of physical illness. He describes superimposing his wartime experiences onto his home life. One poignant vignette tells of dressing his seven-year-old son in the uniform of a hockey goalie while imagining he’s girding the boy against explosives to take the long walk.
Page after page, the misery never lets up. The acceleration of emotions keeps the story moving, providing cohesion to a narrative that jumps forward and backward in time, encompassing vast personal and geographic distances, a technique that at times is maddeningly vague. As Castner tells it, no one close to him seemed equipped to handle his experiences. At a low point in the story, his wife begs him to cheat on her so she can feel free to divorce him. In his search for meaning and relief, he runs almost daily, attends counseling, and starts to identify with Eastern mysticism, a change that is never fully explored or explained.
Near the end, the narrative takes an abrupt turn when Castner meets a counselor who offers a different explanation for his problems. She tells him he does not have PTSD. Perplexed and angry, he counters, “Then what’s wrong with me?” She laughs and replies, “You’re human.” What he has been experiencing, she seems to being saying, is natural for someone who has lived through combat.
In most ways this is a simplistic solution for a veteran, but it worked for Castner. At last he was able to make some sense of what he had been enduring since his return.
Because I also am a combat veteran, this book had me hooked from the first chapter. I served six years as an Air Force Security Forces Officer and deployed to Iraq three times. Like Castner I found the transition into a new profession and civilian life challenging but not insurmountable. I became a physical therapist and have worked with wounded and disabled veterans.
Castner’s story, like those of many others I have encountered, was compelling because of the author’s determination to come to terms with what afflicted him. Castner found solace, but his experience should not be broadened to suggest that thousands of men and women suffering from combat-related stress can find peace using the same methods. Still, the book can be of value for anyone who has gone to war or, more important, knows someone who has.
A Man and His Ship
Steven Ujifusa. 448 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. $29.99.
Reviewed by Don Preul
When I was a child in 1964, our family drove to the heart of New York City to welcome my grandparents at the Norddeutscher Lloyd line pier along the Hudson River. They had sailed from Germany to attend my brother’s high school graduation. I remember standing on the pier, awestruck by the sheer size of the gigantic luxury passenger liner Berlin . The dock bustled with excitement and cheering as people greeted those disembarking from the huge black-and-white ocean liner. One of the master designers of these great ships was William Gibbs, the subject, along with the SS United States , of Steven Ujifusa’s book A Man and His Ship .
Launched on 23 June 1951, she remains the fastest luxury passenger liner ever to cross the Atlantic in both directions. On her maiden voyage eastbound to England, she averaged 35.59 knots, and on her return sail she broke the westbound record by averaging 34.51 knots and thereby winning the Blue Riband trophy. This award was officially established in 1935 and was given to the ship that would average the fastest speed westbound across the Atlantic from Great Britain to New York City. Starting in 1839, an unofficial honor had been bestowed on a ship for setting this coveted speed record. Thirty-five oceangoing liners have had the distinction of holding the title of a Blue Riband winner.
In the mid-19th century, passenger ships became much larger and faster, and by the turn of the century, the “Golden Age” of passenger liners, they were reaching lengths up to 1,000 feet and catering to the wealthiest of clients. They included the Titanic , Mauretania , Bremen , Normandie , and finally the last of the great liners, the United States . Once the jet plane was put into passenger service across the oceans, the liner became too slow and costly to operate. As a result, the great ships faded into history. Today such ships are built for fun and enjoyment, used for vacation and not really a means of transportation.
As early as age six, Gibbs had loved to draw and design ships. That childhood passion led him to become if not the premier, then certainly one of the most noteworthy naval architects of all time. His interest in the grandest of vessels, the passenger ocean liner, would eventually result in his designing the fastest and most luxurious such ships to date.
William and his brother Frederick became partners in 1922, forming Gibbs Brothers Co. and converting the captured German ocean liner Vaterland into the newly named Leviathan . In 1929 the brothers joined with yacht designer Daniel Cox to form Gibbs and Cox as we know it today.
Their ingenuity in design and construction methods was realized with the building of more than 2,700 Liberty ships during World War II. The design of these ships was instrumental in the implementation of modular construction, a practice still used today in the building of modern commercial and naval warships. Gibbs and Cox designs were used in more than 5,400 ships built during World War II, including destroyers, destroyer escorts, light cruisers, landing ships and amphibious-assault vessels, Liberty ships, minesweepers, icebreakers, tankers, and tenders. Almost 80 percent of the current U.S. Navy’s surface-combatant fleet, and more than 45 percent of the entire U.S. Navy’s Active in-Commission surface-ship fleet, are built to Gibbs and Cox designs.
Ujifusas’ book is extremely well written and keeps the reader’s interest piqued from beginning to end. Following the trials and tribulations of Gibbs’ life, the author shows how his perseverance was the main factor in his becoming the most recognized ship designer in history, both commercially and for the military. This is truly a must-read for the history buff and anyone fascinated with the fast and luxurious passenger liners that ruled the seas.
I own a ship-model building company and work with many of the defense contractors that use Gibbs and Cox designs, including General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, along with shipyards such as Bath Iron Works, Maine; and Ingalls Shipyard, Mississippi. I have built several models of ocean liners throughout the years, requiring extensive research to represent accurately the original ship. Today I continue to study and build ships that were designed by Gibbs and Cox.