THE END AND THE BEGINNING (1940-1945)
The nation’s businessmen dedicated themselves to meeting the challenge. They realized, too, that in the final analysis, it took more than soldiers to defend a nation. It took more than warships and flying fortresses—more than factories equipped to make planes, tanks and guns. Behind all these must stand the spirit of defense, the determination of resolute people, united in a common purpose. Without this spirit, soldiers and warships and dive bombers and factories would be of no avail.
France had factories and warships, millions of soldiers and the Maginot line. But behind that line was a people divided against itself. Arguments and dissensions slowed preparedness and sowed the seeds of hopelessness and futility. The spirit of defense was not there.
When we were first hurled into the war at Pearl Harbor, the Axis aggressors thought we were unprepared. They had misjudged our love of peace as a weakness in war. Their minds poisoned with the belief that might makes right, they did not realize that the things making America great in peace would also make us strong in war. They had no conception of the wealth of leadership developed through our system of individual enterprise. They refused to believe that our free labor and the genius of our industrial management could double in two years the productive capacity which the Axis powers had been building with forced labor for many years. In our hopes for peace, we were largely unequipped and untrained for war, but this did not mean that we were totally unprepared. We had the basic capacity and abilities that could be mobilized quickly for war. These are qualities that must be preserved by our people if we are to preserve our freedom.
Our armed forces were small in number and sparsely equipped, but we had vast reservoirs of manpower and productive capacity on which we could draw in such an emergency. Our people knew how to work together—work diligently and with understanding. The threat of the aggressor nations united us in a war program that soon overcame their time advantage.
The volumes of munitions and supplies that filled the pipelines to the battlefronts of the world, the vast construction projects completed on time, the flow supplies and equipment that went to our Allies these became the living testimonials to the free labor and management genius of our country. The results of the training program for the largest army in our history was a tribute to our system of free education—to the mental and physical abilities of young men and young women, who had enjoyed the benefits of the American way of life. We were then, as we continue today to be, the land of hope for freedom-loving peoples everywhere.
Much happened during those four dark years in the history of man. The Axis fortunes at first were at high tide. The marching might of Germany’s mobile forces had met valiant but ineffectual opposition in their conquests to the east, to the south, and through the Low Countries. France, on her knees, had been forced to sign a humiliating armistice. Much of Britain’s equipment was strewn as wreckage on the bloody beaches at Dunkirk; and the Luftwaffe began the systematic softening up of the British Isles for the invasion, that, fortunately, was not to materialize.
The Nazi armies advanced through Russia with the same confidence and terrifying precision that had conquered most of Western Europe; and although they exacted a heavy price for every foot of ground they yielded, the Russians were pressed hack toward Moscow and Stalingrad.
In North Africa, the German armored forces rolled on toward Egypt. Japanese aggression spread octopus-like to the Aleutians, to the islands of the central and south Pacific, and to the very doorway of Australia. They took Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, and Rangoon. Had the two Axis partners been successful in joining hands in the Near or Middle East, the hopes of men and women for generations to come might have been blasted.
During this period of trial, we saw the development of fighting fronts that reached all the way from no-man’s-land, back along supply lines, across invasion beaches and through our shipping lanes to the very farms and forests and mines that were supplying the raw materials for our war industries. Roaring from one climax to another, the forces of the free world drove forward as a mighty team in combined operations of land, sea and air power. Never before had so many worked together so effectively in a cause so important.