THE END AND THE BEGINNING (1940-1945)
The Axis was stopped at Stalingrad and at El Alamein—stopped and turned back. The Japanese were stopped in the Coral Sea and on New Guinea. Then on land, in the air, and on the seas, the Free World took the offensive—with superior firepower, air power and work-power. With the strength of our forces added to that of our Allies, we drove through to victory in Europe in a series of the most brilliant and heroic campaigns of all times.
A different pattern was followed in the Pacific, but the principles and the results were the same—victory for what we held to be the armies of righteousness. Our troops fought with the conviction that a country worth living in is also worth fighting for, and—if needs be—worth dying for.
With most of the problems of fighting the war a matter of the past, the problems of shifting the economy of our country from war to peace were second in complexity only to those of winning the war itself. Never before had the organization of our economic life been so completely adapted to war objectives. Never before had the pressures for redirecting economic energy to the satisfaction of peace-time civilian demands been so great. Never before had the destiny of America for many years rested so surely upon the success, or lack of success, that was to be experienced in solving the reconversion problems which confronted us.
During World War II, millions who found themselves in the Armed Forces for the duration had dreams of returning at the end of the war to the world they had left behind when they entered the service of their country. But the world they left was destined never to be the same again.
It is not surprising that there are those who feel that the 20th Century began in 1945 and that the period of two world wars with the intervening depression was in reality the liquidation of the 19th Century.
We knew then that we could not solve our problems by agreeing among ourselves upon verbal flower arrangements that would divert attention from them. We knew also that we could not solve our problems by cooperating to compromise with error and evil in public or private policies for the sake of political expediency or "peace in our time", either at home or abroad. We knew we could not grin off the destruction and scars of war by mumbling economic charms or political incantations over its consequences. Not only were we dealing with the greatest physical devastation in all history, but we were also dealing with a spiritual and moral catastrophe so profound and comprehensive that anyone sensitive to truth had to be overwhelmed by the confusions, chaos and conflict—the bitterness, hatred and delusion—left behind, in every country, by the colossal struggle for power within and among governments out of which the war had arisen.
The war had upset the equilibrium of normal balance in international finance and economic relations throughout the world. It had destroyed fiscal and financial stability in many countries. It would naturally lead to territorial realignments and modifications of national policies of far-reaching consequence. The combined effect of these economic maladjustment's had to be expected to produce, in the early postwar years, more or less financial instability and economic uncertainty. Our ability to anticipate maladjustment's and to agree upon solutions for them would largely determine our course for the future.
Aside from these considerations, the problems of reconversion involved technical and economic adjustments in specific industries. Many of our industries suddenly found it necessary to replace war goods that had been made to satisfy the demands of a war-time monopolistic governmental market with civilian goods that had to be sold in a peace-time market consisting of millions of competing buyers.
The victorious conclusion of our war effort represented a triumph in the greatest undertaking in history. We had faith in our ability to meet the test of war, and we knew that it would take more than half-way measures to win. It took men with the stamina to march One step farther than their enemies, to move one instant faster; it took guns that shot farther and straighter; it took planes that flew faster and higher, carried more bombs, more firepower, and were more maneuverable. These are the things that won battles—the things that meant the difference between life and death for those who went overseas to carry the fight to the enemy away from our home shores.
We knew in 1945 that half-way measures likewise would not win the peace. We were resolved to show the world that our ability in peace was even greater than our ability in war. We found in war that we had to work together—the home front with the fighting front; our country with the Allies; labor, management, agriculture and government, all working together. We were resolved that the peace would not he jeopardized because of our not being as able or as willing to work successfully together in peace as we were in war.
History since that time has been marked by revolutionary change. It began with the dawn of the atomic age, and within little more than a decade we were ushered into the space age. This generation has experienced the most dynamic period in the long history of mankind. We in Houston are privileged to live in an era of accelerating history and in an area of accelerating development.
The pattern of population distribution today is entirely different. Leadership of the community has been developed upon a much broader base. The physical plant of the city has been improved through the investment of billions of dollars. The economic pattern of the area has become increasingly diversified. Constructive trends have been obvious in the fields of culture, education, health services, and religion. Recreational opportunities have been expanded as the work week has become shorter and as vacations have become longer. Steadily we are establishing our area in the newer fields which science and technology are developing.
Anyone who experienced 1945 will always recall it as a mono-dawned amid clouds of worried hopefulness. Germany collapsed, and was forced to accept unconditional surrender. The world’s first atomic bomb was exploded. The fact that it marked the beginning of the end of Japanese resistance was overshadowed by the fact that the atomic age had come. Wars would never be the same again.
Victory had been anticipated. But the development of atomic energy was a new influence in the life of mankind. Scientists were already pondering the question of the moral and ethical aspects of their achievement. The public did not at first share the alarm of the physicists. To the public the return of peace meant a return to a normal way of life, and they wanted their sons and husbands to be released immediately from the Armed Forces. Their goal was normalcy. Accelerating change, however, became the normal way of life.
The year of 1945 was perhaps the most kaleidoscopic year in the history of Houston and the Houston Chamber of Commerce. It marked the conclusion of an exacting period of emergency during World War II and the transition to more normal peacetime activities. No Chamber of Commerce wears a campaign ribbon, nor does it receive a military award for meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty. But the Houston Chamber of Commerce, under the dynamic management of W. N. Blanton and the leadership of dedicated civic statesmen, had a record of distinguished service to its nation and to its community during the war years.
With its bands and its heart close to the grim realities of wartime, the Chamber of Commerce had kept its head high above the war clouds to help assure a promising future for its returning service men and others in the post-war period. So when the torrents of war rolled on to the seas of history, the Houston Chamber of Commerce took no time out for plodding and experimental reconversion. Overnight, it swung the forces of its voluntary manpower to the solution of the community’s reconversion problems—into a program of post-war activity for the development of the Houston area. As each wartime job was completed, a peacetime project was undertaken.
The Chamber of Commerce had pointed the way with surveys and with studies that revealed expanded facilities, greater employment, increasing production, and higher levels of business activity. Thus business and industry in Houston had a master plan of development for the future when the fall of 1945 came. Short courses were held to make the best minds and the best experience in many business fields available to returning veterans who were interested in going into business.
Reconversion of industry in the Houston area was rapid. Little retooling was necessary. The change-over was achieved with minor effect on employment totals. The development of vast new chemical industries was accelerated in the area under wartime pressures. These industries expanded rapidly after the war.
The Chamber of Commerce had been aggressive in the formulation of plans for the Texas Medical Center, as efforts were directed to establish Houston as a center of medical research, medical training and hospital care. A blueprint of future highway development had been prepared, with work already under way on a master freeway plan. Efforts were redoubled to build back foreign trade which had declined during the war and to make the Port of Houston again a leader in the nation.
Houston, then, like every other city in the nation, was still fully committed to the war effort. "Fighting the War on the Home Front" was the theme of the 1945 program of work of the Chamber of Commerce. Every committee within the organization was giving first priority to contributions to the war effort. Citizens were being urged to support the Red Cross, buy War Bonds, and write to service men.
But, at the same time, post-war planning groups were holding regular meetings, and the Chamber of Commerce was filling its historic role of looking to the area’s future needs and resources.
Surveys were being made to build two vehicular tunnels under the Houston Ship Channel. Mr. and Mrs. H. R. Cullen contributed $1,000,000 to each of several local hospitals to assure future building programs. The cornerstone was laid for the U. S. Naval Hospital, which post-war was to be placed under the Veterans Administration. It was announced that the Ordnance Depot on the Ship Channel would be a permanent installation. The University of Houston announced a $5,000,000 expansion program, and $14,000,000 in city water bonds were authorized to increase the municipal water supply.
Following V E Day, the "Houston Magazine" found the city prepared for the post-war era. It pointed out that building permits from 1931 to 1944 totaled $184,440,109, with one hundred million dollars of this coming during the five years immediately before the imposition of wartime restrictions. The magazine expressed confidence that the next five years would break the great building records of the 1920’s and late 1930’s, and listed projects representing an investment of one quarter billion dollars in construction for the next five years.
The return flow of men and women from the Armed Forces was building up, and provisions were being made to ease their return to civilian life. The focus of the Chamber of Commerce was shifted quickly from the prosecution of the war effort to that of meeting the challenge of the postwar period. The Committee for Economic Development, working through the Chamber of Commerce, was busy with plans to cope with a sudden decline in employment, which fortunately never developed.
Lt. Gen. William S. Knudsen addressed the annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce on December 18th, on "Post War Thoughts." He said: "All America needs to win the peace that has been earned is to get down to work. The fundamentals to which this country should turn in revived vitality is pride in workmanship, pride in home and pride in country. We are a powerful nation now. The whole world has respect for us, but it will try to take advantage of us. Only the good, hard, common sense of America will save us."
The annual report of the Chamber of Commerce for 1945 stated that "despite the pressure and volume of the wartime demands, the Chamber of Commerce did not lose sight of its responsibility to the present welfare of the community and to its future growth and development; and through all the activities carried on to meet current requirements ran the continuous threads of plans for the future."