Dec. 7 – The Economics of War

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States officially declared war on the Axis powers (Japan, Germany, and Italy) and entered World War II as a combatant. But the notion that this was the start of American engagement in World War II would be inaccurate. Many things contributed to the Allied victories in the war, but one of the preconditions for military victory was the mobilization of American industry to produce the materiel necessary to win on the battlefield.

Active preparations for mobilization began immediately upon the fall of France and the Battle of Britain. Winston Churchill sent a French official, Jean Monnet, to coordinate the creation of an industrial program designed to win the war. Over the following eighteen months, detailed calculations were made of the amount of equipment, munitions, and supplies necessary to overwhelm Germany and Japan. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, everything was in place to begin the buildup, which took more than two years to complete. Wartime mobilization on that scale has an enormous effect on a country and its culture. The need to arm for war create huge opportunities for farm laborers to move to cities. About 5 million African Americans moved to northern cities in search of better jobs and more opportunity. At the end of the war, about 25% of married women worked outside the home. The war also reallocated production away from consumer goods. As a result, after the war, there was a huge pent up demand for things like cars, radios, telephones, etc.


  1. What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to protect the country? Would you give up your cell phone? Your fancy coffee drinks? Air conditioning?
  2. During the Gulf War, President Bush asked Americans to go about their daily lives normally i.e. keep spending money to get the economy going, as opposed to making material sacrifices. Do you think we, as a culture, rely too much on professionals to do our dirty work?
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