Unprepared for War

Westbrook Pegler

Spartanburg Herald-Journal/May 23, 1940

New York, May 22.—Great is the need for coordination of the effort to rearm, but only a trace more pressing than the need for coherent information on the state of things today and the capacity or lack thereof to do big things tomorrow.

A general, at the war games in Louisiana, boasted that the regular army, next to that portion of the German army which slaughtered Poland, is the toughest in the world.

That was heartening, but his estimate was divided by the fact that the regular army is badly scattered and cannot possibly be assembled in continental United States.

General George Marshall, the chief of staff, then reported that the numerical strength was dangerously low and that weapons for a sudden increase were non-existent, to which depressing but obviously frank statement may be added some observations in an editorial in The New York Times. This studious piece holds that the regulars get too little experience in large-scale maneuvers and the handling of modern arms; that there are only 400 tanks in the country, or less than the complement of one German division; that the standard anti-tank gun is “just beginning to reach the service in small quantities,” and that only a few of the world war’s 75s are fit for re-conditioning.

Hitler trained soldiers in the guise of a German CCC by drilling them with shiny spades and, if he could do that, the United States, too, might save time by teaching at least the rudiments of soldiering with rakes borrowed from the multi-billion-dollar-leaf-raking projects improved in the critical unemployment period of the New Deal. Even a few sample weapons to a camp would suffice to impart some idea of the anatomy and habits of guns and tank, but no such move has been made, probably for some good reason not apparent to the laity.

Eddie Rickenbacker and Major Al Williams agree on the weakness of the air arms and the dolefulness of the prospects, but against their opinion and those of some high aviation officers of the regular service there comes a roundup of opinion from men engaged in the production of planes who seem positively cheery.

Colonel John M. Louiett, president of the nautical Chamber of Commerce, says there are no bottlenecks in the manufacturing department, and adds that President Roosevelt’s aviation program of 50,000 planes could be produced in a year by trebling the floor space of aircraft plants, doubling the area of the engine factories, trebling the present staffs and operating full shift. The Herald Tribune quotes Donald Douglas, president of thee Douglas Aircraft corporation, as saying, also, that the industry could expand rapidly to a production capacity of 50,000 ships a year. Tell Berns, manager of the National Machine Tool Builders association, said the machine tools for a major war effort could be produced in the time it would take to gather the staff to operate them and to recruit the army.

Other authorities were equally confident, but Gen. Hugh Johnson, about the same moment, was writing “we couldn’t get to 50,000 a year in time to be of any use,” and that, anyway, it would be folly to make that many, because many would be obsolete on delivery. He added that 500,000 men would be needed to serve the ships, aall in addition to the troops of the regular corps.

From Detroit the A.P. reports that the motor industry, now turning out 100,00 vehicles a week, could double that capacity and turn to munitions within a week. And the Ford Dearborn plant is “understood” to be ready to go into munitions as quickly as raw materials can be delivered.

It has seemed alarming to laymen that there are only a few batteries of anti-aircraft guns in the country, but a Washington dispatch says the army doesn’t want many, preferring to hoep that an enemy’s raiders could be destroyed before reaching their objectives here. It would seem that a few more guns wouldn’t do any harm just in case the enemy could get through, but this isn’t my story; it is the army’s.

Trubee Davison, former assistant secretary of war and chairman of the United Republican Finance committee, says the New Deal has spent eight billions on defenses to produce the alarmingly weak establishment of today, and I believe Hugh Johnson says the same, except that he puts the figure at six billion. Elsewhere I read that the New Deal didn’t actually spend the money, but just appropriated it and let the money and defense rot.

Plainly the public needs information. If there is reason to be scared the citizens want to get good and scared, and if there is reason to be sore they should know whom to get sore at. In the stately phrase which General Johnson himself sometimes employs, something is cockeyed here.

(Source: Google News, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=SFOYbPikdlgC&dat=19400523&printsec=frontpage&hl=en)