Sunday, August 15, 2021

Thoughts on Herman's Freedom's Forge: the people behind the huge dams & planes of WWII

I read Freedom's Forge by Arthur L. Herman with great interest. This book describes how the United States scaled up to produce many weapons in World War II, becoming the arsenal for democracy. This book is interesting in the current context where the country is scaling up to make a vast number of vaccines to combat the coronavirus.

The book profiles the major industrial figures, such as automobile magnate William S. Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser, who helped lead this war effort. The book takes a very pro-business and almost hero-worshiping attitude towards these figures, but it is nevertheless entertaining. The mindset is that the scale-up worked well because it followed market mechanisms, used existing supply chains, and utilized a more controlled form of production through a war production board.

I found two things to be notable in the book. First, I was surprised by the degree to which the United States was utterly unprepared for the Second World War in terms of overall production and levels of mobilization, and how many of the major industrial figures, such as Henry Ford, staunchly opposed getting into the war effort. Second, I was impressed by the descriptions of some of the colossal construction projects undertaken, particularly some of the large dams produced by Henry Kaiser, such as the Grand Coulee and the Bonneville Dam, and the huge planes developed. One of them was the B-29 Superfortress, the aircraft that delivered the atomic bomb to Japan. Overall, this was an entertaining read about a huge scale-up.

Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II
by Arthur Herman