America: Tattered but not Destroyed
Once the most admired and influential country in the world, today it staggers from one crisis to the next. Granted that much of what ails it was brought on by a disastrous prior administration—but President Obama has not done enough in more than a year and a half in office to stem the bleeding.
There are, of course, many co-miscreants: Republicans more anxious in bringing Obama down than in helping the country, Democrats who opt-out because the president has not honored all the promises he made in his campaign, Tea Party Types who are big on catchy slogans but short on specific solutions. Caught in the middle are the American people that have rarely seemed so dispirited.
Discussing this with my friend (and Ojo columnist) Paul Jackson, he suggested that I read Conrad Black’s acclaimed biography FDR—Champion of Freedom. Black thinks FDR the most monumental figure of the 20th century, an opinion shared by dozens of famous biographers and historians. What makes Black’s glowing appraisal different is that he is a Conservative who once owned and managed a media empire.
As most people know, Franklin Roosevelt came into office on the heels of the gravest economic depression in American history and later was at the helm through most of the Second World War, the costliest, bloodiest war in all of recorded history. Yet Roosevelt and the American people rose to the crisis in a way that inspired allies and stunned enemies.
In the lead-up to the war, its armed forces ranked 18th in total numbers. By the end of the Second World War, it had ten million men and women in uniform and had become the dominant military and industrial power in the entire world. It could never have been done, however, without an American home-front that had been inspired to rediscover the very best in its national character.
Little things stick in my mind. Everyone shared in the sacrifice. Shoes had less leather, glasses less glass, faucets were made of cast iron instead of brass, bicycles could weigh no more than thirty-one pounds, fly swatters were made of wood, girdles went from rubber to whalebone, nylon went from women’s legs to parachutes, while war bonds, many promoted by film celebrities, sold in the hundreds of millions of dollars. New car dealers with nothing to sell turned their showrooms into skating rinks and storage areas, castor oil was used as a motor lubricant and even spider web thread saw duty as the cross hairs in gun sights.
Bigger things: almost every large industrial plant went into the production of weapons of war: Chrysler made the engines for the famous PT boats, Willys turned out Jeeps by the hundreds of thousands, Firestone Tires made tens of thousands of anti-aircraft guns, while Ford was rolling off the assembly line a brand-new B-24 bomber every sixty-three minutes.
Within less than two years, America was producing several times more war materiel than Germany and Japan combined. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the German Luftwaffe could get into the skies over Normandy only 319 planes—compared to almost 14,000 Allied aircraft.
What the US faced back then was far more critical than the challenges that confront it today—but if the country could summon the ingenuity, innovation, desire, cooperation and courage to do it then, why can’t it do so again? After all, such attributes are embedded in the very DNA of the United States of America.