The American century began with the nation’s darkest day.
“When Japanese bombs in Hawaii literally blew us up in World War II,” baron’s He wrote on December 15, 1941, “he gave impetus to forces reaching around the world.”
The topic was chaos in the supply lines. But the most powerful force driving the attack on Pearl Harbor was America’s military-industrial complex, Driven by a new national sense of mission, this dynamism of death would win the war and then, in subsequent decades, turn America into a worldwide superpower.
Such an idea may have seemed absurd in the late 30s, when America’s forces were in size with those of Portugal and the Netherlands. Today, America spends more on its military Supports an estimated 750 overseas bases in 80 countries, compared to the next 10 countries combined. American business followed military with brands like Coca-Cola,
Google, and Starbucks are ubiquitous from China to Chile, while Wall Street serves as the banks of the world and the US arms industry as its arsenal. An empire, in all but name.
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But empires come at a cost, and the Americans have shown fatigue at the “forever war” and diminishing returns from this foreign territory. Publishing magnate Henry Luce first envisioned an “American Century” in February 1941. Now it is coming to a quiet conclusion.
Entry into World War II was the key to America’s rise, and it was not a sure thing. “There is no reason to believe that Mr. Roosevelt has changed his basic foreign policy: to defeat Hitler at all costs, but to do so, if possible, without the involvement of American troops abroad,” baron’s Wrote on December 8, 1941 – a day after which this possibility no longer existed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor, followed by market panic rumors of “enemy planes near the Atlantic coast” stoked America’s separatist tendencies—at least for the duration of the war.
“Everyone is eager to help today,” baron’s Editor George E. Shea Jr. wrote on December 15, noting the “abrupt closure of the strike” and “a wave of listings” by the unions. Business leaders were also collaborating with “the last ounce of their capabilities,” Shea wrote, and within a month, America’s industrial power Roosevelt’s War Production Board would be halted. The goal was to “turn America into”arsenal of democracy,
Donald Nelson, a former Sears executive tapped under “Production Caesar” to run WPB, factories once produced cars and refrigerators to planes and tanks; Women took the jobs of men going to war; Everyone worked overtime.
Between 1941 and ’45, the US produced 300,000 military aircraft, compared to Germany’s 100,000. American industry also churned 10 warships, 211 submarines, 88,000 tanks, 12.5 million rifles and the first atomic bomb, ending World War I and starting the Cold War.
It took time for the industry to be re-established in peacetime. But just as the WPB had applied Henry Ford’s mass production concepts to waging war, American industry was now applying military efficiency to civilian production.
Once the business was up and running, it was met with an American population loaded with cash and eager to spend on streamlined cars such as TVs, washing machines, and modern cars. 1949 Ford, The resulting economic boom operated during the 1950s. Brands such as Holiday Inn, Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts were the leaders of the growing service industry; Housing developments such as Levittown paved the way for the suburb; Air travel, powered by the flashy new jets developed during the war, was now within reach of many.
And America remained the arsenal of democracy. Today, the US accounts for 36% of global arms exports, the most of any country, supporting a thriving industry led by titans such as Lockheed Martin.,
There is no sign that US defense spending is declining anytime soon. But the post-World War II slog through Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq may have waned Americans’ appetite for adventure abroad.
The American century started with a bang. It may end with a whisper.
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