Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II.

Author:Kaminow, Ira
Position:Book review

Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II. By Jim Lacey. Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2011. Notes. Photographs. Index. Pp. 288. $34.95 ISBN: 978-1-59114-491-5

Jim Lacey's point is this: Before and during World War II, thoughtful, innovative civilian analysts cautioned that economic analysis is essential to determine the country's capacity to produce defense goods and that setting infeasible production goals could be catastrophic to the war effort. Their counsel was at first fiercely resisted by elements of the military who were eventually forced to come around to the civilian view. The book's punch line can be found in its very last sentence: Thus the army's chief of staff had no choice but to postpone his plans to invade northern Europe in 1943 for at least a year--not because of any change in the strategic situation or in his own ideas of how to win the war, but because the economists had forced him to do so.

Lacey persuasively makes the case that economists demonstrated that the military first asked for too little spending and later for more than the economy could deliver in the early 1940s. Furthermore, elements in the military (particularly General Brehon Somerville, head of the Army Service Forces) obstinately refused to listen until they had no choice but to do so. Lacey has hit upon a story that is well worth telling, and much of it is told well. He is at his best in his narrative descriptions of the conflicts between the civilians and the military, the personalities, the establishment of myriad government agencies, the maneuverings of President Roosevelt and the effect of the president's list of military equipment "musts". The book is weakest in its economics. The short section on monetary policy, for example, will be difficult for historians to follow because it is so technical and for economists to read because of its rookie mistakes. It's best to skip it.

The book is well-documented. An excellent series of appendices containing relevant source documents from the period will fascinate economists and historians alike. The bibliography is a treasure trove of readings relating to World War II economic history; some of the more important citations point the reader to sources on the internet. The early chapters on the long-sweep history of wartime economics and the misjudgments of Major Albert Wedemeyer's Victory Program, while not essential to the book's main thrust nevertheless provide...

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