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Reviewed by:
  • Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1920–1939
  • William J. Barber
Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1920–1939. By Paul A. C. Koistinen (Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 1998) 432 pp. $45.00

The first part of this book focuses on the contingency planning for economic mobilization against the backdrop of a political environment mandating tightly constrained military budgets. The author is correct to assert that his topic—the interaction between military planners and producers in the private economy upon whom government must depend for wartime logistical support—has largely been neglected by both military and economic historians.

Not surprisingly, the experience of the War Industries Board (wib) in World War I—headed by Bernard M. Baruch—casts a long shadow in this narrative. Indeed, a substantial part of the story of the interwar years is written as an appraisal of the work of the wib, accompanied by aggressive lobbying efforts by Baruch and his associates to persuade all who would listen that their organization and its procedures should guide any economic mobilization to be undertaken in the future.

A postmortem on the lessons to be learned from World War I also provides the organizing thread for the second part of the book, which deals with Congressional investigations into alleged profiteering by suppliers who reportedly lined their pockets at public expense. This exposition includes a lengthy treatment of the work of the Senate Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, chaired by Senator Gerald P. Nye, which met from 1934 to 1936. The moral of its tale seemed to be that comprehensive and credible plans to eliminate such profiteering were crucial to discouraging military suppliers from deploying political influence that might propel the country toward war. This finding resonated well with the isolationist mood of the time, which was especially prominent in the Middle America of the 1930s.

Koistinen supplies a density of detail on these matters, but at the expense of exploring in depth some related themes that would seem to merit analysis. There is more to be said than he presents about the impact of the wib of 1917/18 on the strand of “new era” doctrine regarding industrial rationalization developed by Secretary Herbert Hoover’s Department of Commerce in the 1920s. More extended treatment of the reincarnation of wib thinking—and personnel—in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration of 1933–1935 would also have been useful. [End Page 351]

In light of the author’s determination to restrict the study to the interwar years, it is understandable why the account stops with 1939. But this decision means that a significant additional perspective on the political economy of mobilization does not emerge. It would have been on display had the investigation been extended through 1940. By that time, economic mobilization had acquired an urgency in official Washington. But the problems associated with that effort were then increasingly conceptualized within the framework of an indigenous version of Keynesian macroeconomics. In the view of the champions of this “new economics” within Roosevelt’s bureaucracy, the wib model for economic mobilization was hopelessly antiquated and of little use.

William J. Barber
Wesleyan University
...

Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9169
Print ISSN
0022-1953
Pages
pp. 352-353
Launched on MUSE
1999-08-01
Open Access
No
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