Edson: 1918 experience shows need for post-war plans (12-11-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (December 11, 1943)

Edson: 1918 experience shows need for post-war plans

By Peter Edson

Washington –
The recent flurry of peace rumors, even though entirely unfounded, emphasizes the need for speed in the formulation of definite governmental plans for the demobilization of war industries and post-war planning. The parallel for that is from the last war, when the 1918 Armistice, coming months before it was expected, caught the President, the Congress and all the war agencies entirely unprepared to deal with the situation.

Contemporary accounts of the confusion in Washington after the 1918 Armistice are highly amusing, though terribly scandalous. One observer had it that of the 231 dollar-a-year men then in Washington, 230 wanted to go home at the earliest possible minute. Some of them apparently did, leaving on their desks unsigned letters. The catchphrase of the day was that:

The night of Nov. 11, the War Industries Board caught the midnight train home.

The War Industries Board itself, which under the chairmanship of Bernard M. Baruch was the War Production Board of its day, really faded from the picture in three weeks. While it had ample powers for wartime, it lacked authority for post-war operations. Belated proposals to give the Board this post-armistice authority met with no support whatsoever from Congress. The new Congress elected in the November 1918 election was Republican and the lame-duck Congress remaining in office would have no part of any proposal that came from the Wilson administration. A day after the Armistice, Congress has before it proposals to cut back all expenditures.

Such was the psychology of the times for the immediate return to normalcy.

Trend of the times

Today, all this reads like handwriting on the wall. The same forces that shaped the course of events in 1918 are shaping up now. If there is any moral in this potential repetition of history, it should be found in the record of what happened after the 1918 Armistice – months of uncertainty in readjustment shifting gradually into a year of inflation and then the costly deflation of the early 1920s.

Fortunately, something does seem to have been learned from this sad experience. Whereas, in September and October of 1918, President Wilson was counseling against any too definite post-war planning and Mr. Baruch himself was too busy running the war production effort to give them to post-war planning, today the President and Congress and the war agencies have all made a start towards post-war planning.

And Mr. Baruch, as head of a new unit in the Office of War Mobilization under James F. Byrnes, is in this war concentrating all his attention on these readjustment problems he did not have time for in the last war, tackling them one at a time in the order of their importance, beginning with termination of contracts, then the disposal of inventories of surplus materials, disposal of government-owned war plants and machinery, and so on right down the line.

Private industry itself is more alert to the requirements of post-war planning and the need for orderly demobilization than it was in 1918. That is perhaps the most encouraging aspect of all.

Inflation dangers

The dangers of post-war inflation are perhaps greater than the dangers of wartime inflation, release of wartime savings in a national spending spree could easily result in great price rises. Rationing of production might be necessary to avoid running up prices.

Seemingly minor problems like these serve to emphasize that post-war readjustment will be one of the most difficult periods the United States has ever gone through.

The idea that no one should waste time now planning for the future, is thus a fallacy.

1 Like