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The Man Who Planned The Victory
An Interview With Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer
October/november 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 6
I learned the importance of the economic factor in war—the vital importance of raw materials and productive capacity, for example, and the ways in which manpower is related to war potential. I was impressed with the emphasis on the classical doctrine enunciated by Clausewitz and other strategists that war was the continuation of politics by other means—that the ends of war were not slaughter and destruction per se, but the achievement of rational goals. Strategy, properly conceived, thus seemed to me to require a transcendence of the narrowly military perspectives that the term traditionally had implied. Strategy required a systematic consideration and use of all the so-called instruments of policy—political, economic, psychological, et cetera, as well as military—in pursuing national objectives. Indeed, the nonmilitary factors deserved unequivocal priority over the military, the latter to be employed only as the last resort.
Shortly after you returned home and submitted your report on the Kriegsakademie experience to the War Department, you ended up serving in the War Department yourself.
Yes, in 1940 General Marshall, who was by now Chief of Staff, assigned me to duty in the War Plans Division of the General Staff.
When did you get started on the Victory Plan?
Well, World War II had begun in Europe in September 1939, and a long, bitter debate had gone on in America over what our role should be. Most Americans of course wanted to stay out of war, but opinions were terribly mixed as to just what this war was all about, and whether or not we ought to get involved, and, if so, when and on what terms.
Where did you stand on those issues?
World War I had demonstrated the way in which self-serving foreign propaganda could and did strongly influence American policies and actions. I was therefore leery about getting the United States involved in still another European conflagration unless it was clear that our national security and interests demanded it.
Tell me about the Victory Plan.
After France fell in June 1940, American public opinion seemed to shift pretty solidly to support a major buildup of our military strength. In succeeding months Congress passed a series of large defense appropriations for an everexpanding rearmament program. The need for a working hypothesis—an agreed-upon contingency plan that would provide a basis for coordinating and judging all this activity—eventually became apparent. Hence, in the early summer of 1941, President Roosevelt directed the Secretaries of War and Navy to prepare a mobilization plan that would provide an estimate of the military forces that would be needed to ensure the defeat of any or all of our potential enemies. This estimate would of necessity include optional concepts of global deployments in Europe, the Far East, and elsewhere. The President’s directive soon trickled down to my desk in War Plans, and I was authorized to call upon any or all officials and agencies in our government for information and advice. I collected mountains of data. The fundamental assumptions on which the whole study had to be based, however, seemed almost as elusive as the philosopher’s stone. If we were to enter the war, what would be our objectives? What would be our aims?
How did you go about answering those questions?
To determine the basic industrial resources that were needed (raw materials, factories, and so forth), it was necessary to estimate both the gross quantities of munitions that were required (planes, ships, tanks, etc.) and the dates by which those items had to be ready. To determine these quantities and schedules, it was necessary to assume a lot about the nature of the war—what were the enemy capabilities; where would we be fighting and on how many fronts; what would our broad scheme of maneuver be; that sort of thing. And to envision the nature of a likely war in this sense, one also had to reflect seriously on war aims and political goals. Needless to say, at a time when merely discussing such things was often interpreted as plotting war, few of the harassed senior officials in Washington were in a position to offer much guidance.
Everything in war is risky, and we had gone to no end of trouble in assessing those risks.
How did you proceed?
I assumed that we should make the maximum effort of which the country was capable. Even if a halfhearted effort were theoretically enough to win, it appeared logical that an all-out effort would win more quickly and with less ultimate cost in lives and resources. So, I first asked, Is there a key limiting factor from which one can work backward in these complicated and interrelated calculations? Studies of mobilization in past wars seemed to indicate that about 10 percent of a nation’s population could be placed under arms while still leaving sufficient manpower to produce the weapons, grow the food, administer the affairs of government, and keep the home fires burning. So I assumed that 10 percent of the 1940 U.S. population—which, I believe, was around 140 million—would be made available. That totaled about 14 million. I then allocated those 14 million among the armed services on the basis of estimates prepared by the Army, the Army Air Force, and the Navy.
How accurate did those figures prove to be?