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Warhogs: A History of War Profits in America

Stuart D. Brandes
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The Puritans condemned war profiteering as a "Provoking Evil," George Washington feared that it would ruin the Revolution, and Franklin D. Roosevelt promised many times that he would never permit the rise of another crop of "war millionaires." Yet on every occasion that American soldiers and sailors served and sacrificed in the field and on the sea, other Americans cheerfully enhanced their personal wealth by exploiting every opportunity that wartime circumstances presented.

    InWarhogs, Stuart D. Brandes masterfully blends intellectual, economic, and military history into a fascinating discussion of a great moral question for generations of Americans: Can some individuals rightly profit during wartime while others sacrifice their lives to protect the nation?

    Drawing upon a wealth of manuscript sources, newspapers, contemporary periodicals, government reports, and other relevant literature, Brandes traces how each generation in financing its wars has endeavored to assemble resources equitably, to define the ethical questions of economic mobilization, and to manage economic sacrifice responsibly. He defines profiteering to include such topics as price gouging, quality degradation, trading with the enemy, plunder, and fraud, in order to examine the different guises of war profits and the degree to which they have existed from one era to the next.

    This far-reaching discussion moves beyond a linear narrative of the financial schemes that have shaped this nation's capacity to make war to an in-depth analysis of American thought and culture. Those scholars, students, and general readers interested in the interaction of legislative, economic, social, and technological events with the military establishment will find no other study that so thoroughly surveys the story of war profits in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5760-3
    Subjects: History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the evening of what otherwise had been a bright and promising April day in 1607, a band of native warriors concealed themselves upon a spit of land known to others as Virginia. After secretly observing the strangers who had rowed ashore that morning, they decided, correctly as it turned out, that the uninvited callers were not simply casual visitors but were instead the dangerous vanguard of an occupying force. The bowmen crept within close range of the trespassers, loosed their arrows, and stained the sand with English blood. The English detachment answered with a fusillade of musketry and then...

  5. 1 A Provoking Evil
    (pp. 11-30)

    Elizabethan England, poised to plant English culture in the North American wilderness, presented a striking example of the interrelationship between war and wealth. England’s first attempts at colonization confronted twin challenges. One was how to assemble the enormous financial resources necessary to sustain a colony. The other was how to mobilize and transport the military forces necessary to meet powerful adversaries—French, Dutch, and, most importantly, Indians. Raleigh’s Roanoke failed surely because of lack of money and probably because of military weakness. The English settlements established in Virginia and Massachusetts after 1600 survived (if only narrowly) because they were able...

  6. 2 Virtue Tested
    (pp. 31-52)

    British military policy was a key ingredient in the coming of the American Revolution. Although perhaps secondary to the army's perceived threat to political liberty, the army’s role as a major economic institution was profoundly repugnant to Americans. Although there were constitutional proscriptions against a standing army in peacetime, the American colonists had virtually nothing to say about the army’s composition, location, activities, or cost. The army’s economic role formed an important part of the American critique of Britain, and it contributed mightily to the development of a complex and sophisticated Revolutionary ideology.¹

    The development of American military practices was...

  7. 3 Left-Handed Trade
    (pp. 53-66)

    When the Continental army disbanded, America’s military establishment essentially disappeared. In late 1783 the regular army numbered but eighty soldiers, none ranking higher than captain. During the Articles of Confederation period, Congress increased the army to an infantry regiment and a small artillery unit, but military appropriations were trifling. As long as the army languished as a skeleton force, war profiteering remained a dormant issue.¹ In the 1790s the Federalists rebuilt the nation’s military forces, but between the Revolution and the Civil War only conflicts with Britain in 1812 and with Mexico in 1846 resuscitated the war profits controversy.


  8. 4. The “Shoddyocracy”
    (pp. 67-108)

    Within weeks after Confederate siege guns forced the capitulation of Fort Sumter, rumors of scandal in the War Department began to circulate. By the first Christmas of the war, these accusations reached a crescendo. “The record is a sad and gloomy one,” pronounced theNew York Herald, the nation’s largest newspaper. Of the first $200 million spent on the war, theHeraldmaintained, $50 million had been “dishonestly pocketed.”¹

    For a century thereafter, the history of Northern mobilization has been presented as a kind of morality play. Saving the Union and ending slavery were noble accomplishments, the story went, but...

  9. 5 Toward the Great War
    (pp. 109-126)

    For half a century after the Civil War, the United States was at peace, interrupted periodically by frontier skirmishes, colonial incursions, and a short war with Spain. Arms production declined abruptly after 1865, and American suppliers faced a major shakeout. For a few years, lively foreign sales staved off bankruptcy. By 1872 nearly 1.4 million weapons had been cast off to other nations’ armies. Obsolescent guns were shipped all over the world—to Russia, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Egypt, Cuba, Greece, China, Japan, and even the Vatican City. Turkey bought 350,000 of the best and cheapest rifles, while a desperate France,...

  10. 6 Warhogs and Warsows
    (pp. 127-140)

    The demise of peace in 1914 startled and frightened Americans, and two and a half years would pass before the United States reluctantly entered the Great War. During the interval between Congressman Clyde H. Tavenner’s sweeping arraignment of the munitions industry and the American war declaration, profits on military products climbed to unknown levels, the market for military-related stocks reached record highs, and the isolationist progressive bloc dueled steadily with a growing coalition of supporters of preparedness.

    The harshest words were exchanged over the war declaration itself, but the acrimony of the dispute flared much earlier. In 1916 the opponents...

  11. 7 Supplying the Doughboys
    (pp. 141-178)

    Despite fierce opposition in some quarters, most Americans supported the declaration of war with Germany with determined enthusiasm. The Spirit of ’17 was perhaps not so deep-seated as was the Spirit of ’76 or the Spirit of ’61, but it was earnest and resolute. Nevertheless, a definite sense of apprehension was present even among interventionists, who sensed very early the peculiar but marked ability of the Great War to modify or destroy old verities. “If war is declared,” commented an editorialist in theCommercial and Financial Journal, “it is needless to say we shall support the government. But may we...

  12. 8 Grave Objections
    (pp. 179-198)

    The great Armistice Day celebration of 1918 granted only a brief respite from the war profiteering controversy. The mobilization of the American economy for the Great War was a monumental task, and when Germany unexpectedly surrendered, production was racing at full speed. The nation had paid too little attention to preparedness until it was nearly too late, and it gave no attention to the problems of reconversion until the war ended. Just as the United States had never before simultaneously undertaken building projects as extensive as the war demanded, it had also never attempted a smooth reconversion. The process of...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 9 Profits or Peace?
    (pp. 199-226)

    The probe of war profits that surfaced periodically in the 1920s became a more pressing matter during the troubled 1930s. Commencing in the first year of the Hoover administration, a contentious debate on how to limit profits in a future war proceeded throughout the Depression. The renewed scrutiny of war profits was partially an aftershock of the Great War, but in the 1930s worldwide economic collapse and the rising danger of American involvement in a new and even more frightening European war gave the dispute fresh urgency.

    In the 1930s there were two major focal points in the review of...

  15. 10 Penning the Warhog
    (pp. 227-248)

    By the late 1930s widespread military aggression gave warning to the world that another deadly maelstrom was forming. In the United States, internationalists and isolationists passionately debated the appropriate American role in the coming misfortune, and the ongoing campaign against war profits came to assume life-or-death proportions. Opponents of American military engagement battled to eradicate what they believed was the most sinister danger facing the nation—trading in arms for profit. Internationalists campaigned to reinforce the nation’s defenses against what they thought was the paramount threat—open attack by malicious enemies.

    As Americans debated participation in what would become the...

  16. 11 A Prescription for Profiteering
    (pp. 249-268)

    As Admiral Yamamoto feared, the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with an awful rage. The last of the dissension that had disabled the United States melted away, and strong public support for the war, mixed with a perceived danger of invasion, allowed the government to expand its role dramatically. The limited Keynesianism of the later New Deal gave way to a modified command economy, as the federal government obtained a domination of the economy unprecedented in American history.¹ The sweeping grant of power to an experienced national leadership with an expressed commitment to...

  17. 12 War Profits and Cold War Culture
    (pp. 269-276)

    Although the Second World War offered ample material to spark a new war profits controversy, circumstances after V-J Day precluded an early renewal of the old dispute. The nation rejoiced in the euphoria of victory, basked in relief from danger, and took great pride in the production miracle that had made those successes possible. But it also bore a deep anxiety that the hard days of the Depression would return, and few were interested in disturbing a prosperity that might turn out to be very fragile. The war profits controversy subsided, where it would sleep deep in the social memory....

  18. Appendix A: Graft Convictions, Officers of the Continental Army, 1775–1781
    (pp. 277-282)
  19. Appendix B: Profits of Selected Defense Contractors, 1911-1920
    (pp. 283-290)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 291-354)
  21. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 355-358)
  22. Index
    (pp. 359-372)