Robert Patterson: Mobilization Master
The story of World War II is often told in terms of battles, diplomacy, and heads of state. However, this interpretation offers only a rudimentary analysis of the true cost of war. Years of preparation and anticipation led to the ultimate triumph of the Allied forces with US manufacturing to back them up. None of the tons of equipment, ammunition, manpower, or supplies would have been available to the military had it not been for the efforts of the Assistant, Under Secretary, then Secretary of War, Robert Patterson. Robert Patterson was a unique man; a soldier, lawyer, judge, and eventually high government official. Patterson is described as “entirely self-possessed and sturdily incorruptible…”1, a testament to his character which made his nomination to the War Department an easy choice for Franklin Roosevelt. Under his leadership, the United States mobilized millions of people, created tons of ammunition, and produced hundreds of thousands of aircraft and vehicles. Keith E. Eiler gives a detailed account of the accomplishments as well as the first biographical work of Robert P. Patterson in mobilizing the United States in Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort.
Eiler’s introduction deals with the circumstances that led up to the need for expanded mobilization. In the aftermath of World War I, “a handful of practical people…who had played major roles in arming the United States…sounded prudent notes of caution”2 regarding the assault on arms makers and armies. He states the purpose of the book is to present an account of the drama surrounding mobilization from the perspective of Patterson. The book is divided into three sections, mobilization before the war, during the war, and the impact of mobilization. Each section is divided into chapters that cover a specific topic. Eiler covers Patterson’s service and life as a lawyer, judge, and soldier prior to joining the War Department in 1940. He also details the process of recruiting Patterson as Assistant Secretary of War. Patterson’s early days in the War Department were mired with problems related to shortages of raw material and natural resources, as well as issues of authority and control with competing bureaucratic departments and organizations. Additionally, the American public was slow to follow on Patterson’s recommendations to mobilize and the effort was delayed. Patterson also learned lessons from the mobilization for World War I: free market mechanisms are not compatible with the demands of total war. Patterson addressed these problems by tightening standards for manufacturers. Patterson was also in charge of coming up with people to man the new army, which he did through the Selective Service Act.
The successive German victories in Denmark, Norway, France, and the Low Countries prompted the War Department General Staff to revisit the European campaigns and launch a review of its own strategies and equipment. American technology and equipment had to be modernized to compete with their German and Japanese counterparts, especially when it came to planes, tanks, and munitions. According to Eiler, there were also race relations issues that Patterson sought to resolve, although the societal norm in the government prevented him from doing so effectively. As a public figure, “[Patterson’s] attitudes toward questions of race were no longer matters of mere private sentiment but important determinants of public policy.”3 Eventually, the government instituted racial integration in the army and the War Department to appease black leaders and make progress for progress’s sake. The same circumstances that pushed black assertiveness also pushed labor unions, who were wary of giving up their hard earned privileges in the name of national defense. National labor policy was carried out under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act. Eiler also states that shortages in basic materials necessitated planning for the future to prevent delays in mobilization. In addition to shortages, Eiler documents the struggle between manufacturers and the government to convert equipment to deal with war production. Despite being in a state of emergency for over a year, by August 1941, the military’s affairs were not in order. The country was still divided over the need to mobilize, and Eiler argues that Patterson faced criticism from both sides over the need and the pace of mobilization. However, Patterson continued through the criticism and continued to push for increased efforts to mobilize, which became necessary after Pearl Harbor.
The attacks on Pearl Harbor greatly affected the mood in which mobilization operated. Production had to go forward on “a full time basis”4, which led Patterson to order “spotchecks of war plants during the night and on weekends.”5 Successive setbacks in both the Pacific and European theaters led Patterson, as Eiler put it, to bring maximum force as early as possible. The Selective Service and Training Act of 1940 provided a base for conscripting military manpower before American involvement, but the entry of the United States into the war provided a new sense of urgency. Eiler also notes the need to reconfigure the army to deal with the demands for war in Europe and the Pacific, as well as recruitment of talented individuals into the War Department. Japanese conquests in Indochina and the Dutch East Indies endangered the US supply of rubber, leading to the development of synthetics. America’s driving habit also led to conflicts with restrictions on gasoline usage and rubber for tires, as many families were unwilling to cut back on automobile use despite government insistence on cutbacks of driving. Manpower on the home front was also a problem, as much of the labor that would have originally been in the factories working was fighting on the deserts of North Africa or islands of the Pacific. The absence of the usual sources of labor meant factories had to turn to unconventional sources, like women, children, the elderly, African Americans, and Latinos. Labor standards had to be consolidated in order to provide a uniform code for workers to operate under so everyone received a fair wage for his or her work. Eiler defends Patterson’s view on war profiteering as a beneficial side effect of mobilization as unintentional and non-detrimental to the war effort. Price control was central to the War Department’s policies regarding procurement and production, as the War Department was the one mostly in charge of buying material to produce war goods. . The establishment of the War Production Board initially meant peaceful cooperation between it and the War Department, although questions over control led to conflict.
Despite the massive mobilization of manpower in both the armed forces and industry, there were doubts that America’s full potential was not being utilized. The drafting of farmers led to concerns of potential food shortages, but Patterson dismissed any furloughing of agricultural labor as frivolous, as it would “excuse from military service anyone who raises a few vegetables or has a few apple trees, regardless of whether his contribution to the food supply is a real one.”6 Eiler notes that support for legislation favorable to the war effort was initially strong but quickly faded. After war production peaked and leveled off, manufacturers were eager to return to manufacturing consumer goods as the need for war production to continue was apparently over. Patterson stressed voluntarism in the face of a daunting task, often asking families to sacrifice for the good of the soldiers fighting abroad. However, many Americans ended up being inconvenienced rather than sacrificing for the war effort. As the war lagged on, Patterson continued to face manpower shortages in the factories, leading to decreased output of vital military equipment. Production was also inhibited by a series of labor strikes, although the strikes were eventually resolved. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to an end of the war and a change in leadership at the War Department. Undersecretary Patterson eventually became Secretary of War Robert Patterson. The end of the war also brought massive demobilization as troops returned home and factories reconverted to consumer goods. After the war, support for the war ebbed, and criticism of his policies endured through Patterson’s tenure as Secretary of War. In his conclusion, Eiler summarizes what Patterson went on to do in peacetime as Secretary of War.
Eiler reiterates time and time again that the purpose of Mobilizing America is to “present an account of that drama from the perspective of this particular official, “Fighting Bob” Patterson…” 7 By “that drama”, Eiler means the efforts of the War Department to produce, procure, and provide for the US war effort on both the home front and war front. He manages to provide a relatively objective view of Patterson’s role in the war effort, presenting facts plainly and occasionally lauding praise where he feels necessary or appropriate. He provides a detailed and comprehensive view of Patterson’s role in the mobilization of the United States to fight in World War II while maintaining a semblance of aloofness that is required when writing history. Sometimes Eiler’s main point is lost in the jumble of numbers and figures he throws in, but he manages to return to the central idea enough to the point where it stays in place even among all the confusion. Eiler manages to stay true to his stated purpose throughout the course of his lengthy work.
Mobilizing America is Keith Eiler’s only major work. Eiler served in the army for over 20 years, through World War II and the Korean War, and he was fascinated with General Albert Wedemeyer after his retirement from the army in 1965. Eiler was originally going to write a biography about General Wedemeyer before he became sidetracked with his other project, a biography of Robert P Patterson and his tenure through World War II as the Undersecretary of War titled Mobilizing America. His obituary states he was a “strong conservative”8, which along with all the other factors in his life, helps explain the non-controversial, neo-conservative nature of this work. Eiler was highly educated, graduating from the University of Nebraska and West Point and earning his doctorate in American civilization at Harvard, and he served for many years at the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. His extensive education background shows the educational value of his one and only book, especially because of the time and energy he spent researching for it.
Mobilizing America was published in 1997, so it is a relatively recent work when historiography is considered. It can be put under the category of neoconservative historiography as can be inferred from the time period and the fact that the author was himself a conservative. Also, the book shows similarities to the school of consensus historiography right after World War II and during the Cold War, as it mostly waves differences in class, race, and gender that might otherwise be addressed in the New Left historiography found during the Civil Rights movement. However, areas where Eiler differs from consensus are found in chapters like those devoted to black and labor issues. He details “the first effort to establish a national labor policy…”10 in chapter 9. Eiler sort of states in his conclusion at various times that Patterson is worthy of praise, further helping the case that Mobilizing America is a neoconservative historiography because he is praising a past government official who served his country in a time of need. Historiography greatly affects the bias of the author, and the reader should be aware of the bias before considering anything else the author has to say.
Mobilizing America was reviewed by multiple professionals, among which were Paul Koistinen of California State University, Northridge and John Kennedy Ohl of Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. Ohl calls Mobilizing America “a worth work of scholarship”9 and “gracefully written”, while Koistinen calls Eiler’s study of Patterson “a welcome addition to the literature on World War II…”11 and “systematic and thorough.” Both reviews commend Eiler on his writing and organization of the book. Ohl only has minor qualms with the details of Eiler’s study, and they relate to inclusion of opposing ideas to Patterson and Patterson’s relationship with army generals during the war for a more comprehensive review of Patterson’s tenure. Koistinen, on the other hand, takes up much greater issue with Eiler’s decision to solely use Patterson’s personal papers and Eiler’s own secondary sources from his doctoral thesis in 1974, stating that these sources are insufficient to providing a truly comprehensive view of war mobilization. Koistinen also laments the fact that there is a lack of actual analysis by Eiler, and that Mobilizing America is simply a narrative of war mobilization through Patterson’s eyes. Both reviewers praise and commend Eiler for his writing, organization, and efforts while citing the limitations created through the use of Patterson’s personal papers as sources and simple narrative style.
Mobilizing America made for a very interesting and arduous read. Eiler’s writing style and organization are easy enough to follow; the problems lie in its length and repetitiveness. His systematic organization allowed the reader to follow his logic through the book as Eiler presented a comprehensive view of the mobilization of the United States army and economy from the perspective of “’Fighting Bob’ Patterson.”12While some of the professional reviews noted a lack of diversity in sources, the absence of variety was indiscernible and did not detract from the effectiveness of the book. However, comments made about a lack of analysis on the part of Eiler were true, as the biography was very much a narrative of Robert Patterson’s experiences in the Ward Department. Eiler went into great detail on several specific issues, namely the copper, aluminum, and rubber crises during the war, which greatly enhanced the comprehensiveness. His biography predominately deals with Robert Patterson as man rather than the mobilization of the country. Patterson’s achievements in mobilization are still front and center, but they are in a different context that would be expected from a different book on the same subject.
Eiler doesn’t directly address how mobilization affects the rest of history from the 1940s on in the main part of his book, but indirectly addresses it in the conclusion. Mobilization of America for World War II changed the way the United States thought about itself and its role in the world for the future. A once isolationist country became the “arsenal of democracy”13 and champion of freedom in the western world in the face of perceived communist aggression. American entry into World War II helped the United States become more involved in global affairs and an international leader for years to come. Mobilization also set up the stage for increasing government control in various affairs, as the government had increased its authority in order to prepare for and eventually win the war. Mobilization was only one part of the 1940s that marked the decade as a watershed for American history.
The mobilization effort is one not often mentioned when World War II is discussed, but it played an important role in ensuring victory for the United States and its allies. Keith E Eiler and his book Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort, 1940-1945 provides a comprehensive view of the mobilization effort from the perspective of the Undersecretary of War as he went through troubles and tribulations to make sure the army, industry, and economy were running effectively to win the war. The book stops short of Patterson’s tenure as Secretary of War under Harry S Truman and his death when “an aircraft accident ended Patterson’s life prematurely…”14, leaving the narrative to be told by someone else for another time.
1. Eiler, Keith. Mobilizing America: Robert P Patterson and the War Effort. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. 12.
2. Eiler, Keith. 1.
3. Eiler, Keith. 131.
4. Eiler, Keith. 231.
5. Eiler, Keith. 231
6. Eiler, Keith. 372
7. Eiler, Keith. 7.
8. Bethell, Tom. "Keith Eiler, Officer and Gentleman." Hoover Institution. Hoover Digest, 30 Jan. 2006. Web. 05 June 2013.
9. Ohl, John K. "Mobilizing America: Robert P Patterson and the War Effort, 1940-1945 by Keith E. Eiler, Review by John Kennedy Ohl." The Journal Of Military History Apr 63.2 (1999): 480-81. JSTOR. Web. 28 May 2013.
10. Eiler, Keith. 154.
11. Koistinen, Paul A.C. "Keith E. Eiler, Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort, 1940-1945." Armed Forces and Society Summer 25.3 (1999): 679-82. JSTOR. Web. 28 May 2013.
12. Eiler, Keith. 7.
13. Eiler, Keith. 405.
14. Eiler, Keith. 473.
Author Biography-
Keith Eiler, born in 1920, went to school at the University of Nebraska before moving on to West Point. When he graduated from West Point, he was immediately drafted to serve in Europe. He later served in the Korean War before retiring in 1965. After retiring he earned his PhD in American civilization and worked at the Hoover Institution for 20 years. Mobilizing America was his only published book.