Herman’s latest research project was published last month by Random House. Called Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, he sums it up as a story about “releasing the innate productive power of American business.” The thesis of the book is that the arsenal of democracy was able to be built because of the decentralized and innovative nature of U.S. industry and not because of any direction by bureaucrats in Washington. The fact that there was no single “arms czar” during World War II was instrumental in making the war production effort successful.
Because we met on the 68th anniversary of D-Day, I asked Dr. Herman — who lives in Charlottesville — about the relationship of war production on the home front and that famous Normandy invasion.
When Herman thinks about D-Day, in particular, he focuses on two things.
“First of all,” he explained, D-Day was about more than amassing military personnel “but also amassing a vast industrial effort.”
Two thirds of the landing craft and sea-going vessels used on D-Day were produced in American factories, he said, and “it’s a tribute not just to the bravery of our armed forces but also to the huge logistical possibilities that American industry could generate a landing and an enterprise of the sort that the world had never seen.”
The second thing about D-Day that comes to Herman’s mind is that “the very first Americans to get news that the landings were successful were the people working the night shifts in the factories on the East Coast.”
At the Bethlehem Shipyard in Sparrow’s Point in Baltimore, he recalled, “work stopped and everybody sank to their knees and said the Lord’s Prayer as they got the news.”
That, he said, is “really fitting, that the people who produced the tools that made that victory possible were the very first to learn that what they had done, and what they had contributed to, had been a success.”
Herman also noted, in response to another question, that the parachutes used by troops who jumped behind the lines on D-Day were manufactured in Charlottesville by Ix Mills (located in what is now called the Frank Ix building near downtown). Small world, isn’t it?