Friday, July 23, 2010

Industrial Espionage in World War II

This morning I got to contemplating World War II and how the world changed at that point in history. The United States became perhaps the greatest economic power in the world at that point, largely be default. The war was massive, global in scale, and demanded a lot of resources. Being distant from the fields of battle, and being an advanced industrial nation, we were in a position to become the supplier of wartime goods to the rest of the beleaguered world.

I got to thinking on the strategies necessary to defeat the United States under those circumstances. Germany was its own source of production, drawing on the resources of conquered lands. However, the industries of Germany were in constant danger, as that nation was quite in the middle of the fighting. They may have established the fronts far from home, but air warfare eventually brought the battles home.

Japan was isolated,  being an island nation, and so able to remain distant from most of the fighting. England less so, being within striking distance of missiles and aircraft. Japan, however, had little ready access to resources and so had attenuated supply lines, making that nation vulnerable.

Our own isolation was more significant. Nobody was within easy striking distance, and as a nation we were huge. We had a lot of resources within our own nation. Industries were spread out and not easy targets. So, how to attack the United States? Large scale industrial espionage. Slow, stop or destroy the industrial infrastructure to halt the production and distribution of war materials.

The Germans had established groups of people in the United States who were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Some of them did, indeed, act as agents of destruction and committed acts of espionage. Since I am only recently entered into this line of thought I do not yet know the degree of their success.

The other threat was the body of Japanese in America. More recently come to the United States than the Germans, and more easily identified, they were suspect as a people. Their culture in America was also a factor. Not having assimilated yet in large numbers they remained in clannish groups, huddled in identifiable Japanese neighborhoods. The prejudices of those already established worked against the Japanese in America in many ways.

Additionally, it was a practice of many Japanese families who could afford to do so to send their children back to Japan for part of their education. This at least implied an incomplete loyalty to the United States of America. How many of those children might have been indoctrinated and trained to perform organized espionage in the United States?

Now, if I can come to this conclusion so many years later, what might the intelligence community of the United States waging a war of undetermined outcome have concluded? That they rounded up the Japanese in America and isolated them might more easily be understood in this light. It certainly changed my perspective.

That does not make it any less terrible, taking people from their homes and confiscating their property. It was not, however, without precedent. Look at the Trail of Tears. In retrospect, some policies enacted by the United States have been far from ideal. Had the German people in America been less assimilated and more easily identified, a similar policy may have fallen on them, as well.

I was born slightly after the end of World War II. The United States had been less damaged by the trial, and perhaps made stronger for the discipline of wartime production. As the only industrial nation of significance still standing we had the advantage. I have enjoyed growing up in a rather prosperous era in a nation of great wealth and opportunity.

Many made sacrifices over the years to create that prosperity. Many were sacrificed, to include Negro slaves, displaced Native Americans, and displaced Japanese Americans. I am grateful to all who contributed to the freedom and prosperity I have experienced, whether they gave willingly or unwillingly.

I am not faced with the circumstances that led the decision makers in the United States to rob citizens and resident aliens of their freedom to protect the nation from industrial espionage. However, after contemplating the matter, I am perhaps a bit less inclined to judge them for their actions. Halting a likely enemy from committing an act of war is not a bad decision in times of war.


mac said...

Evident to me in all the peoples you mention...NONE were white.

You noted that Germans weren't rounded up and detained during WWII but The Japanese were.
I know it may be revisionist history, but I still see a lot of the things in your post (not from you, but the US) as being, by and large, racially motivated.

It's much easier to have an "us vs them" mentality when "them" are so easily identifiable.

I still see a bit of it today. How many times have you heard the idea of racial profiling bantied about? In regards to the current war(S) ?

Michael Lockridge said...

Racism is an obvious factor in a lot of past policies. Previous generations generally had no problem with certain degrees of racism. Profiling, whether official or not, may well be a survival "instinct." (I actually want a word that is a lesser form of instinct, but can't find one that seems to work.) We are, after all, tribal creatures.

In our current involvements profiling would certainly allow more focussed targeting of resources. Very few females from Omaha who have never been out of the country and have no obvious middle eastern connections are likely terrorist threats, yet the same resources are focussed on them as more likely candidates.

On the other hand, we have seen how well past official and unofficial policies of that nature have worked. At least as we muddle through the current situation we are more equitably invasive.

mac said...

Not all terrorists are from the Middle East.

I wonder, was vigilant surveilence of crazy boys necessary after McVeigh and his bunch attacked Oklahoma City ?
Should we monitor veterans more closely?

Michael Lockridge said...

Noted. Perhaps monitoring veterans might be a good idea, especially since so many are getting pretty raw deals in this series of conflicts.

Being a Viet Nam Era vet, I learned a lot of things that could be useful if I one day felt the compulsion to terrorize. There are many others who know interesting things, as well. Perhaps it would be wise of the "haves" to remember that.

Outside of a radical idealism, extremes of unfairness can compel terrorism. You are right, anyone could feel the compulsion to terrorize.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

"The Good War", by Studs Terkel is still in my opinion the best book on WW II ever written.

I remember asking my father about an excerpt from the book on the treatment of African Americans during the war.

He was briefly at Fort Knox and he corroborated the accounts. He told me that the German POW's served as cooks etc on the fort, lived in barracks and had no curfew. The black American troops had a curfew and lived away in a muddy field in tents.