Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 5: a case study example of the consequences of a priori underlying assumptions 4

Posted in macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 9, 2014

This is my fifth installment to a series on strategy as it is developed in practice, and on where it is developed from (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 490 and loosely following for Parts 1-4.)

I began this series by briefly outlining the beginning to a general approach for developing more business-specific strategy so to more effectively meet the specific needs of the particular organization that it would be applied to (see Part 1.) And in the course of doing that, I noted that the approach that I would offer, applies equally to both private sector business, and public sector government strategic planning contexts.

Most of the case studies and examples that I have presented in the course of writing this blog have been drawn from the private sector and from for-profit, nonprofit and not for profit businesses. So as counterpoint to that, if nothing else, I decided to develop the basic organizing approach that I would discuss in this series, around a government policy example and one of long-standing historical import: the challenge of developing and maintaining necessary personnel levels in military forces as that has historically been strived for and achieved in the United States. And I have been taking an historical timeline approach in presenting that, beginning with Part 2, first offering a quick orienting overview of policy and its consequences from the American Revolution on to the present, and then stepping back to flesh out some pertinent details (see Part 3 and Part 4.) My goal in this is not to offer anything like an exhaustive history of the United States military and even just for the more narrow set of issues of how its force levels have been reached. I have instead focused on a series of historical turning points in what would be that larger narrative, and how troop levels were determined and met through them.

I have focused on the issues of voluntary enlistment and forced conscription: the draft as these approaches were used during the United States Civil War in Part 4 and noted at the end of that installment that I would go on to consider the US military and its efforts to maintain necessary troop levels during the Second World War. And I turn to that next step of this narrative here.

The United States has vacillated historically between widespread and deeply felt isolationism and a sense of international place and purpose and of more active international connection. And when Nazi Germany began taking form and when war began breaking out in Europe as a result of Nazi aggression, many and even most Americans chose to see this as a problem limited to Europe and to the other side of the Atlantic. Most Americans took a similar view towards their country becoming entangled in the growing conflicts of the Western Pacific as Japan sought hegemony over the South and East China Seas and their neighbors in all directions in that distant part of the world – including China and countries and territories of the Southeast Asian peninsula. Then Japan launched a massive surprise attack on the US naval forces at Pearl Harbor, and Germany all but immediately declared war in the United States in follow-up to that. Isolationism evaporated to be replaced by determination to strike back and on both fronts.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had already been ramping up American capacity to build military armaments of all types in order to supply and aid Great Britain, France and other nations under Nazi assault. He had to present this to Congress under the guise of programs such as Lend Lease, pre-Pearl Harbor but he was able to accomplish that. So the American armaments industries were already ramping up to be able to meet the needs of an American military, as well as to support our now immediate, actively supported allies. But American military forces were sufficiently low in overall strength so as to leave them in 17th place for overall force-of-arms capability worldwide, and certainly for measures such as troop strength. That, among other details almost certainly contributed to both Japan and Germany seeing the United States as weak and unthreatening and particularly given their own military buildups.

Then Japan attacked, and both at Pearl Harbor and at a wide range of other locations in and around the Pacific. And at Pearl Harbor alone more than 2,400 Americans were killed and almost 1,200 were wounded, many gravely. And as Roosevelt stated in a speech the next day, immediately before the US Congress declared a state of war with Japan, December 7, 1941 became “a date which will live in infamy.” And Americans set aside their isolationism and began streaming into military service.

I made note in earlier series installments of the level of support shown serving in the military in this war effort, and I noted the spirit of volunteerism and of voluntary enlistment shown – and certainly in contrast to the discord and the draft riots of the US Civil War. Congress had in fact passed a draft act on September 16, 1940, in the form of the Burke-Wadsworth Act and this was the first peacetime draft enacted in US history. But this was identified as and voted into law as a Selective Training and Service Act, requiring men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register. It was voted through as a way to bring larger numbers of working age Americans back into the workforce and employment, and not as a means of building up a stronger military. When Japan attacked the United States, crowds formed around those draft registration offices, of men seeking to actively serve, volunteering if they were not already registered. This conscription law was updated and amended after the start of hostilities to lower the allowable registration and military service age to 18.

There were dissenters and war resisters, many of whom resisted military service on explicitly, deeply held religious grounds. There were also men who were ineligible to serve and even if they very actively wanted to do so, for reasons of health or because of past criminal records. But race and ethnicity could also be barriers to military service, and many who wished to serve were caught up in that, either through denial of opportunity to serve or through opportunity to do so but only as menials. Two groups that were very significantly impacted upon by racial discrimination in this were Blacks and Asians of Japanese ancestry.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment. And in anticipation of that, note that the basic issues that I will be developing there as material for my more general discussion will involve reconciling overall principles and values as proclaimed, with practices followed and principles and values actually lived by and as organized into ongoing policy and strategy. And I will write of the Tuskegee Airmen, and of the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry in the Western United States, even as their equally ethnic-Japanese fathers, husbands, sons and brothers fought in Europe in the US military in the 442nd Infantry Regiment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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