Taking Liberties

“MarAd eyes plan to send last Liberty Ship to Greece” was the headline, and this is the story:

“WASHINGTON, DC — Maritime Administrator Sean T. Connaughton has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with representatives of the Government of Greece to pursue an agreement to transfer the Liberty ship Arthur M. Huddell to the Greek government for use as a museum. The World War II-era Huddell is the last Liberty ship in the Maritime Administration’s fleet. It is currently moored in the James River Reserve Fleet site at Fort Eustis, Virginia. American shipyards built 2,751 Liberty ships during World War II, in the largest shipbuilding effort in history …”

• “ … during World War II …” – Our involvement was from December 7, 1941 to August 14, 1945, a total of 1,346 days.

• “… 2,751 Liberty ships … in the largest shipbuilding effort in history.”

And those Liberty ships are just part of the story. We gave it broader coverage in our Vol. VII, Art. 2 commentary, “How times have changed …”, recalling how this nation reacted in a real crisis.

“All things considered,” we asked, “why aren’t we dealing with today’s assault on our nation as we dealt with the 1941 assault”? Today’s real crisis, apart from anything you’ve heard to the contrary, is the assault on our national economy, and the way things are being mismanaged, there is no possible way to pull out of this devastating economic tailspin unless we get our shipbuilding act together much as we did in the World War II-era. Here’s how the American worker responded from 1941 through 1945:

• “We revitalized our shipyards … about 100 of them.
• We built 2,751 Liberty Ships … and one of them, the SS Robert E. Peary, was built in the remarkable time of just 4-and-a-half days!
• We built 534 Victory Ships.
• We built 1,198 LSTs.
• We built more than 800 DDs and more than 800 DEs.
… and that was just the small stuff.
• We built the world’s most powerful navy … 35 Aircraft carriers, 10 Battleships, 2 Battle Cruisers, 15 Heavy Cruisers, 36 Light Cruisers … and hundreds and hundreds of Auxiliaries.

“All told, we delivered 5,150 vessels to the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945, yet none of the time and effort devoted to shipbuilding stood in the way of those who were simultaneously building the more than 125,000 aircraft needed for the conduct of the war.

“Tanks, artillery, ordinance, wartime equipment and supplies of every description … all in a day’s work … and unlike today’s bewilderment, there was no terrorist scenario to ‘keep them awake at night’ because the war was being fought in someone else’s backyard. We’re a lot worse off today.

“Check out this response. In 1942, out of the blue and on 150 acres of Hingham (Mass.) Harbor shoreline, a shipyard sprung up under the auspices of Bethlehem Steel and the Navy Department. At its peak this new shipyard employed 30,000 people, produced an average of six ships per month, and delivered a total of 277 vessels before it was shut down. This marked the first mass production of ships, and as many as 16 at a time were under construction on 16 different ways.

“The construction time for a fleet destroyer before the outbreak of the war had been eight to ten months, but that stopgap shipyard in Hingham could build a DE in just 25 days, and 100 of these Destroyer Escorts were delivered to the Navy. Among the other record-setting achievements was the launching of one DE in four-and-one-half days, ‘a world record for building a major war vessel’; delivering 10 DEs in one month; and laying 16 keels in one day. And that was just one shipyard. One of the nation’s smallest.

“Did we ‘outsource’ our maritime needs during those fateful WW II years? We could have found cheaper labor all over the globe but it never crossed our minds. We knew better than to trust anyone with our security, especially after the events at Pearl Harbor. How times have changed. Except for an occasional carrier, frigate or submarine, our shipbuilding resources are now confined to the construction of utility vessels. The U.S. Merchant Marine, once the world’s largest, is a thing of the past and the need to rely on commercial vessels flying other flags has brought us a peck of trouble.

“‘We can’t compete with the foreign yards’, the authorities keep telling us. ‘They pay such low wages to their workers, it makes no sense for us to sink billions into a non-competitive shipbuilding program,’ is the parroted rationale. These same authorities fail to see that the reliance upon vessels built and operated by foreign entities has created a myriad of unsolvable problems for the entire country. First of all, we’re not saving billions of dollars by not paying Americans to build ships. Let’s be clear on that point. The truth of the matter is that we’re dissipating trillions of dollars trying to gain some measure of security precisely because we chose to save those few billions and opted instead to surrender our dominant maritime position. So now it’s crunch time, and we’re trying to spend our way out of the mess we’ve created. The way we spend money, however, is akin to a hunter who fires a spread of birdshot into the air hoping that a bird will come along and fly into it.

“Let’s go back a little to the part about being non-competitive. That alibi never held water and it’s even more porous now. We need security and we need to create jobs, and the revitalization of our shipyards will guarantee those two goals. On a number of occasions in these commentaries we’ve described our patented container ship design. We designed that revolutionary shipboard system and we’ve patented it in every country having shipbuilding capabilities. That means that, having the title to this patent, we have the right ‘to exclude others from making, using or selling’ the invention. It also means that if we permit only U.S. shipyards to build these newly-designed ships, wage scales of foreign workers will be of no concern. And finally, it means that our seamen, on our ships, will be inspecting 100% of the containers shipped to us from overseas sources … and these inspection procedures, using the latest technologies, will be completed prior to the cargo’s arrival at U.S. ports.

“We’ll be spending just a fraction of the trillions of dollars we’re now obliged to throw away, we’ll be doing it judiciously, and there will be no ‘terrorist scenario to keep us awake at night’.”