views updated May 23 2018


Before 1898, there was almost no serious planning in the United States for a major war. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, by contrast, the United States was able to draw on a quarter-century of formal planning for mobilization. This rise in readiness helped the United States and its allies win World War II. But it also involved serious struggles over American political and cultural ideals.

preparedness and anti–preparedness movements

One of the most important military preparedness campaigns in American history began just before World War I. This campaign was led by former president Theodore Roosevelt and his friend Leonard Wood, who had been military governor of Cuba after the Spanish-American War. In 1913, when he was serving as the army's chief of staff, General Wood started a summer military training program for college students. This program served as the foundation for the Plattsburg movement, named after the location of one of the main summer training camps in upstate New York. In the summer of 1915, four Plattsburg-style camps trained some 4,000 men, many of them middle-aged business leaders from Eastern cities. The Plattsburg movement called for "Universal Military Training" (UMT) for American males. They believed that UMT would not only prepare the nation for a future war, but would also create a more disciplined citizenry.

During the Progressive Era and World War I, the preparedness question divided Americans. Wood and Roosevelt were supported by organizations such as the Military Training Camp Association, the National Security League, and the American Defense Society. Such groups, whose influence peaked in 1916, were opposed by pacifist organizations such as Jane Addams' Women's Peace Party and the American Union Against Militarism.

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, a draft mobilized 4 million soldiers in under two years. But when the war ended, Congress and President Woodrow Wilson rejected the idea of instituting a peacetime draft or UMT; instead, they returned the nation to the former system, consisting of a small, volunteer regular army and a National Guard. It was only after a new draft starting in 1940, which put 1.6 million soldiers in uniform by the eve of Pearl Harbor, that the United States returned to a compulsory service program.

industrial mobilization planning

Military-industrial cooperation in modern America was pioneered by the U.S. Navy, which by the 1880s had already begun to construct new steel battleships. By the eve of World War I, the U.S. Navy had a world-class fleet. Although Congress did not fund it fully during the years between World War I and World War II, the navy continued to modernize. Thus the navy and its industrial base remained at a relatively high level of mobilization throughout this period, even if they did not fully anticipate the stresses of a future war.

Planning for an industrial mobilization that would support a large army began just before the U.S. entered World War I. By 1915, when American companies were already supplying arms to European nations, calls for economic mobilization planning were coming from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and private citizens such as Wall Street financier Bernard Baruch. By 1916, Washington was home to a new "Committee on Industrial Preparedness," comprised of business executives who conducted surveys of American industrial capacity. During the war itself, the most important economic coordination agency was the War Industries Board (WIB), led by Baruch.

After World War I, the military planned for economic mobilization through a variety of new institutions. The National Defense Act of 1920 created an Office of the Assistant Secretary of War, which became responsible for military-industrial planning. The Army-Navy Munitions Board (created in 1922) and the Army Industrial College (1924) also promoted cooperation between the military and key industries.

Meanwhile, some Americans, aware of the high profits enjoyed by some military contractors in World War I, expressed concerns about military-industrial connections. Throughout the interwar period, the American Legion and other groups tried to secure legislation that would limit contractors' profits in future wars. In the mid–1930s, pacifists helped to create the Nye Committee, a special Senate body that used its powers to curtail alleged profiteering and warmongering among munitions suppliers.

Despite the public opposition, however, military strategists planned to harness the economy for war. In the 1930s, they published a series of Industrial Mobilization Plans (IMPs) that imagined a mobilization coordinated by a WIB-style central civilian authority. Although the IMP model was not followed exactly by President Franklin Roosevelt, many of the military-industrial connections and policy recommendations cultivated by the interwar planners were used in World War II.

strategic planning

Although much of the American public was wary of war, small groups of military planners created scenarios for future wars. Such preparations were promoted by increasing specialization within the armed services. The Naval War College (established in 1884) and the Army War College (1900), which offered advanced training to officers, were both interested in strategic planning. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the war colleges imagined a frightening array of conflicts with potential enemies all over the world.

The foresight of these strategic planners should not be exaggerated. Plans for wars against Mexico or Britain sat on the shelf. The speed of German advances in 1940, along with the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, were not anticipated. Nevertheless, strategic planners did prepare for World War II. Plans for a war against Japan in the Pacific, color-coded "Orange" by the military, had developed over a period of forty years before they were actually used. In the 1930s, the U.S. military was anticipating global coalition warfare; in 1940, American strategic planners had drafted a "Rainbow" plan that called for defeating Germany first, and then Japan. This strategy was used successfully during World War II.

Although the United States did not enter a state of high peacetime military mobilization until the Cold War, the first half of the twentieth century had seen significant efforts to plan for war. During those years, some Americans inside and outside the military viewed preparedness as an important way of promoting national security; others, however, wondered if such planning might actually make war more likely. This debate would continue into the future.


Finnegan, John Patrick. Against the Specter of a Dragon: The Campaign for American Military Preparedness, 1914–1917. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.

Gole, Henry G. The Road to Rainbow: Army Planning for Global War, 1934–1940. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2003.

Koistinen, Paul A.C. Mobilizing for Modern War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1865–1919. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.

Koistinen, Paul A.C. Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1920–1939. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Pearlman, Michael. To Make Democracy Safe for America: Patricians and Preparedness in the Progressive Era. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

Ross, Steven T. American War Plans, 1890–1939. London: Frank Cass, 2002.

Mark R. Wilson

See also:Addams, Jane; Roosevelt, Theodore.


views updated May 29 2018


PREPAREDNESS, a campaign designed to strengthen U.S. military forces after the outbreak of World War I. The movement began in 1914 and gathered momentum steadily as the danger of American involvement in the European struggle grew. In 1914 and 1915 Theodore Roosevelt, along with members of two newly formed organizations, the National Security League and the League to Enforce Peace, rallied popular support behind military preparation. Initially, President Woodrow Wilson's administration was cool to the preparedness agitation, and many of the movement's leaders, particularly Roosevelt, openly criticized the president's inaction.

As time passed, however, Wilson apparently decided that preparedness fit well with his demand that warring nations respect American rights. Wilson became a strong advocate of larger armaments after the Germans began their submarine warfare in February 1915. In December 1915 the administration presented Congress with a comprehensive national defense plan, which lawmakers enacted as the National Defense Act of 3 June 1916 and the Naval Appropriations Act of 29 August.

Although both statutes called for an unprecedented increase in the nation's armed forces, neither proved to be particularly effective. As a result, the material achievement of Roosevelt and other advocates of American military preparation was small compared to the tremendous national war effort of 1917 and 1918. Yet, the preparedness campaign readied the nation psychologically for the ordeal that lay ahead and specifically paved the way for the federal government's institution of compulsory service.


Ferrell, Robert H. Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917–1921. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Eric J.Morser

C. P.Stacey

See alsoAmerican Legion ; Defense, National ; Mobilization .


views updated May 14 2018

pre·par·ed·ness / prəˈpe(ə)r(ə)dnis/ • n. a state of readiness, esp. for war: the country maintained a high level of military preparedness.