Railroads and national security
We like to think of our railroads only as great agencies for the promotion of human welfare and human progress. We know how they distribute the many products of our fields, forests, mines, quarries, factories and waters, enabling our own people and the people of other parts of the world, who exchange their products for ours, to enjoy a better standard of living. We all have better food, more clothing, better houses, more leisure and more education than we would have if railroads and other transportation facilities did not make it possible to carry on our national and international trade. Unhappily, however, the nations of the world have not yet learned to live at peace with one another. They still act too often on the belief that war offers the only means of settling their differences, war, with its destruction, its misery and horror, that seldom fails to leave the world poorer and unhappier than it was before the war began.
Already this twentieth century has witnessed two great wars, in which so many peoples and nations were involved that they were both called World Wars. Though the United States had no part in starting either of these tremendous conflicts, we were drawn into both of them, and played a leading part in bringing them to a close with military victory for us and those at whose side we were fighting.
Widespread war puts an end to peaceful trade. It also changes the entire pattern of working and living in those countries which engage in war. All industry must be devoted to purposes for which much of it was not originally designed. No other industry shows the change, which war demands, more than the great industry we call transportation.
For modern war — successful war — depends largely upon efficient transportation. A famous cavalry leader of the Confederate States of America, Nathan Bedford Forrest, when asked who had the best chance to gain victory in battle, is said to have replied: "The one who gets there fustest with the mostest." Though the historical accuracy of this remark has been questioned, and though the statement may not be invari
ably true, many a victorious army has rejoiced, and many a defeated army mourned, because it has been true. Another way of saying the same thing became a common expression during the early years of the Second World War, though instead of telling how victory was won it gave the explanation of reverse after reverse and defeat after defeat. This expression was: "Too little, and too late."
Both the expressions, the one explaining victory, the other defeat, merely acknowledge that successful war demands prompt, speedy and effective transportation. This has always been true, but never was the truth brought home more clearly and more forcibly than in the Second World War. Transportation was recognized as the chief "bottleneck" of modern warfare.
In the olden days, when men fought with swords and spears, and bows and arrows, transportation was important, but it was primarily a matter of how speedily armies could march, and how expeditiously foot soldiers and cavalry could be placed in advantageous positions for battle. After gunpowder was introduced , transportation came to mean the disposition of artillery as well as the movement of cavalry and infantry. On the sea it was the speed and maneuverability of ships. From Julius Caesar to Frederick the Great and Napoleon, from Sir Francis Drake to Lord Nelson, great commanders on land and sea were noted for the skill, precision and speed with which they moved their armies and fleets. History tells us that in our Revolutionary War the tide of conflict frequently turned upon the dilatory movement of some generals, and upon the swift advance or retreat of others.
Today, like most of the industries of peace, war has become highly mechanized. The effectiveness of military might depends upon the mass movement, not only of great numbers of troops, but also of immense numbers of guns, both large and small, of tanks, and armored trucks, and planes, and just as important, of the fuel and oil and water for these vehicles, of the huge quantities of ammunition which the guns devour, and of the food, clothing and other supplies of the struggling armies.
In the Second World War the outcome of many a conflict depended upon the effectiveness of transportation. The furious speed with which Germany overwhelmed Poland, Denmark , Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, Greece and Crete in turn, was a triumph of speedy transportation. Germany's drive into Russia was at first highly successful, but as she drove deeper and deeper, and lines of communication between the battle front and bases at home became longer and longer, and the physical difficulties of transportation became greater and greater, she found it impossible to exert the same power which had previously enabled her to sweep aside all opposition. Transportation became her weakness, as before it had been her strength. In the various campaigns in Africa, with the alternating advances and retreats, the problem of the attacking army, whether British or German, became ever more difficult as lines of communication lengthened. The shrewdest blow
that Japan dealt to China was the capture of the Burma Road. One of the chief factors in the final victory of the United States over Japan was the virtual destruction of all of Japan's connections with the mainland of Asia where most of the raw materials for Japan's mills originated. D-Day in Europe, in June, 1944, was another triumph of transportation, following months of assembling vehicles and supplies, the construction of facilities with which an artificial harbor was made in the space of a few hours on the coast of Normandy, the skilful handling of a powerful force of men, and the maintenance of a steady flow of essential supplies.
Day in 1945 was the climax of a contest in transportation, in which German forces were rendered virtually immobile by the destruction of many of their railroads, highways, land vehicles and planes, and the destruction of sources of fuel supply for the small remainder, while the transportation facilities of our own forces increased constantly in quantity and
effectiveness. "Logistics," a word that came to be used with great frequency during the war, was the art of assembling the vast material of warfare and getting everything to its proper place at the right time. No other part of military science received more study in the Second World War than logistics. The part which our country was able to take in the war in Europe and the power which it exerted in the Orient were determined by transportation. Distance from our enemies saved our cities from devastating raids by air. But if that distance saved us much, it also cost us much. For a time we lost all our possessions in the Far East, and our difficulty in recovering them lay not in our lack of strength, but in the lack of ability to transport that strength to the area where the struggle had to take place. In the war in Europe the extent of our participation was largely a matter of transportation. In her contest with the United States, Germany's chief weapon was the lurking submarine, with which she fought not so much our armed forces but our transportation—the ships in which we had to carry men and supplies to far-off battle fronts. It was in her great fleet of submarines that lay Germany's hope of victory in the Second World War, just as in the First World War. It was the defeat of the submarine which led to Germany's eventual downfall.
The transportation of our forces to the scene of battle, however , was but a small part of our war transportation problem. Our greatest difficulty was transportation on the home front, transportation in the United States itself.
We had done but little to prepare for war before war was thrust upon us. We were confronted almost overnight with the task of raising a vast army, of providing this army, as well as the armies of our allies, with vast quantities of military supplies . We were faced also with the problems, not only of moving this army and these supplies across two oceans, but of building ships in which they could be carried, and of building the naval vessels with which troop transports and freighters could be protected. The United States had to raise armies to defend democracy, and it had to become what President Roosevelt called a mighty "arsenal of democracy." We had to build the planes, tanks, guns and ships of modern war, and when the war began for us, we did not even have the factories and the shipyards, not to mention the machines and the organized manpower, with which they were to be built.
Back of the enormous problems of production were the problems of transportation, the problems of assembling the vast quantities of fuel and raw materials, and the problem of distributing the finished products. Back of the problem of raising and training armies was the problem of assembling the men who would make up the armies. Added to the demand which preparation for war would impose upon our transportion facilities was the need to meet, if possible, the continuing demands of the civilian population for food, fuel, clothing, and many other things which our people consume.
Before the war broke out the United States had a supply of transportation facilities sufficient to meet current peaceful needs. We had the railroads, which we have described, and which lor a century had been the backbone of our transporta
Lion system. We had a fairly large fleet of merchant ships, some of them on our inland waters, some engaged in our coastwise trade, and some in our overseas trade, taking our exports to foreign lands and bringing back coffee, sugar, cocoa, tea, rubber , hides, tin, burlap and many other commodities which we had to purchase abroad. Some of our most important ships were the fleet of tankers that carried oil from the Pacific Coast and the Gulf coast to refineries along our North Atlantic seaboard . Then we had a vast number of highway motor vehicles, most of them private automobiles, but there were also nearly four and a half million large and small trucks, as well as several thousand buses and taxicabs. We had a few interurban electric railways, and a large number of urban trolley lines, both tracked and trackless, and in our largest cities several miles of subway and elevated passenger railroads. There were several thousand miles of pipe line for the transportation of oil, gas and gasoline, and finally a growing fleet of commercial airplanes , employed in both domestic and foreign trade and transportation.
The very first effect of the war on the domestic front was its impact on our system of transportation, a system with which
we had so long been familiar that it had come to be taken as a matter of course, like sunrise and sunset, something which could never be disturbed. We had a rude awakening. Numerous tankers which had been used to serve our civilian needs had already been turned over to England. Now many more tankers, as well as other ships, had to be diverted to the use of our own armed forces. Then enemy submarines began to sink our ships, sink them so close to our shores that dwellers along the seaboard could see the high columns of flame and smoke which signaled their destruction. Almost before we knew it we found that sugar, coffee, bananas, and other products which came to us on ships were becoming scarce. One branch of our transportation system, our ocean shipping, was badly crippled. But that was just the beginning. There was much worse to come. Our eastern states found that they no longer had the quantity of oil and gasoline to which they had become accustomed , for heating homes and operating motor cars. On top of that, we awoke to the unpalatable fact that our chief source of natural rubber had passed into enemy hands, and that our reserve stockpile of rubber, though large, was far below the amount necessary to permit consumption for more than a
few months at the usual rate. Moreover there lay just ahead an enormous demand for rubber, for the tires of the trucks, planes, tractors and other vehicles which our armed forces would need. So another branch of our domestic transportation service, transportation by motor vehicle, had to be curtailed, eventually to the point where pleasure driving had to be resolutely forbidden, and the most rigid economy practiced in the use of motor vehicles for all other purposes. Air transportation too, for civilian needs, had to be reduced.
So it went. An ever growing demand for transportation; a gradually mounting shortage of customary facilities. Ships, motor vehicles and airplanes lost, diverted to military use, or put out of service because of the shortage of critical materials, there was but one way to turn. The nation looked to the railroads to take up the burden. Never did our railroads have a greater task to perform, and never have they performed a task so well.
The railroads deserve all the more credit for the work they performed because they were handicapped at the start. The economic depression, which had begun in 1929, had brought discouraging years of reduced traffic and low earnings. Not only had all branches of business enterprise, upon which the railroads depended for their prosperity, declined severely, but there had been a steady growth of competition from new agencies of transportation. Because of the decline of traffic, railroad rolling stock had been permitted to dwindle, and smaller and smaller sums had been available to spend each year on maintenance of track and equipment.
With physical plant much reduced, and what remained by no means in top condition, the railroads were called upon to carry a burden of traffic greater than they had ever carried before . While it was possible, during the war years, for them to make small additions to their plant, these additions were limited, because the railroads could claim as their fair share only a small part of steel, copper and other materials, the available supply of which was altogether too small to satisfy the nation's needs.
Despite all handicaps, the railroads stood up to the task which confronted them. In 1942, the first full year of war, with fewer locomotives, fewer cars, and fewer employees, the railroads hauled a greater volume of traffic than they had hauled in 1929, the year which had set the highest previous mark. During the remaining war years, though they had some slight additions to their equipment, they continued to break all former records. Raw materials for munitions and armament reached the mills on time and in necessary quantity, the enormous personnel of the armed forces was carried to ports of embarkation, and even civilian needs were cared for as adequately as could be expected under war conditions. There were occasional shortages of space, trains were crowded, and it was necessary to discourage travel for pleasure. But the shortage of railroad transportation was far less than the shortage of many other things to which the civilian population had long been accustomed.
How did the railroads do it? How could it be done? They did it by using every car, every locomotive, every freight yard, every siding, every main track, more efficiently than they had ever been used before either in time of peace or in time of war. Shippers co-operated eagerly and enthusiastically. Cars were loaded more heavily, loaded and unloaded more promptly . The railroads moved their cars more rapidly, and in longer heavier trains. Delay in freight yards was cut to a minimum. Employees of both shippers and railroads, who had been accustomed to take "Saturdays off," worked six, and if need be, seven days a week. Shortages of labor were met in part by the employment of women and high school boys in positions long occupied only by men, and our friendly neighbor to the South, the republic of Mexico, provided several thousand track laborers and mechanics for our hard-pressed carriers. To the Office of Defense Transportation, the executive agency established by presidential order in 1941 to cooperate
with carriers and shippers in solving the transportation problems created by war, belonged a large part of the credit. The teamwork of ODT, shippers, railroads, and other carriers was of the highest order of excellence, and their combined accomplishment furnished a fine example of how government and business enterprise in America could rise to an emergency.
We must not fail to mention that American railroad executives and American railroad workmen duplicated on the fighting front the kind of work that was done at home. Thousands of men, some already experienced in railroad work, and others fitted for their duties by intensive courses of training under American railroad officials, called into military service, carried the methods and traditions of American railroads to many lands across the sea. In England, in Iran, in Africa, in Russia, in Italy, in France, in Germany, in India, in New Caledonia, in Alaska—all over the world—the Military Railway Service of the Transportation Corps of the United States Army operated, repaired and maintained thousands of miles of railroad performing services necessary to the success of our fighting forces. D-Day was scarcely over when American locomotives and cars were emerging from LST's on the shore of Normandy, to take their part in the liberation of France. Outdoing Julius Caesar and his legions, on April 8, 1945, the Corps of Engineers of the Army, with the cooperation of the MRS, completed a bridge across the Rhine at Wesel, which they had begun to build only ten days before. Everywhere our armies went in Europe our railroad forces went too, and often the railroad battalions were in advance of combat units, preparing the way for their onward movement.
Throughout the entire war our railroads performed a service , both at home and abroad, that was beyond praise. No other branch of American business enterprise made a greater contribution to victory, and no other industry did its part more wholeheartedly and more efficiently. The railroads were foremost among the bulwarks of American freedom. In planning for the preservation of our national security in the future nothing should be thought more important than the maintenance of a sound, efficient railroad system.
It was freedom—American freedom—that the military and industrial might of our country was defending in the two great wars in which we have been compelled to take part during the present century. If national security means anything it means the preservation of this freedom, which has been the one abiding characteristic of what we call the "American way of life." In our national hymn our country is "Sweet Land of Liberty;" in our national anthem it is the "land of the free."
In our Declaration of Independence "Liberty" was one of the unalienable rights of all men. One of the purposes of ordaining our Federal Constitution was to secure the "blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Of the great speeches in our political annals, those best remembered, perhaps, are Patrick Henry's, with its "give me Liberty or give me death,"
Webster's, with "Liberty and Union, now and forever," Lincoln's immortal words at Gettysburg, where he asked that we resolve that this nation "conceived in Liberty" have a "new birth of Freedom," and Roosevelt's address championing the "Four Freedoms" for all mankind.
It is this liberty which the railroads have helped protect. It is a noteworthy fact that our railroads are an outstanding symbol of what we mean by freedom in America. The railroad system of the United States is the only one in all the great countries of the world that is still "free," still owned and operated by citizens as a free, private enterprise, and not by the state. It is the grave responsibility of these owners, and of the nation as a whole to see that such marks of American freedom are carefully guarded.
It was highly appropriate that the railroad system of the United States should have been selected in 1947 as the agency through which were exhibited the documents constituting the chief landmarks in the rise and growth of the spirit of freedom in America. Planned originally by the Department of Justice, and sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation, a "Freedom Train" left Washington September 17, 1947, bound on a 33,000 mile journey which was to carry it through all of the forty-eight states, and give thousands upon thousands of children and adults an opportunity to see the historic documents which meant so much in the development of our heritage.
There were many documents, some of them replicas, some of them original. There was a copy of Magna Carta, England's ancient charter of freedom wrung from an unwilling king centuries ago. There was a letter from Christopher Columbus, written in 1493, in which he told of his discovery of what he fondly thought was the East Indies, but turned out to be a New World. The Mayflower Compact, the first of American "constitutions ," Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence , and Washington's copy of our Federal Constitution reminded us of the steps we took in shaping a destiny planned by ourselves and not dictated by western Europe. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and his Gettysburg Address, written by his Own hand, were among the documents which held the greatest interest for those who visited the train. The Japanese and the German surrender documents, the American flag raised on Mount Suribachi during the capture of I wo Jima, and the Charter of the United Nations were sharp reminders of our latest struggle for the preservation of the rights and privileges of a free people.
No other train was ever more closely guarded, and no other train was so completely equipped for the protection of its contents against risk of injury by fire, flood, or other danger. Three exhibition cars contained the documents. There was a baggage car, which also held a self-contained power plant for the entire train, and an assortment of fire-fighting equipment to supplement the automatic apparatus on each car. Three Pullman cars provided living and sleeping quarters for guards and custodians.
Drawn by a 2,000 horsepower, Diesel-electric locomotive, painted in the national colors and bearing a golden seal of the United States, and fully streamlined, the train itself was a fitting symbol of the progress which American freedom has made possible. In every sense of the words it was a Freedom Train.