This is a conversation I’ve had a number of times over the years, but this article is a great read about just how far behind the United States Japan was in industrial capability. I thought the gap was really huge, but I was wrong.
To an outside culture, particularly a militaristic one such as Japan’s, America certainly might have appeared to be ‘soft’ and unprepared for a major war. Further, Japan’s successes in fighting far larger opponents (Russia in the early 1900’s, and China in the 1930’s) and the fact that Japan’s own economy was practically ‘superheating’ (mostly as the result of unhealthy levels of military spending — 28% of national income in 1937) probably filled the Japanese with a misplaced sense of economic and military superiority over their large overseas foe. However, a dispassionate observer would also note a few important facts. America, even in the midst of seemingly interminable economic doldrums, still had:
- Nearly twice the population of Japan.
- Seventeen time’s Japan’s national income.
- Five times more steel production.
- Seven times more coal production.
- Eighty (80) times the automobile production.
Furthermore, America had some hidden advantages that didn’t show up directly in production figures. For one, U.S. factories were, on average, more modern and automated than those in Europe or in Japan. Additionally, American managerial practice at that time was the best in the world. Taken in combination, the per capita productivity of the American worker was the highest in the world. Furthermore, the United States was more than willing to utilize American women in the war effort: a tremendous advantage for us, and a concept which the Axis Powers seem not to have grasped until very late in the conflict. The net effect of all these factors meant that even in the depths of the Depression, American war-making potential was still around seven times larger than Japan’s, and had the ‘slack’ been taken out in 1939, it was closer to nine or ten times as great!
Of particular interest is the discussion of how much difference a loss at Midway would have made in the long run.