WESA covers the unveiling of Pittsburgh's World War II memorial later this week:
The 60th anniversary of World War II's end is likely to pass quietly
across the nation. Tomorrow's V-J Day marks an abrupt end to what had
been years of total war. The U.S. homeland did not suffer the
destruction that would befall Europe or Asia but it was a homeland at
war nonetheless. Pittsburgh was collectively subsumed by the war, and as
a result produced an unprecedented level of output that was the
foundation of eventual victory.
Can the region work together? It once did.
With civilian production of almost all durable goods suspended for
the duration of the war, the steel industry would convert totally to the
war effort. The entire Pittsburgh economy became a war economy like
almost nowhere else. As the Trenton Bridge proudly advertises "Trenton
Makes, the World Takes," so it went in Pittsburgh. Probably at no other
time in its history was so much of the output of Pittsburgh's industries
destined for overseas customers or destined for U.S. forces deployed
around the globe.
Steel was a vital cog in nearly every war-related product that was
essential to U.S. and Allied forces. From steel tanks and steel-armored
ships to steel rifles and helmets. The American steel industry as a
whole produced almost 90 million tons of finished steel during the peak
year of 1944, and 427 million tons from 1941 through 1945. That level of
output would not have been possible without the concentration of
infrastructure, talent and resources in southwestern Pennsylvania's
If Pittsburgh had not existed as the United States entered World War
II, Pittsburgh would had to have been invented in short order.
industrial output produced here would not have been possible without an
unprecedented level of cooperation everywhere in the region. Government
and business would work together at all levels. Management and labor
would coexist with minimal conflict for the duration of the war.
Rationing and shortages would force cooperation in the allocation of
resources between firms that would otherwise have been fierce
Innumerable other products were produced in Pittsburgh during the
war. Entire industries would retool to meet war production requirements.
A local ship-building industry would be created almost overnight and
over 290 ships, in addition to structural components for 43 aircraft
carriers and 81 cargo ships were built at local shipyards of the Dravo
Corp. and the American Bridge Co. Over 200 of the ships built locally
were LSTs -- Landing Ship Tanks -- the backbone of the D-Day invasion.
The bulk of the Normandy invasion fleet would thus float down the Ohio
long before crossing the English Channel in June of 1944.
Like all victories, World War II's would not come without a price.
Many servicemen did not make it home. The region would not get a Purple
Heart for the indelible environmental damage accelerated by the war.
Industrial overcapacity wrought by the war's artificial demand would
defer the normal evolution of industry here, magnifying the transition
that would eventually have to happen. But there were no complaints,
because there were no other options.
The lack of wartime exigencies would make cooperation after the war
difficult to extend. As a result victory at home would in many ways be
more difficult than victory overseas. The armed forces would remain
segregated through World War II. Women and minorities who entered the
work force en masse would be displaced as soon as veterans returned to
their former jobs.
But many seeds were sown for the victories at home that would come.
Rosie the Riveter would go back to homemaking at the end of the war but
her daughters would enter the workforce like no generation before them.
And it was the Pittsburgh Courier that launched "The Double V Campaign"
promoting "Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad" promoting the
rights of blacks in America. It would be a goal unmet in 1945, but it
would plant an unheralded seed for the civil rights movement to come.
Is it possible to recreate the cooperation that existed here in World War II?
As war has changed so has its impact on the region. Even heavily
armored equipment these days is as likely to be built with Kevlar or
other advanced materials and not steel forged here. There are
innumerable examples of defense-related production in the Pittsburgh
region, but there just is no comparison to the war economy of the region
in World War II. The daily reminders of conflicts overseas were
everywhere 60 years ago. From food rationing to war bond advertising
there was no escaping the fact that the nation was at war. Today it is
difficult for conflicts overseas to not seem remote. Not just 24-hour
news but multichannel, multimodal news coverage seems to inoculate as
much as it informs.
Sixty years ago Pittsburgh was safely ensconced in what was the
strategic rear, where enemy attack was inconceivable -- a notion
long-since overcome by events. It was not the threat of daily bombing
that made Pittsburghers come together for the common good, but the unity
of purpose they had for the goals at hand. In the end it's hard to say
whether Pittsburgh altered the war more than the war altered Pittsburgh.
The legacy worth remembering is that for a brief period nearly
everyone worked together for Pittsburgh to accomplish what was asked of