Sunday, April 25, 2004
Roger L. Simon poses a challenge to his readers: Put up or shut up. "Halliburtonophobes...Show the specific wrong doings that the NYT, the WaPo and the rest have so far not been able to demonstrate." Roger points to this latest Victor Davis Hanson piece in which he exposes various myths of the war, among them:
Not surprisingly, 96 comments into Roger's thread and he's not had to eat any crow yet. It won't matter. That myth has legs.
Remarkable is the more general hatred aimed at the "War Profiteers, " as I noted while skimming some of the comments in this thread posted by a guest blogger at Dean Esmay's site. As though life is a Dylan song and the industries required for a major war effort descend from the heavens whole-cloth.
Now it's certainly right and sensible to be concerned and suspicious about the business of war. That's one of the reasons there are such stringent regulations and methods for military procurement and contracting. The stories of $500 hammers and $900 toilet seats show several things - that abuse is possible and it does happen, and there are systems for catching and correcting the abuses.
The concern over immoral profit is also understandable in view of the fact that most major religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism (those are the ones I know off the top of my head - there are certainly others) have either constraints on the earning of "right livelihood," and/or outright prohibitions on making profit not earned by the sweat of the brow - the prohibition on the charging of interest as the most prominent example.
Yet our entire societal enterprise is built on a foundation of entrepreneurship and private enterprise. How do people imagine we got to be so great? By finding balances between the core functions of government and private enterprise, that's how. It seems absurd on its face to discard that system as we go forward and need to conduct ourselves in conflict with other nations. Our ability to harness the Capitalist system ought to be one of our great strengths. Not to do so would be like fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. Completely senseless. Providing a service for a fair profit ought to be nothing to be ashamed of. That's how the system works.
All this by way of introducing you to one of the greatest examples of the American Entrepreneurial Spirit in our history, that served us so well at one of our most pivotal moments. That picture* at the top of this entry is a "Higgins Boat." You've seen it a thousand times before. For many of you what follows will be old hat, but if you were like me until recently, you didn't really understand the significance. That boat was designed and manufactured by this man:
That's Andrew Higgins and he had a genius for building boats. Before the war he built boats for the oil industry in Louisiana - shallow-draft boats with protected propellers good for getting around the bayous and swamps.
He was a visionary and a risk taker in the true entrepreneurial sense. In 1939, so sure there would be a steel-shortage coupled with a need for small boats, he bought the entire supply of Philippine mahogany from that year and stored it away. That's not the government doing that. That's an individual American sensing an opportunity and a need and taking action. He didn't lobby the government. He did it himself. His own money. His own risk.
The outsider eventually fought his way in and won the right to compete for the contract, and in the end, he designed a product that the Marines loved - the LCVP, or "Higgins Boat." Note: He was a private businessman. He took the risks. He had nothing to do with the Department of the Navy. He wasn't the government...any more than every American Citizen is...and yet he did his part.
According to The Higgins Boat Project:
Higgins improved the design of the LCTs and produced hundreds of them; he helped design the patrol boats (PT boats) and built dozens of them; he had an important subcontractor role in the Manhattan Project; he made other contributions to the war effort as well.
In the old days, a navy would need to sit off the coast of an often fortified port. They'd sit out there and pound away at the defenses until the defenders were neutralized and then the transports could go in and use what was left of the port facility to take possession of the prize - a bloody, inefficient and predictable method.
The Higgins Boat changed the face of all that. Now the Navy could pick a section of flattish beach almost anywhere, and land troops, equipment and vehicles right along with the initial assault with Navy guns as support. The boats could even back up off the sand and go round for another load. It changed the nature of invasion tactics. It made the invasion of Normandy possible.
"No, sir," I replied. "He died before I moved to the city."
"That's too bad," Eisenhower said. "He is the man who won the war for us."
My face must have shown the astonishment I felt at hearing such a strong statement from such a source. Eisenhower went on to explain, "If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different."
Now, Andrew Higgins likely made a good living as the head of Higgins Industries. Can anyone begrudge it of him?
Sadly, with risk, success and failure go hand in hand. The story does not have the happiest of endings:
But he was the man who won the war for us, and it is a shame that he has been forgotten by the nation and by the City of New Orleans.
Andrew Higgins was a private citizen, not an employee of the government. He was motivated by patriotism and profit and was a part of the business of America - business - that was so effectively harnessed when the giant awoke in 1941. We should not be discouraging the Andrew Higginses of this world. We ought to be trying to find him amongst us today.
"Let us thank God for Higgins Industries, management, and labor which has given us the landing boats with which to conduct our campaign." -Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, Thanksgiving Day, 1944.
*All quotes and photos in this entry are from the following sources: D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen E. Ambrose, The Higgins Boat Project, WhaleNotes on History, Omaha Beach Page, The USS War Hawk page, and the New Orleans Public Library.
Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: "He won the war for us.".
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