From the ashes of World War II emerged two victorious superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union. By the end of the war, America in particular was left with exceptional military strength, a monopoly on atomic weapons, and an intact home front. In the excerpt below from The United States Army: A Concise History, Joseph T. Glatthaar explains the development of the US military in the years following World War II.
The United States emerged from WWII as the strongest nation in world history. Never has a nation possessed such military and economic power. Its booming economy was largely untouched by violence, and it boasted of an experienced army with a monopoly on atomic weapons.
Over the next three decades, the United States promoted its vision of the Atlantic Charter, hoping to transform the world in its own image. Painfully, the United States learned that its economic and military power was limited, and since the 1970s it has struggled to absorb this lesson.
Before the United States entered World War II, Major-General George Marshall commissioned the military to create a manual on military government, and in April 1942 he established the School of Military Government for train the occupation troops. When the United States agreed to oversee one of the four occupied areas in post-war Germany, the Third and Seventh Armies had personnel competent for the initial occupation and removal of Nazi officials from positions of authority. The trained troops quickly assumed greater responsibility for refugees, internally displaced persons, the identification and burial of the dead, and the administration of services to the defeated population. In 1949, the occupation ended when Great Britain, France and the United States merged their areas to form the Federal Republic of Germany; the fourth zone, supervised by the Soviet Union, became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
“You put us in the army and you can get us out. Either demobilize us, or, during the next ballot box, we will demobilize you. “
In Japan, the United States was the sole occupier, with MacArthur placed in charge. To ensure a peaceful transition, the United States allowed Japan to retain its emperor, despite his role in the war. In 1952, the United States ceded the authority to govern in Japan to a civilian government. When Japan surrendered, the United States had more than 12.0 million people on active duty. The public and service staff have been crying out for them to return home. Fortunately, the army had carefully planned the demobilization. Although the more experienced personnel would rotate home first and would undermine the integrity of the command, it was the fairest system they could invent. By mid-1946, there were only 1.5 million left, a rate of demobilization that was not yet fast enough for many. As one soldier wrote to his congressman, “You put us in the military and you can get us out. Either demobilize us, or, during the next ballot box, we will demobilize you. “
The war had brought the United States out of the Great Depression, and many people feared a relapse when the war ended. To avoid an influx of returning veterans in search of employment, the government passed the GI Bill, which offered them perks such as free tuition, a living allowance for tuition and home loans and trading at low interest rates. The legislation facilitated the transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy and provided education and opportunities to millions of people who otherwise would never have had, laying the groundwork for economic mobility.
Neither the Truman administration nor the military intended to revert to the conditions of the late 1930s in terms of size or structure. The administration wanted a military force of 1.5 million, and the project expired in 1947. To fill the declining ranks, Congress instituted a peacetime project in 1948. The policy marked a radical shift from an army that depended on mobilizing citizen-soldiers to one that focused on readiness for deployment.
The war has exposed serious weaknesses in the defense establishment. Various intelligence gathering elements, for example, had failed to share information prior to Pearl Harbor. The government sought to correct these weaknesses with the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to oversee the collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence. For nearly three decades, Army aviators pushed for independence, and their contributions to World War II, along with their use of the atomic bomb for defense, ensured the creation of an independent air force. .
World War II also demonstrated the complexity of warfare and the need for greater cooperation between services. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had provided inter-service collaboration in planning, but battles such as the Leyte Gulf have indicated the need for better joint cooperation. The 1947 legislation made the JCS permanent and created a national military establishment under the direction of a Secretary of Defense to improve planning and joint operations. Finally, the law created the National Security Council, which brought together the central actors of national defense and security, such as the president, the JCS, the defense secretary, the director of the CIA, the secretary of State, a national security adviser, and various cabinet members as needed. The legislation marked the start of a radical change of power in peacetime, from the State Department to the military and national security realm. It also paved the way for new military schools focusing on joint operations, such as the National War College, and think tanks that brought in civilian experts to advise and resolve issues.
Image Credit Featured: US Army Paratroopers by the US Department of Defense. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.