It's Your Ship


By GEORGE ROMNEY, Managing Director, Automotive Council for War Production

Delivered at the annual meeting of The Mortgage Bankers Association, Detroit, Mich., December 10, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 242-247.

IF we do not make common cause to save the good old ship of the Union on this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another voyage."

Abraham Lincoln said that in February, 1861.

It fits our time so exactly that it bears repeating—and remembering.

For something like 25 centuries the ingenious minds of free men have been observing parallels between two of man's greatest inventions—his far-ranging ships, and his democratic governments.

The phrase "the ship of state" appears in a play written for the democratic Greeks more than 400 years before the birth of Christ.

The tendency to think of the state as a ship is strong in Americans. It's especially strong when our way of life is threatened by the storms of war.

Of all the peoples of the earth, we have the greatest right to consider our government our ship.

Did I say right?

In times such as these, it's more than a right. It's a duty. In this time of peril it's your duty to think of the Republic as your ship. It's my duty to say to myself, "It's my ship."

Since the storm of Pearl Harbor struck, we have swung from deepest despair to the highest points of optimism.

Both extremes were unjustified.

Today, though the horizon may not be clearer than it was a year ago, there is good cause for hope. The faith of the crew in the ultimate outcome is measurably stronger than it has been at any time since the storm struck.

Personally, I am more hopeful than I have been at any time since Hitler marched into Poland, but not because of our recent military victories.

No; I concur whole-heartedly with General George C. Marshall's warning last week about our current "undue optimism." I believe he is right in his observation that a long, hard ordeal lies ahead.

We have not reached the point of certain victory.

But—Mark this well!—we have found the way to defeat those who are determined to plunge us from freedom to fetters.

The strength of that way is proving itself. Paul G. Hoffman described it when he said at a meeting of the whole automotive industry last January:

Doctrine of Dictatorship Rejected

"There are those who suggest that if we are to accomplish that task, we must give up our freedom and submit to dictatorship. If I believed that to be true, I'd say, 'Amen.' "But it so happens that it's a doctrine that I utterly reject "I believe with all my heart and soul that free management and free labor, each doing its part of the job and cooperating with the government can outproduce any economy in which labor is enslaved and management shackled.

"I say that, instead of trying to get Hitler's results by imitating Hitler's methods, we must surpass his results by avoiding his methods."

This was said one year ago.

Today we are finding that this country's resources can not be fully mobilized for war by following Hitler's methods.

When the last war ended before our country's resources were fully mobilized, we were told that democratic procedures must be abandoned in wartime, and that superior efficiency can be obtained only through dictatorship and regimentation.

The exponents of that false and enervating idea and their followers, coupled with the advocates of economic planning and their followers, who have played such a large part in the conduct of America's war effort at home—these are today the greatest obstacles to victory.

Fortunately, there are important segments of our ship's crew who know that we must "reject Hitler's methods to surpass his results." This knowledge is especially strong in the armed services.

Consider the contrast between the following viewpoints.

A War of Individuals

The first is from the Army's official instructions to officers and men:

"The last war was a war of platoons; this is a war of individuals."

Weigh the significance of that against this, a statement of last week by Leon Henderson:

"There are going to be more czars, I am afraid; and I think there will be more red tape rather than less."

In his now famous article in the December issue of American Magazine, Harry Hopkins recited objectives which we all endorse, but he proposed their achievement in these words:

"No American anywhere not now in the war effort should be allowed to decide for himself how much he will do or how much he will give."

There is a significance almost sinister in the fact that, in this article as in virtually all similar discussions of the human equation of the war effort by government officials, the favorite word for free Americans is "manpower"—as if human beings were machines, or materials, or units of horsepower.

Now contrast that attitude with this one, expressed in the same issue of the same magazine, by General Brehon B. Somervell, head of the United States Army's Services of Supply:

"There are two ways to cut red tape. One is the Hitler system under which every man becomes a slave, one cog in a machine, with no rights—not even the right to live.

The Democratic Way

"The second is the democratic way, in which every man is an independent unit who works by choice with all others for the good of all.

"As members of a self-governing democracy we can eliminate red tape the right way. We can speed up production. We can smash unnecessary systems. We can win the war. Let's get going!"

Apparently some of us believe we can win quickest by fighting the war Hitler's way, while others believe we can win quickest by fighting it the American way.

Which way is the right way?

It's important to answer that question now. For, every day we save now will save the lives of Americans—and even our best efforts will not prevent a staggering contribution of American manhood.

Because the answer means the difference between a world of slaves and a world in which men's faith in freedom may continue, we must choose the right way—NOW.

In our search for the right answer, let's look at the fighting front, where our young men are setting the examples which we on the home front should follow.

Two examples, plucked from battle reports from two sides of this shrunken planet, point squarely at the hidden strength of the American way. Bracketed with equally encouraging reports from the home front of production, they form a pattern for victory.

Teamwork a Pioneer Heritage

From the playing fields of Eton came the Waterloo of one notorious corporal. And it is now becoming plain that another Waterloo for another covetous corporal has been shaped on the sandlots of America, where all of us learned the teamwork which our pioneer ancestors used in their barn raisings, corn husking bees and threshing rings, and in building their log cabins and organizing their wagon trains into the wilderness.

Such strong, self-reliant individuals, using their heritage and experience in teamwork, will be the doom of the Axis puppets and puppeteers, no matter how fanatical the aims of dictators or their followers may be.

This is the heartening interpretation one derives from our two examples of American teamwork on the fighting front.

Let's look at them.

Somewhere in the Pacific recently an American correspondent accompanied a flight of bombers on a raid of a Japanese base in New Guinea.

He joined the party in the darkness before dawn, when the ground crews were grooming the ships and the flight crews were waiting to take over. Mingling with the men in the black shadows under the wings, he was unable to discover the differences in their rank. Judging by their behavior, there were no differences. They were individualists, each the proud possessor of a particular skill.

One man, a soft-spoken fellow with a Carolina drawl, broke open a box of fruit cake, a gift from home, and the others helped themselves to liberal handsful. This was the pilot—a captain.

In the horseplay under the wings, the ringleader was a tall fellow from a Wisconsin farm. A good baseball player at home, he was now a lieutenant and co-pilot.

The navigator was a broad-shouldered Bostonian who had starred in college football. Though a lieutenant, his superiority in rank did not bar him from being the good-natured foil for the jokes of a big, sandy-haired sergeant from Texas—a sergeant whom the captain, with fatherly pride, introduced as "the best damn bombardier in the business."

Cross-Section of America

The rest of this cross-section of America comprised a studious lad from a Missouri village, now a technical sergeant and radio operator; an automobile factory worker from Indiana whose skill in rifle competition at home fitted him well for his job as turret gunner; and a boy whose mastery of the shotgun as a duck hunter in his native New York State made him a "natural" as a tail gunner.

In the shadows under the wings these seven behaved exactly as any seven young and healthy Americans can be expected to act anywhere. They joked and laughed and pushed each other around good-naturedly. If some of our loudest arm-chair critics could have seen them at that

moment, you may be sure that there would have been some scolding about "the complacency of the people."

No, this exhibition of free and easy give-and-take would not have pleased those dynamic drones whose sole contribution to the war effort is criticism of the American people. The democratic behavior of these young fighting men would be out of countenance among those who believe that all-out war has to be fought by all-out government.

Would Deny Freedom Worth Fight

Our youngsters on the front cannot hold such a belief and remain effective fighters. For, to entertain such a notion —no matter how it's disguised—is to deny that freedom is worth fighting for. It is to believe that slaves are stronger than free men. It is to bow in submission before the repugnant doctrine that the democratic way is a failure. It is to proclaim defeat before the fight has started.

It's time that we recognized the hidden implications in the prevalent notion that free people must sacrifice their freedom in order to wage a successful war for freedom. We must ask ourselves, "Is there any truth in it?" The answer is in this example from the Pacific front. That answer came with the signal for the take-off, when a master sergeant, in charge of ground crew operations, reported to the pilot with the phrase: "It's your ship, sir."

Until those words were spoken, the sergeant, not the captain, had been in complete charge. Though nominally superior, the captain had not interfered with the work of the sergeant. Each man was a proficient performer of a particular specialty. Each recognized the other's superiority. The relations between the two were on a democratic basis.

"My ship," the captain replied, as sign of acceptance. And, as those words were spoken, the correspondent saw seven American individualists snap themselves into a team.

The Effectiveness of Teamwork

Scrambling aboard, each man took his position and reported to the captain over the interphone. The captain, in turn, reported his crew's readiness via radio to his commander. Then, in its appointed position in the squadron, the big ship took off.

As the plane rose, the captain was in command. Then, over the interphone to the navigator, he said;

"Your ship, sir."

My ship, sir," the lieutenant replied, taking charge.

Minutes later, when the objective was sighted, authority was delegated twice in quick succession, and with the same formula—"Your ship, sir," and "My ship, sir"—as the pilot took over from the navigator and passed the command to the bombardier.

Now, here was the job for which this ship was designed and built—the job for which all these men, both in the ship and in the shops back at the base, had refined their individual skills. Yet, while this supremely important job was being executed, the man in command was a sergeant, and a captain and two lieutenants were among the crew members taking commands from him.

Not until bombs were away and bomb-bay doors closed did the pilot resume command, and then only after the sergeant said:

"Your ship, sir."

On the return voyage, after the captain delegated control to the co-pilot and climbed from one post to another to congratulate each member of the crew, the correspondent suddenly realized that he had not been equipped with a parachute. The Carolina captain laughingly told him that it didn't make any difference.

"We All Get a Chance Together"

"You see," he said, "It's our policy to all go down with the ship. That way, we land together and all get a chance together."

Reporting his experiences later, the correspondent said: "It was a revelation of how efficient seven young and cheerful Americans can be when they are teamed together in the execution of a stroke of war they have studied and mastered."

There you have one example of free men freely applying their individual skills in teamed power-play. Let's look at another.

On October 9th, 1942, 110 four-motored bombers left England for a mighty sweep over northern France. In formation, they headed for a series of targets to give the Nazis a taste of an American specialty in aerial warfare—precision bombing in broad daylight. Above the bombers were 460 fighter planes, an umbrella of protection which the cautious British deemed essential to the success of this American experiment.

The Nazis knew they were coming. Goering had combed his air forces for the latest and best interceptor planes and the most seasoned pilots. He was determined to give these fledgling Americans a dose of war at the hands of his battle-hardened veterans.

There was doubt about the outcome even among the British. This doubt was the reason for that umbrella of fighter planes. For, only weeks before, a reputable British aviation expert had indulged in some "plain speaking" about those "old reliables" of the U. S. Army Air Forces, the Flying Fortresses and Liberators, which even many members of the RAF were calling "flying targets" and "sitting ducks."

As this great striking force split up into separate teams and headed for the several objectives, wolf-packs of Nazi fighters appeared. Ignoring the protective fighters above, they rushed the "big fellows" below. But the "big fellows" never wavered. For, out of turrets in their sides, backs, bellies and tails, dozens of the world's best marksmen, American boys who had mastered guns in competitive shooting on target ranges and in duck blinds, hurled a high-velocity hail of .50-caliber machine-gun fire.

Proved Air Mastery

As the "big fellows" roared on their way without wavering, their wakes were dotted with the twisted ruins of 102 of Goering's best fighters. Every objective was bombed as planned.

That demonstration of American teamwork is now accepted as clinching evidence of who is to have mastery of the air over western Europe.

Of this, and similar performances in the European theater, one commentator shrewdly observed that the successes were due to two traits deeply ingrained in Americans.

"The big ships," he said, "are manned by gunners brought up in the parsimonious, pioneer tradition of marksmanship. . . . Ever since Pennsylvania backwoodsmen introduced the rifle into Washington's armed forces, the American Army has had a sharpshooting bias."

The second American trait is the spirit of co-operation, of which this observer said:

Learned Team-play as Boys

"The crews are drilled beyond anything in Europe in fighting a tight formation. Each ship is fought as one gun; each squadron, naval fashion, as one ship. . . . The bomber pilots, trained as boys in the intricacies of team play in games

with nine and eleven men on a side, know how to fight their formations so that withering patterns on crossfire rake the attackers."

In the bomber team we have an excellent example of the hidden strength of democracy—a source of power which all too many of us are prone to overlook. For, as John Steinbeck states it:

"This is the kind of an organization that Americans above all others are best capable of maintaining. The bomber team is a truly democratic organization. No single man can give all the orders to make a bomber effective. The effectiveness of its mission rests on the initiative and judgment of each one of its members. . . .

"Each member has a function to perform which must come out of himself. Each member has two functions—that of command as well as that of obedience. . . .

"This is truly a team, each member responsible to the whole and the whole responsible to the members. . . . Here is no commander with subordinates, but a group of responsible individuals functioning as a unit while each member exercises individual judgment and foresight and care."

Those enemies of our way of life who have found themselves on the receiving ends of our combat teams' power-plays are fast discovering the effectiveness of American teamwork.

Ironically, it is on the home front, here in these United States, that the discovery now needs to be made.

The Pattern Is Established

Fortunately, the value of voluntary cooperation made itself apparent early enough on the production front to get a stream of sorely needed weapons moving from the factories to the fighting lines before it was too late.

As early as the summer of 1940, William S. Knudsen, then a member of the National Defense Advisory Commission, saw that the big fleets of big bombers which General Henry H. Arnold wanted could not be produced save through the collaboration of the American aircraft and automobile industries. Under General Knudsen's direction and with the aid of General James Doolittle, a pattern of teamwork between the two industries was worked out in October of 1940—more than a year before Pearl Harbor.

What happened thereafter will make one of the most stirring chapters of American industrial history; for, without hesitation, the aircraft manufacturers of this nation unselfishly turned over to the automotive companies all of the rich accumulation of knowledge about their art which they had laboriously acquired during a long period of lean and frequently profitless years.

Let those who shout about the unwillingness of Americans to make sacrifices look at this example and withhold their criticism.

When Pearl Harbor brought enormous new demands to the automobile industry for all kinds of war material, the lessons learned under the guidance of Bill Knudsen and Jimmy Doolittle were applied to a larger problem and, just a year ago, the Automotive Council for War Production was formed.

Collective Power Needed

The men who assembled on the last day of 1941 and worked far into the night on the shaping of this Council saw clearly that the automobile industry alone was not big enough to handle the job that had to be done. They saw that the task would require the collective power of all the manufacturers of motor vehicles, plus the added strength of parts manufacturers and tool and die manufacturers.

This Council is nothing more than a medium for the democratic cooperation of the engineering brains, managerial talents and mass-productive skills of what was once the automobile industry and its affiliated industries. Through it, the most proficient and the least efficient performers of these industries band themselves into teams for the production of more weapons in less time. Such teamwork, applied through the Council's machine tool and tooling facilities listing services, hastened the job of conversion. Other teams, made up of specialists from formerly competitive companies, now regularly attack problems of manufacture in which they are mutually interested. There are teams of experts on aircraft engines, airframes, ammunition, artillery, tanks and combat cars, military vehicles and replacement parts. There is even a team for the conservation of critical materials.

These teams meet, not in a quiet boardroom, but in some member's shop, among the rumbling machines, where they can study the other fellow's methods for the purpose of improving the whole nation's production for victory.

Let Facts Speak

Are we fighting the war on the production front? Is there complacency and lack of patriotism on the home front?

Let the facts answer.

At present*, the automotive industry is actually delivering $20-million of war goods a day to the armed forces. That is a current annual rate of seven billion dollars, which is 75 per cent above the dollar level of this industry's peak peacetime year. It is equivalent to producing eight-and-a-half-million cars and trucks a year, the peacetime peak having been only 5,358,000.

And this, bear in mind, has been done in a year in which months had to be devoted to the laborious job of conversion—to the monumental task of tooling for ten times as many model changes as were normally made in a peacetime year. Yet we have only reached the half-way point.

There are now almost 500 companies and more than 1,300 plants participating in teamwork production through the Automotive Council.

Last April the aircraft manufacturers of the Pacific Coast set up a similar council, while the East Coast aircraft companies banded together under the council plan in October.

And now still other American industries are studying this pattern of teamwork for victory.

Yes, we on the home front are discovering the hidden strength of the democratic way, and our ship is steadying as a result. We have still a long way to go before we can match the performances of our boys at the front.

Our trouble to date seems to stem not from "the complacency of the people," as has been so often charged, but rather from a strange lack of trust of the people by their


Lack of Leadership

We have had too little leadership of a kind to which freeborn Americans best respond. We need captains who can say:

"Your ship, Sir."

We want desperately to follow leaders who trust us. We need leaders who place sufficient value on individual initiative to be willing to delegate authority into hands that have proved their capabilities in the stiff contests of peacetime competition.

We want to be led—but NOT by the nose!

To be specific, let's look at our biggest national problem outside the field of military strategy: the control and distribution of vital raw materials.

In that field we have floundered through a jungle of plans. Each time a plan failed, the planners took more responsibility away from the materials control specialists in industry. The result was completely regimented chaos under the P.R.P. plan.

In the Netherlands, the stubborn Dutch, pretending careful cooperation with their conquerors, dutifully fill out the hundreds of forms with which the Nazis seek to regiment their lives. The more forms they get to fill out, the happier they are. Of this time-wasting practice, the Dutch say, "We are fighting the paper war." They are happy about it because they see the Nazi machine being slowed down by a blizzard of paper.

The Paper War

Under our notorious P.R.P. plan, our war effort was in danger of being stopped by such a paper blizzard. For the purchase of any amount of most raw materials, the planners had devised a piece of paper. This paper mania placed in the hands of clerks and government subordinates the handling of problems to the solution of which men like A. M. Wibel, vice-president, Ford Motor Co., I. T. O'Brien, general production manager, Chrysler Corporation, C. O. Miller, director of purchasing and salvage, General Motors Corporation, and similar men in every industry in the land, had devoted years of experience.

Paper work, in the hands of baffled clerks, substituted for the hard-won experience of loyal Americans! And all because bureaucrats believed in Hitler's way! All because men were actuated by the attitude:

"We can't trust you, so we'll draw a plan so tight and detailed that none of you can do anything we don't approve."

Of course, this all-out, regimented control of materials failed!

Now a new plan, called the Controlled Materials Plan, has been adopted. Significantly, it starts a retreat from the idea that Washington can regiment materials. It does not go far enough in eliminating red tape and paper work, but it does define government responsibility. Under it, government sets the policy and objectives by fixing production schedules balanced with the quantities of materials available. This is at least a partial benefit to the nation.

But, not until the War Production Board sets realistic production schedules and unqualifiedly says to industry, "It's your ship," will our materials control problem be solved.

When and if that happens, the Wibels and O'Briens and Millers of American industry will be free to use their full skill and ingenuity to win the war. For, knowing that their government trusts them and is relying on them, they will come through.

Those who don't cooperate will be a small minority and they can be handled without shackling everyone.

Failure and Futility

A manpower czar, relying on regimentation of American citizens, will fail more disastrously than has W.P.B. in trying to regiment inanimate materials.

Half of Leon Henderson's rationing is a futile effort to evade adoption of tax and income policies which, I am positive, the American people consider sound and sensible.

Regimentation is already retarding production of vital food and raw materials. Conditions undoubtedly will worsen until alert citizens demand improvement.

Suppose the bomber pilot tried to tell the bombardier just what to do and when to do it. Suppose he tried to tell all his crew just what to do and when to do it. He couldn't, and do his own job, except through a subordinatewho would probably know less than the men he was trying to direct.

The best leaders are those who lead—not those who dictate and compel.

"It's your ship" is the American way.

Bureaucrats have expanded their bureaus to avoid using the matchless facilities that a free and dynamic America created for doing things.

Even Dorothy Thompson complained recently that government bureaus were bungling their attempts to persuade Americans to support war policies. She observed how the government's publicity and propaganda divisions were fumbling in this field instead of seeking the help of newspaper writers and radio commentators.

In just one case, the superior talents of the free American press were requested. This was when Mr. Donald Nelson asked the newspapers to petition the people for scrap metal. As a result, every American was made aware of the need, and today there is so much scrap steel available that complaints are being heard that the steel mills are getting choosey.

The People Lead

Even though the American people have been ahead of their political leaders in supporting needed war policies, as the Gallup polls conclusively show, the emphasis among the leaders has been on authority, regimentation and compulsion rather than good management and persuasion.

There has been little effort to appeal to the patriotism of innate sportsmanship of the average American. He has been ordered to do things under threat. Even bond purchases are solicited with the veiled hint of "Do this, or else—"

That, I submit, is the wrong way to approach an American at any time. In times of national peril it's fraught with grave danger.

What do we need to marshal the spirit of free people?

In a recent book titled "And Keep Your Powder Dry." Margaret Mead, an anthropologist, makes some suggestions.

She warns that we can move forward only as a whole people. That is, we can navigate our ship of state best when our commanders behave in such a way that none of us ever forget that "it's our ship."

Washington, she says, must not lay down hard and fast rules of action.

"Our strength," she observes, "comes out when we feel that we are grown up and in control, but ebbs away from us when we feel a parent hand."

Finally, she warns, suppression of bad news for the sake of "morale" is a fatal mistake.

"When it happens," she says, "the American looks at his leaders with a strong suspicion that our 'morale' is just another name for your skins."

Let's Face Facts

So, let's look our bad news in the face. If the war is not going as well on the home front as it is on the fighting front, let's face that fact courageously, too, and just as courageously ask "Why?"

The other day one of the Automotive Council's teams of production experts visited a factory in which cannon are being made by people, all of whom had to be trained from the ground up in mechanical arts. The man in charge was proud of the achievements of these men and women. He had spent 18 years in the management of factories in Europe, had been caught in France by the Nazi steamroller, and had escaped to the United States in the late summer of 1940.

"I've worked with all kinds of people in many lands,"

he said. "But I'll take American workers as my choice.

"I like them because their first, instinctive reaction to an order is always 'Why?' Because they refuse to act unless they have a sensible reason, they are the world's most adaptable workers."

Our superiority in war and our security in peace both rest on the sum total of what we are as individuals.

The Power of Free Men

The hope of the world lies in free men, for only free men can establish peace and security. Like happiness, security is not found by those who make it their goal. It comes unsought to those who put giving above getting.

Consider the words of that great woman who had as much right as anyone to accept gratuitous security—social security. I refer to Helen Keller, who said recently:

"Not until we refuse to take without giving can we build a society in which the chief activity of man will be the common welfare."

Contrast that with the age-old technique of those who profess a "false but fervent solicitude for the unfortunate over whom they thus gain mastery and then enslave."

Compare it with those who have encouraged the "gimmes" of recent years—

"Gimme shorter hours, gimme higher wages, gimme bigger profits, gimme more overtime, gimme less work, gimme more pensions, gimme greater crop benefits, gimme more appropriations and patronage, gimme plants for my congressional district, gimme fees and dues to work for Uncle Sam, gimme ham 'n' eggs, gimme share-the-wealth, gimme $30 every Thursday."

France had the gimmes, too—had them till the Germans were close to Paris. Then everybody went frantically to work—too late.

Americans Discover America Thank God the American people have indicated that theyare becoming weary of that approach—that they are sick of handouts.

Thank God we are discovering in wartime the superior strength and efficiency of democratic procedures—of reliance on free individuals instead of goose-stepping platoons.

Thank God we are discovering the power of the American way now, for the maximum skill of this approach will be desperately needed for the greater victory for which we must strive with the coming of military victory and peace.

America must use the same fundamentals in her unsought but unavoidable role of world leadership. Her destiny is to free men from bondage—from economic, religious, political and all forms of bondage—not by compulsion or international handouts, but by example and precept, by genuine leadership!

"How often has a governor of the people first learned to govern himself?" Carl Sandburg asks in "The People, Yes.

And, in one of the finest expressions of the American ideal I have seen—an expression which I want to leave with you—he adds:

"The free man willing to pay and struggle and die forthe freedom for himself and others Knowing how far to subject himself to discipline andobedience for the sake of an ordered society freefrom tyrants, exploiters and legalized frauds— This free man is a rare bird and when you meet himtake a good look at him and try to figure him outbecause

Some day when the United States of the Earth getsgoing and runs smooth and pretty There will be more of him than we have now."

This government of ours—Let's not forget it! — is your ship, my ship, our ship.

Above all things let's not forget the eternal truth that "men will either worship God—or follow tyrants."

It's your ship.

*December, 1942.