The fight against industry

The Imperial Japanese Navy claimed first blood after Pearl Harbor. They sank, exploded and charred an immense amount of tonnage in the Pacific Fleet. The United States lost a great deal of fighting men and materials in the process, but they were hardly out of the game. The surprise attack on Hawaii was designed by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a Harvard-educated officer who was well acquainted with American society and capability. He knew the truth about the coming war. The fight would not be against national policy or ideals, but in industry. America had steel. America had oil fields. America had armies of laborers to run countless factories. A considerate adversary would know that the United States was the descendant of other Western civilizations that took a heavy beating against superior foes, only to habitually rebuild themselves and fight back. This was the kind of lesson that even modern enemies are quick to forget.

A great example of American tenacity is the USS Salem, a heavy cruiser on display at the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum in Quincy, Mass. The 17,000-ton warship was commissioned long after the war, but her design was meant to confront the kinds of threats posed by the Japanese. Her anti-aircraft guns were supposed to generate a lethal field of fire against aerial bombing and kamikaze planes. Her automatic 8-inch rifles were intended to dominate a shelling duel with any rival. This is all a product of successful engineering, but impossible to replicate without skilled workers and efficient shipyards. Newbuilds like the Salem used to pour out of the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, where the ship is now located. (See above picture)

There was a time when Fore River was the most successful yard on the Eastern Seaboard. The father of my mother-in-law used to weld things in the yard long ago along with

The giant crane “Goliath” at Fore River.

thousands of other employees. You needed all trades to build a proper vessel and run the facility, like electricians and riveters and messengers. I wonder how many workers and their families lived in homes around Fore River. By the late 20th century, the yard was working on nuclear submarines and constructing giant liquified natural gas tankers. Fore River used to have a titanic crane called Goliath which could be seen for miles. Sadly, the yard is closed and the property is sold. Goliath had no further use and was dismantled. I remember a tragedy a few years ago when a section of that mammoth equipment fell on a worker during disassembly.

Fore River is rather quiet these days. You see a few commercial ships in the area but the MBTA ferry service is the only constant traffic. USS Salem sits at the pier to welcome thousands of tourists every year. Ships are different now and the scope of war has changed. But this is still a reminder about the power of industry. That industry may be waning and wasted in economic drought, but it is no less potent. Yamamoto was right to fear it. American ingenuity and resolve is still intact, but now that the yard is silent, perhaps these strengths can be put to more peaceful and productive pursuits. America needs a new dawn, a new future, and this is the kind of backbone required to achieve it.


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