Chapter 18 - Post-war Planning

Posted in The Forgotten People

The practice of calling on those in authority to produce the blue-prints of the new world that is to come after the war is not quite as popular now as it was before Japan came in. We are pretty urgently engaged as a nation in fighting to preserve that portion of the world which we have and in which we live. In consequence, there is a good deal less discussion about the future, and plans for it are for the time being at a discount.

On this problem, as on others, it is possible to run fairly readily to extremes, one man saying, "Leave post-war problems alone until the war has been won", and another saying, "Unless you define to me what sort of new order is to come after the war, I'll have to let you win the war without my help."

As so often happens, both extremes are wrong. If we come out into peace in tolerable shape but with not one idea on post-war policy in our heads, we shall almost certainly enter a period of slump, confusion, bitterness and disillusionment terrible to contemplate. On the other hand, if we, so to speak, down tools in the middle of war to work out what we shall do after the war, we shall lose the war, and the new order will be Germany's and Japan's, not ours.

Surely the real answer is that, without subtracting from the full power of our war effort, and without engaging in full-dress philosophic debates in an atmosphere hostile to their success, we should, as and when opportunity presents, provide facilities for competent and practical study of post-war problems by a few sensible and trained people in appropriate places.

This is not a topic that can be exhaustively discussed or even adequately outlined in a few minutes, and so tonight I shall do no more than illustrate the kind of thing I have in mind. And let me say that it has assumed some clarity in my mind largely as the result of some recent stimulating conversations with Mr C S Teece, the commissioner of patents, whose knowledge of industrial patents is far-reaching, and whose enthusiasm is infectious.

The essence of wartime production is the transference of machines and skill and effort from peace products to war products - the beating of ploughshares into swords. We have seen this in dramatic fashion in Australia.

In Great Britain the Board of Trade has wisely given wide publicity to some of its features. I have before me an advertisement by the board in an English trade journal of May 1941. It reads, under the caption "Emptying Shelves and Filling Shells":

In wartime, production must be for war and not for peace. Here are examples for the changeover from peacetime production to wartime necessities:

Lace curtains become SANDFLY NETTING
Toilet preparations become ANTI-GAS OINTMENTS
Gold balls become GAS MASKS
Mattresses become LIFE JACKETS
Saucepans become STEEL HELMETS
Combs become EYESHIELDS

Now, when peace comes, the process will have to be reversed. We shall have to beat our swords into ploughshares again. Parachutes - to follow the words of this striking advertisement - will have to become CORSETS; gas masks will have to become GOLF BALLS; steel helmets will have to alter their shape and become SAUCEPANS. But the thing to note is that this reverse process will be by no means automatic. It will require careful planning and prompt action at the right time.

And we must take the matter farther. In Australia, for example, we have not merely changed over existing industrial equipment: we have created a mass of new equipment and undertaken a mass of new manufactures. The anti-aircraft gun for example, is a marvellous piece of precision engineering, done to a degree of accuracy far beyond the normal by means of machines and instruments of which we knew but little three years ago. That is why it is easy to decide that you will make anti-aircraft guns but difficult to accomplish the long process of assembling your plant from other countries, designing and making what you cannot buy, laboriously tooling up with jigs and gauges and so on for mass or repetitive production. But, thanks to many people, all these things have been done in many factories.

We are turning out hundreds and hundreds of munition items we had never previously attempted; and this means trained operatives, new materials, an immense variety of machine tools, and concentrated experience in their construction - scores of new techniques. What is to become of these things when at long last the war ends, and many hundreds of thousands of men with vital claims upon their country have to be re-adapted to a happy and busy civil life?

I notice that Mr Berle, an Assistant Secretary of State in the United States of America, recently, in an article on post-war development, urged that every defence industry should have a research staff working on plans for producing out of the resources and experience of that industry peacetime goods, and preparing catalogues of products that will become available when the war ends.

I agree warmly with this suggestion, which can be given a very wide application. Such a scheme would not require great numbers of people, but its significance and value would be enormous.

When, as Prime Minister, I set up the Department of Labour and National Service, provision was made within its structure for research on post-war problems, and some useful work has been done. But on the industrial or manufacturing side the Munitions Department, with its colossal and concentrated experience, may well be a more appropriate place, just as planning on the agricultural and pastoral side is appropriate to the Department of Commerce, and planning on the financial side appropriate to the Department of the Treasury.

The whole essence of this idea is that a little forward-looking and really concrete work by a few people not actually or actively engaged in the immediate business of war production may save us from grave errors and lost opportunities when the war is over.

The view is, I know, held in many quarters that the immediate post-wart period can be most effectively helped by large programmes of public expenditure on public works. But this has never seemed to me to be a permanent cure or to provide a really satisfactory repatriation in the true sense of that word. We shall not only have to find occupation for demobilized soldiers. We shall have to find alternative occupation for many scores of thousands of munition workers.

The best way of doing both of these things is to put ourselves in a position where we can use promptly and with a high degree of effectiveness all those things we shall have learnt in war, applying our technical ability and experience for the satisfying of civil needs when the war has been won and those civil needs can once more demand satisfaction.

I end with this warning. The winning of the war is the paramount business; all else is secondary. But though secondary, we shall forget it at our own risk.

17 April, 1942