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Joseph Keller

If War Comes

(8 November 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 45, 8 November 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

World War III, even on the scale of the last War, will cost the American people half a trillion dollars. They will suffer not less than 9 to 10 million casualties. All freedoms will be cancelled, strikes outlawed, work-or-fight laws imposed. Civilian goods production will be halted. The national debt will rise to $500 billion. The dollar won’t be worth 10 cents.

That is the conservative prediction of The Costs of Another War, a condensation of an article from U.S. News World Report published in the October Reader’s Digest. Ironically, the article is featured in the Understatement of the Month section.

In the last war, by 1944, the U.S. was spending $90 billion a year. On the same basis, the next war “would cost $143,000,000,000 a year at present prices.” A war of the same length as the last would cost “$540,000,000,000 without allowing for new inflation.” (Original emphasis.)

All war supplies will cost “at least 50% more for any new war that may come.”

While the cost in lives is “unpredictable,” the scale of casualties is “suggested by German experience.” The Russian war cost Germany 5 million killed and missing, 4 million wounded. U.S. losses in the last war were 294,000 killed, 670,000 wounded. The losses in the next – not allowing for atomic weapons – will be 10 times as great.

In last war, U.S. used 5 billion tons of its “best minerals”; about 8 billion barrels of oil. Plans now being prepared assume a far bigger use of materials in World War III. “By war’s end, the United States would be a ‘have not’ nation.” Impoverishment of resources would reduce U.S. economy to European levels.

“Practically everything” will be rationed; autos and trucks “confiscated.” The price situation is already “dynamite” with the military now taking 10% of total production; in war, the military will take “at least 60%.” Competition for what’s left “would set off explosive inflation.”

There will probably be a work-or-fight law “applying to adults up to 65.” Strikes will be “outlawed,” job-switching “seldom permitted,” production for civilian consumption “would be stopped,” military needs “would get priority everywhere.”

World War II has already left the U.S. with a debt of $250 billion dollars. By the end of World War III, it would increase by another $500 billion and interest charges alone “would be staggering.” The government would face the decision “on whether to repudiate debt as Russia did.”

As an alternative to debt repudiation – that is, a declaration of bankruptcy – the government would inflate prices, issue huge amounts of cheapened currency. The present U.S. dollar, now worth less than 60 cents in pre-war buying power, “could become a ten-cent dollar after World War III.”

The sober conclusion of this Understatement of the Month is: “War, in other words, would not be a simple solution of U.S.-Russian difficulties.”

In spite of this capitalist realization of the cost of another war, as expressed by U.S. News, the U.S. capitalists are preparing to resort to war as the only “solution” to the impending crisis of the decayed profit system.

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