• U.S.

The Price of Unpreparedness, I

2 minute read

The cost of preparedness is high. Last week the U.S. began to learn again that the cost of unpreparedness is far higher.

The Truman Committee turned up what will probably prove to be only the first of many tales of frantic, wasteful Army spending after Pearl Harbor. Lesson One involved $134,000,000 — the cost of the Army’s long-secret Canol project for fueling Alaska Highway and air traffic by developing an oilfield in Canada’s frozen Northwest near Fort Norman.

James H. Graham, onetime University of Kentucky engineering dean, told the Committee how the whole thing started.

As a World War I friend of Lieut. General Brehon B. Somervell, Dean Graham rushed to Washington after Pearl Harbor as a dollar-a-year man. He got a desk just out side the General’s door. His advice was mostly given in casual chats after hours.

When the question of Alaska Highway fuel came up, the Dean, admittedly no oil expert, talked around a little bit, and held one conference — at which no notes were taken. He did not bother to consult the Petroleum Administrator about the alternatives, or WPB about the availability of critical materials, transportation and manpower, or the Navy about the possibility of sending oil up from Seattle by tanker through the Inside Passage. “I am not familiar with Washington situations and setups,” explained the Dean. Then Dean Graham sat down and wrote a one-page memorandum recommending Canol. General Somervell okayed it the same day. There was no estimate of the cost.

Last week Secretary Ickes, Petroleum Administrator, said unfinished Canol “is worth nothing and will have no value after the war,” declared it “ought to be junked now.” A WPB expert asserted that the 550-mile pipeline being laid between the oilfield and the refinery at Whitehorse in the Yukon will never function effectively because the mountainous wilderness it traverses is too cold.

Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson appeared for the defense. “The War Department is proud of Canol,” he declared. As for its exorbitant cost, “one might as well criticize the cost of capturing the Salerno bridgehead by stating that the land acquired was worth only a few dollars an acre.”

General Somervell was unavailable for questioning. Pending his appearance, the Truman Committee decided: the Army “has failed to justify this expenditure.”

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