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On the rocky coast of Maine one night last week a group of fishermen gathered to watch a lighthouse keeper pull a switch. When he did, famed Portland Head Light, which the war had darkened for the first time since George Washington’s day, once again threw its guiding light some 30 miles out over the sea. The fishermen noted it with appreciative nods; in Portland Harbor the whistles blew a hoarse chorus of applause.

Portland Head’s sweeping beam signalized the state of the nation. In the East, in the full blaze of publicity, returning servicemen from Europe streamed in by the thousands. (One day last week the majestic Queen Elizabeth, which, like her sister Mary, had been an enormous military secret, shuttling across the Atlantic for five years, brought in some 14,000.) On the West Coast, still-censored ports throbbed with the still-censored cargo of war.

Throughout the nation, re-gearing itself to the Pacific war and at the same time to the prospects of peace, there were dislocations in industry and among workers. There were strikes. At the Indiana Brass Co., in Elkhart, Ind., police used tear-gas bombs to break up a clash of pickets and workers. In Akron, where 16,700 rubber workers were out, Selective Service was ordered to cancel draft deferments. In 63 specific war-producing areas labor was still tight, but in Detroit, Buffalo and San Francisco workers were losing jobs faster than they could find new ones.

It was a time of paradox: the nation, set for its eighth year of high food production, would nevertheless face many a month of food shortages. There was joy in the homes of returned soldiers; there was grief for those still dying in the Pacific.

The U.S. had never known a time like this. It wanted advice; it wanted reassurance. This week, from a man well qualified to give them, the U.S. got both. The reassuring adviser, who bears the imposing title of Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion, was greying, 55-year-old Frederick Moore Vinson. In a solid and detailed 71-page report to the President and Congress, dealing primarily in economic facts, he said: “While we plan and produce for the destruction of Japan … we must work toward transition, the kind of well-timed transition that will prevent depression from coming to us as the guest of peace.”

This task, said Mobilizer Vinson, was of “sobering magnitude” and “interminate length.” But Americans could do it, because it was an American kind of job: “Manufacturers have cleared their plants before; they have tooled, retooled, and set up assembly lines many times.”

Two Jobs to Be Done. The U.S. was throbbing with two transitions—one military, one domestic.

In military terms, reconversion meant redeployment. The U.S. had to swing hundreds of thousands of fighting men, with mountains of equipment, from the finished victory in Europe to the finishing blow against Japan. Fred Vinson listed some of the mountainous details:

¶To get one tanker a day delivering fuel oil from the Netherlands West Indies to the Philippines means 40 tankers moving in each direction and 20 more waiting to be loaded and unloaded. ¶ For the smash at Japan, the Army would need even greater ammunition and bomb supplies than it had had in Europe. ¶The shift to the Pacific war would boost military demands for textiles higher than they were for a two-front war (more uniforms are needed in the varied climates of the Pacific).

But the U.S. industrial machine, the mightiest the world had ever seen, could now be eased back a little from the inflexibility of all-out war production.

Before the Rhine crossing, 1945 total war production was set at $61 billion; by mid-1946 it would be one-third below that figure. Next December the U.S. would make 4,800 military planes, as against 6,700 last January.

Last week the reconversion picture was dramatically highlighted in Detroit, one of the nation’s biggest producers of war materiel. On the same day that the last bomber rolled out of Henry Ford’s Willow Run, Ford unveiled models of his 1946 Mercury and Lincoln cars.

Reconversion from swords to plowshares, from guns to butter, had begun; civilian production in any sizable quantity was not here yet. Said Fred Vinson: “Unless insurmountable bottlenecks occur, it is reasonable to expect that within the next six months the first automobiles, refrig erators and washing machines will again ap pear on dealers’ floors, but in such limited quantity that they won’t stay there for long. “

The Job at Home. The U.S. had, in one way, been lucky. The military strategy that brought about the collapse of Germany first now gave the U.S. economy a chance to adjust itself gradually. Economically, the nation’s biggest concern with Europe was in feeding the liberated peo ples. On this point Fred Vinson was firm : “There is no gainsaying the fact that the U.S., as the biggest producing nation, has been — and must continue to be — the big gest single supplier of relief to Europe.” The changeover at home would be a series of successive adjustments — not an altogether smooth process — and to cushion the shock Fred Vinson had a program: ¶Tax legislation to facilitate reconversion — i.e., speeding up payment of refunds to corporations, raising the excess-profits exemption from $10,000 to $25,000.

¶No general tax reduction until after V-J day.

¶Broadening of unemployment compensation, as recommended by President Truman.

¶Minimum wages raised from 40¢ to 55¢ an hour. More generous assistance to veterans — e.g., unemployment allowances raised from $20 to $25 a week (for those with dependents, to $30).

Small business, said the OWMR boss, would need special aid: a positive pro gram to encourage competition and free enterprise.

The Days to Come. Looking ahead, Judge Vinson could see one stubborn fact which he pointed to again & again: in the vital phases of American living — food, clothing, shelter — demand will exceed sup ply for months to come.

Food available in the next six months will be below the pre-war average, with severe shortages in meats, sugar, fats and oils. Present rationing of fuel oil and gasoline will stay for awhile, and coal and coke will be seriously short next winter.

On U.S. railroads, the central link in redeploying troops to the Pacific, the passenger jam now promises to be 10% worse than the record jam of 1944. Said Vinson: “The public is expected to refrain from unnecessary travel.” That was the picture, as Fred Vinson saw it, until V-J day. In the very week that he made his report, there was talk in & out of Washington of settling down to a “soft war,” i.e., fighting a slow war of attrition against the Japs instead of press ing in for the kill. That was not Vinson’s view. “Now,” said he, “the face of America turns westward. . . . The objective has been clearly established by President Truman: ‘The primary task facing the nation today is to win the war in Japan —to win it as quickly as possible.’ ” Unczarlike Czar. The man who drew this picture of the U.S. in transition was a man of long experience in the Government. He was an expert on taxes, a whiz at poker, a lover of sports, an unflustered worker who looks and acts less like a czar than most men with a fraction of his responsibilities.

He was also a man with one of the most unusual faces in public life. It is lined and jowly and the nose is long. Under a shock of coarse, iron-grey hair are widely spaced, bushy eyebrows which slope toward the cheekbones, veiling heavy-lidded, heavy-circled eyes. He looks like an extremely dignified sheep with a hangover. But he is not at all like a sheep, and he never has a hangover.

The owner of this somewhat startling face likes to startle strangers by announcing that he was born in jail. He came close to it. His father was the county jailer in Louisa, Ky., a tiny town in the Big Sandy Valley just across the river from West Virginia. When Fred was born in 1890, the Vinsons lived in a red brick, tree-shaded house with the jail in the rear. There was a sign outside which to a casual observer might have applied to home and cellblock alike: “$10 fine for talking to prisoners.”

At school Fred was a scrawny-looking boy who soon became a good and serious student. He went to tiny Centre College at Danville on a fellowship, earned his way by working in the ‘college library, got his A.B. and his law degree with marks that brought him many a scholastic honor (college average: 96.7; law school average: 98.5). He played basketball, captained the baseball team. (Today he is still as familiar with Big League batting averages as with the rise in the cost of living).

To Congress. His political career followed the typical small-town pattern: commonwealth (district) attorney, election to Congress (1922). In 1928, when he supported Al Smith, he went under in the Hoover landslide. But two years later he was back. He worked hard, carried the tax ball for the Ways & Means Committee, became known and famed as a fiscal expert. In 1937, after the Supreme Court had thrown out the Guffey Coal Act, Vinson studied the decision, wrote a new bill, made it stand up.

With only one or two exceptions, middle-of-the-road Fred Vinson followed the Roosevelt program faithfully. Once, in a typical Kentucky locution, he explained to a friend: “Most political problems go back to the folks. They built the nation. And Roosevelt was trying to help them.”

Like most Congressmen, Fred Vinson found that his $10,000 salary did not go very far. When a $12,500-a-year job on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia opened up in 1938, he took it. He left it,, five years later, to succeed his longtime friend Jimmy Byrnes as Economic Stabilizer. There his manifold duties were aimed at holding the line against inflation. By & large, he did. He also got feuding war agencies to reconcile their differences. Once, when OPA and WFA were in conflict, he remarked mildly: “Oh, if they don’t come to an agreement I will.” The mildness, to those who knew him, was not misleading.

Now the ex-Kentucky Congressman is installed in the East Wing of the White House, whence he keeps a guiding hand on the entire U.S. economy. His principal duties: 1) gearing domestic production to meet the needs of war; 2) resolving high-policy conflicts between Government agencies. He is consulted in labor and stabilization matters, can hand down edicts affecting the whole nation—e.g., immediately after the German surrender he lifted the ban on racing, the curfew, the brownout. He is the home-front czar.

The czar has a small staff of 94. His chief assistants are General Counsel Ed Prichard, onetime law clerk to Justice Frankfurter, physically slimmed down from his baby elephant proportions; ex-WPB planner Bob Nathan, who lends a New Deal tone to the office and an appearance of Neanderthal man to the staff; and mild, quiet Paul L. Kelley, Vinson confidant for 20 years, one of whose duties is to make out Tax Expert Vinson’s income-tax return (Vinson’s salary now: $15,000).

Each day, at 9 a.m., OWMR Boss Vinson has a standing date with President Truman. Not many domestic problems cross the presidential desk without bringing the inquiry: “Fred, what do you think of this?”

In this week’s long and factual report Fred Vinson did some thinking beyond V-J day, about the future of the U.S. in general. A believer in an expanding economy, he called for as much hard work, as much stern industry and as much solid unity in peace as the nation has known in war. If that is achieved, he said, “the American people are in the pleasant predicament of having to learn to live 50% better than they have ever lived before.”

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