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Northern Minnesota’s Iron Will

My American Experiment colleague Isaac Orr was on WCCO radio on June 6 talking powerfully about how huge amounts of iron ore mined in Northern Minnesota, used to build ships, tanks, and other tools of war, made U.S. and allied victory on D-Day possible 75 years earlier.  At one point he spoke of railcars filling with ore every 20 seconds, one after another after another.  Impossible-to-fathom amounts.

His comments got me thinking again about what historian Paul Johnson wrote about the war effort’s extraordinary scope – the number of planes in particular – in his 1983 masterwork, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties.  Right after listening to Isaac’s segment I started paging through the book trying to track down examples of what I recall from two decades ago, but its index proved inadequate and its nearly 735 pages of text proved too much, and I gave up too quickly.

But when in doubt at this more advanced stage of modern times there’s always Wikipedia, which in a long entry titled “Strategic bombing during World War II,” has a “statistical summary” with estimated data like these for the United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force:

Bomber Sorties

U.S.                    754,818
Great Britain     687,462

Bomber Planes Lost

U.S.                        9,949
Great Britain       11,965

Fighter Sorties

U.S.                    991,750
Great Britain  1,695,049

Fighter Planes Lost

U.S.                        8,420
Great Britain       10,045

Tons of Bombs Dropped

U.S.                 1,463,423
Great Britain  1,307,117

Personnel Lost in Action

U.S                       79,265
Great Britain       79,281

Other than reinforcing what Isaac had to say about the Iron Range’s contribution to victory, what’s the itemization’s intended point?  Amazement at the sheer size of everything associated with the Second World War.  Johnson’s descriptions of wave after wave of planes, wave after wave of ships, and finally wave after wave after death.

I might be wrong, but I suspect current-day Americans are insufficiently aware of, and current-day sensibilities insufficiently attuned to, the immensity of what D-Day eventually put an end to, albeit at the inescapable price of even more horror.  And that a few times a year at least, it’s right to be reminded of the unimaginable – and the enormity of sacrifice its defeat demanded.

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