The War Department underwent a substantial change at the beginning of World War I, transforming from a largely combat-based agency to a manufacturing- and business-based one. Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell explained in this 1918 interview:
The War Department [has] become a business affair. He cited the aircraft work of the army as an example.
“A year ago,” said Mr. Crowell, “there were eleven officers, all strictly military men, and about 1,000 privates in the aircraft work. Now in that branch of the war business we have thousands of officers and 100,000 men. But 96 per cent. of those officers are trained business men and engineers from big civil enterprises. Most of them are in military uniform, but that is merely a matter of form that does not go to the substance of the business.
“And this change that has come over the aircraft division in its personnel is illustrative of what is being done or has been done by Mr. Baker [Secretary of War Newton Baker] throughout the department. There is very little about it today that is military, on this side of the Atlantic, except the outward form, the dress and the assumed military ceremonial. Under all that is the same sort of spirit and energy and organization that is indispensable to the successful business enterprise.”
In the words of comedian Bo Burnham to the tune of the classic Edwin Starr song War: “War! / What is it good for? / Increasing domestic manufacturing.”
System In Our War: An Interview with Acting Secretary Benedict Crowell, Who Tells of a Year’s Changes in Baker’s Department
Published: Sunday, March 24, 1918