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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 137

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This is the grave of Julius Krug.

Born in 1907 in Madison, Krug graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1929. He was considered a leading water engineer from his college days and became chief of Wisconsin’s public utilities commission. He then worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, rising to chief power engineer and then manager of power. He rose quickly in the New Deal planning world and became chief of the power branch of the Office of Production Management in 1941, the precursor to the War Production Board. When the U.S. entered World War II, Krug continued to work for the WPB and then was tapped to lead the Office of War Utilities in 1943. He briefly left government to join the Navy in 1944 but was sent back to Washington within a few months to serve as chairman of the War Production Board.

Although not yet 40 years old, his star continued to rise when Harry Truman named him Secretary of the Interior in 1946. He entered the job at an interesting time. There were a lot of important debates going on in American land management. One major question was in forestry, where a group of reformers had lambasted American forest management and especially private timber operations during in the previous decade. Would the government seek to regulate private forests? Would they accede to opening the national forests for private operations now that companies had used up their own timber? Similarly, how would the nation develop its river systems? The nation was entering its big dam building phase. Would the power created be public or private? Or some sort of partnership? The private electricity interests hated the TVA and wanted to be sure to limit government control over power. Moreover, how many dams would be built and who would build them? The nation had two major dam building agencies–the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Krug came down on these issues generally on the side of public control, although he was much more moderate than his predecessor Harold Ickes, who many in the resource industries hated. So did Truman, which is why he replaced him with Krug. Getting Ickes out of the way with the less cranky and more pliable Klug allowed Truman to work toward his bipartisan goals by renaming Boulder Dam as Hoover Dam, which Ickes was not having. One of the new secretary’s first tasks was to lead the Krug Commission to survey American lands to see how effective our resources would be to fight the Soviets. Although Americans worried frequently in this era that the Soviets had endless resources of all sorts that would make the seemingly inevitable clash very difficult, Krug’s report said that Americans had plenty of resources to live comfortably and engage in the foreign aid needed to proceed in the Cold War. He wanted to limit timber companies’ ability to log at will on public lands and he opposed the overbuilding of dams. But Krug was also very much a developmentalist and he got behind plans to maximize production, especially of water resources, seemingly without seeing any contradiction between that and his overall conservationist beliefs. A big supporter of the Marshall Plan, Krug wanted to use American resources to reshape the postwar world, and not just in the United States. Given Krug’s TVA background, he was very interested in engaging in similar large-scale regional power authorities, particularly along the Columbia and Missouri. However, private power interests were more organized than they were in 1933 and both the nation’s economic and political conditions were very different in 1946 than at the nadir of the Depression. Private interests would win out with public-private partnerships that prioritized profit over regional planning. Krug testified before Congress about the need for the Columbia Valley Authority, but the CVA was not to be.

Krug also worked to develop American oil and gas resources. Spooked by a brief period of oil shortages in the winter of 1947-48, he urged a massive investment in synthetic fuels with government assistance, a program heartily endorsed by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal and others in the administration. Krug and Forrestal also believed that government instead of industry should take the lead in developing these resources, as national interest mattered more than profit.

Krug also took the lead in negotiating with John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers of America to stop one of that union’s frequent strikes, before it started, but he failed to do that. When the UMWA wanted to strike under Lewis, it was going to strike. In May 1946, the government capitulated to everything the UMWA wanted, although the administration had nationalized the coal mines by this time and made Krug basically the nation’s coal czar. By the fall, Lewis decided his miners needed more and when Krug refused to reopen negotiations, Lewis lambasted him and the Truman administration in the press. Lewis announced a second strike for the fall, which Truman eventually busted through an injunction. In this action, Krug sided with Clark Clifford and the other Truman liberals who believed that the UMWA was threatening the well-being of all Americans with these demands. A lot of what Lewis wanted was around safety and when the Centralia mine disaster happened the next year, Lewis accused Krug of “murdering” the miners by not enforcing mine safety and demanded that Truman fire him. Krug took quite a bit of heat for this from Republicans too, with Styles Bridges, Republican senator from New Hampshire, publicly saying that Krug was more interested in bolstering his chances to be Vice-President in 1948 than in enforcing coal mine safety.

This seems to have soured Krug on government service. He resigned from Truman’s Cabinet in 1949, still only 42 years old, and decided to make money instead of continuing to serve in public life. He became a utilities lobbyist though one with a foot still in service. In 1956, he was tapped to head a UN mission to develop water resources in East Pakistan, what is today Bangladesh. Continuing with his connection between water resources and foreign policy, he worked with the military government of Pakistan to create the East Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority, which USAID then flooded with grants, developing water and U.S. allies together. Later, he moved back to Knoxville, where he had lived in his TVA days, to run a big textile company based there. That is where he died in 1970.

Julius Krug is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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