Americans as a group have taken too much for granted. We have accepted matter-of-factly conditions and advantages which make life in the United States the marvel and envy, whether openly admitted or not, of the rest of the civilized world. In this failing, all of us, old as well as young, have taken for granted the benefits this country offers and few have considered what they should give to their nation in return. Payment of taxes, in the minds of most citizens, has constituted our total obligation to the state; and in return we have accepted complacently the right to vote, to make contracts, to own and inherit property, to engage freely in business, to receive protection through our laws, to free speech, to freedom of religious belief, to choice of occupation, to social security benefits, and to countless other privileges enjoyed by American citizens. Now, after three years of global war, it is time to consider whether another obligation to our country should not be recognized along with financial support—that is, the permanent peace-time obligation of universal military service to prepare all young male citizens to defend the benefits they enjoy efficiently and quickly whenever such need arises. It is the personal obligation of the individual to maintain the freedom he enjoys.
Universal military training is not an unfamiliar idea to the people of this country but it has never been a popular one. Traditionally, the United States is not a militaristic nation and until the enemy attack at Pearl Harbor we had not feared invasion. We have never been a poor nation coveting possessions or territories of our neighbors and so we have been able to live in peace with them. This has permitted a policy of maintaining a small peace-time Army and Navy, but it has also necessitated the almost frantic throwing together of emergency military units after war has been declared.
A distrust of military might reveals a historic fear that such establishments would interfere seriously with the personal liberty of the individual—a basic conception of United States citizenship. It is primarily because of this feeling that, despite the unsatisfactory results of “raising volunteer armies,” conscription or drafting of men to serve their country in wartime has always met considerable opposition even as early as July 18, 1775, at the very birth of this country. One of the earliest measures of the Continental Congress was “that all able bodied, effective men, between sixteen and fifty years of age be formed into companies of militia.”
Fear of the power of a central government controlling great military might has always bothered supporters “of states rights,” while the fierce individualism of the frontiers has resented, until this war, interference by a distant Washington. In addition, a considerable part of our population immigrated to this country in order to escape onerous compulsory military service in the lands of their birth and this group has always been apprehensive of the establishment of such a practice here. These facts, in conjunction with a distinctly peace-loving disposition—as far as international affairs are concerned, have kept the American people sincerely pacifistic and unwilling to see the need for big armies or navies or for millions of young men trained in the arts of warfare.
The feeling that military service makes for militarism and hence leads to a warlike nation and ultimately to war is now being weighed against a new feeling, namely, that such training may create so great a body of effective reserves that this nation will be safer from attack than ever before. As a result, the question has arisen now whether this country will maintain its traditional opposition to compulsory universal military service at the end of this war or whether a new permanent peace-time policy should be adopted which would include military training for every young American man to provide a large pool of effectively trained man power ready at all times for duty on short notice.
This is not a simple question which may be settled summarily. It is probable that there will be much general discussion of the situation before Congress acts upon any legislation covering such a far-reaching innovation in our way of living and of educating our young people. On the other hand, to delay determining such a policy until war dangers and war alarms are over is probably equivalent to “laying the measure on the table” for good and all, since, with the advent of a peace psychology and the pressing personal affairs of returning soldiers and sailors, it will be easy to forget the whole matter and to trust to luck again to get the nation out of some future international emergency.
Several valid reasons present themselves against a too long postponement of a Congressional decision in this matter. It seems an indisputable fact that for many years to come the United States will have to maintain a large Army and Navy together with a potentially huge Army. There is no possibility of the armed forces becoming depleted once the war is over, for even when hostilities cease, large forces must be kept in Europe for a prolonged period and certainly for police duty in conquered enemy areas. Thus, demobilization is bound to be slow, and it may be necessary to continue on in military service or even to recall the same men who are fighting at present unless a large pool of young men is brought into training after the armistices to act as replacements and reserves. Moreover, it is probable that our present Allies in this war will maintain large forces for some years to come, either to carry out commitments to police Europe for some time or to carry out individual national policies. Probably Russia and France will create huge standing armies while Britain probably will greatly develop her Air Force and Navy. It seems impossible to evade the fact that the United States probably will continue her international policy of co-operation, and that in order to give any President a large enough force to put instantly into action if necessary and without waiting for Congressional debate, it will be essential to have millions of trained men in reserve who can be called immediately to the colors. Over a period of years, this reserve must be in the nature of a natural flow, a reservoir of constant outlet for the older men and a similar inlet for the young men. These seem to be facts of the international situation and should be faced as such irrespective of that age-old argument of whether standing armies and navies prevent wars or provoke them. Twice, within twenty-five years, the United States has been driven into a European conflict and once it has been attacked wantonly by an Asiatic power. It would seem to be the part of simple, elementary, self-preservation to take adequate measures to prevent a recurrence of similar tragedies within another twenty- five years. A large military reserve, well- trained, alert, and potentially effective, is one essential of adequate measures for our future protection.
Compulsory military service has been an accepted obligation in wartime from the days of primitive tribal strife to the present. The basic obligation of a citizen to bear arms for his country was recognized by ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, and during the middle ages military service was required of every freeman to his lord or king. Even professional armies of the emperors were augmented in wartime by conscription of free citizenry. The warfare of those early periods was so slightly technical that little training in use of arms was considered necessary. After the French Revolution, however, the idea of universal military service was conceived and in 1793 France adopted the principle of “a nation in arms” and all male citizens became part of her military organization. Other European states followed her example, notably Prussia in 1814, until it was the common practice in most nations for each young man upon reaching the age from eighteen to twenty-one to spend from one to three years in the army. After his active period, he became part of an organized national military reserve although following normal civilian pursuits.
Consequently, European nations have been able to mobilize huge armed forces almost over night and the practice of universal military service there has been even more rigidly followed since World War I with Germany developing the idea to its most far- reaching implications.
Great Britain and the United States have been the two major powers in the world which, until the present war, have not adopted some form of universal peacetime military training. The traditional English viewpoint, which was inherited in general by this country, favored a volunteer army or navy as against a conscripted one and England’s chief land defense was her armed militia. Service in this body was incumbent in war upon all able-bodied males from sixteen to sixty and as a fighting force it was “inefficient, ill-trained, undisciplined, incapable of prolonged campaigning and constitutionally exempt from foreign service.” Under James I, the militia, through his fear of it, declined but was later re-established. By that time England placed prime dependence upon her superior, well-trained and disciplined Navy and professional volunteer Army units for colonial warfare. In World War I, after an initial rush to volunteer in 1914, England could not obtain enough military man power to meet her requirements and in 1916 conscription began. In 1939 when Britain faced the threat of a second European war, reluctantly she established both compulsory peace-time training and conscription. Originally service began at twenty and consisted of six months’ training at the end of which the recruit was permitted to choose between duty in the Regular Army Reserve Forces, now in active service, or the Territorial Army corresponding to the National Guard of the United States and requiring a 3½-year enlistment. The Union of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have all adopted required military training and service but thus far overseas service is still on an unsatisfactory volunteer basis.
In the United States, compulsory military service has always met with opposition. The Constitution gave the Continental Congress the right to “raise and support armies” in its power “to provide for the common defense,” but since consent of state legislatures was necessary to call out the militia, the defense was chiefly local. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison proposed selective service and military training for all United States citizens, but their proposals never became law and the first real effective calling forth of their proposed “well-regulated militia” in the history of this country was the selective service of 1917. The first four wars waged by this country depended mainly upon volunteer systems for raising the armed forces, and not even the most biased patriot could agree that it worked well in any case. That the outcomes were favorable was due mainly to inspired leadership, enemy deficiencies or errors, and as one writer phrases it “Divine goodwill.”
In the war of 1812, no effort was made to raise an effective resistance until British Troops actually threatened Washington. In the Mexican War, use of volunteer forces enlisted for only one year prolonged hostilities greatly, and in the Civil War short-term volunteer enlistments and an inefficient sys- ten of conscription weakened the Union effort until the safety of the nation was seriously threatened. Again in the Spanish- American War military training was practically nonexistent and our national success was remarkable considering the numbers of raw youths who faced seasoned troops. In 1917, the United States displayed its policy of waiting until disaster threatened before building up the national defense. Since the art of war on land and sea had become more complex as well as more deadly, longer training periods were necessary to teach the use of machine guns, gas masks, hand grenades, and all protective measures taken during attack. Because of time consumed in this vital training, fully a year elapsed after our declaration of war before American troops were in Europe ready for battle.
In 1941 this country again was ill-prepared to meet ruthless foes on either hand, although some preliminary steps towards raising defensive units had been taken in view of the turbulent state of world affairs. In September, 1940, a Selective Training and Service Act was passed and within a month sixteen million men had registered and the lottery for selection had begun. But the nature of present warfare has become increasingly complex and highly specialized, so with the long diversified training necessary, few military units were ready for service when the war blows were struck a year later. However, for the first time in the history of this country, the nation had adopted a policy of training and preparation for war before the first shots were fired and had conscripted men for military service in peace time. Recognition was given then to the fact that universal military training differs from conscription in that it means not waiting until a man’s services are needed in actual war before calling him to the colors, but rather putting every man under discipline and training in order to fit him for his service if and when the time comes.
It now remains for the United States to carry forward this new policy in a consistent manner and by law definitely establish universal military training for all young males as a part of their compulsory peace-time education and to abandon the dangerous policy of waiting until our ships and shores are bombed or our outposts devastated before raising effective armed units for defense or offense. In any war situation, speed is essential and a reservoir of well-trained man power available for instant duty could very likely be a deciding factor in any threatening international situation. It is earnestly to be hoped that no false feeling of security or propaganda of pacifistic pressure groups will be allowed to interfere with a properly developed military training program in the post-war period. If the three to one ratio recently displayed in a Gallup poll on this subject is truly indicative of the public mind, public opinion advises universal military training as a permanent peace-time policy.
If we do concede with military and naval leaders and the weight of public opinion that a strong military defense will be necessary for some time after the war ends, the question then arises as to the nature of such a defense force. Should we return to the idea of a volunteer service raised and trained in the shadow of an emergency as we have in the past? Such a force would have little chance in modern highly specialized warfare and it is the most expensive in lives, equipment, and money. Should we develop and hereafter rely upon a large armed force of possibly two million professional soldiers and sailors? That would probably be our most dependably efficient organization and would hold the respect if not the fear of the world. But it could also be a constant threat to democracy and to world peace as well as an impoverishing expense. Or should we annually train young men, and possibly young women, to be efficient and skilled military reserves even though they are essentially peace-loving citizens?
There will be much argument on this question within the coming year, especially if the present bills providing for universal military service now before the Senate (S-2195) and the House (HR-5490), favored by the President and sponsored by the Army, Navy, the American Legion, and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, are reported favorably out of committee. Considerable thought, discussion, and debate may properly take place before a final national decision is reached, for a favorable action would mean the adoption of an entirely new national policy. It is a pity that the men now on the fighting fronts cannot voice an opinion on this issue since they, more than any other group of our countrymen, appreciate and understand the need of military training for everyone. Not all world powers or rising world powers will be disarmed at the conclusion of this war and so long as a single great military machine remains in existence, our present fighting men will see readily the need of maintaining our own strong stick even though we walk softly.
There are, in general, two types of arguments which are being advanced currently against universal military training in the United States. First, that it is out of harmony with American democratic and pacifistic ideas; and second, that such required training would be likely to cause disastrous disruption of a young trainee’s educational or business life. Since American ideals are dependent upon the continuance of the great American democracy, adequate military defense of those ideals is axiomatic, and with the very limited time, usually one year, suggested as a training period for all American youths, it would be absurd to argue that as a result the country would become militaristic or that there could be a thorough “military processing of civilians.” That the spirit of compulsion is out of harmony with American ideals has been clearly disproved in our draft of two world wars, while the principle of a compulsory education has long been part of our free and democratic life. To include a new type of learning in our compulsory educational system could be considered in the nature of a new “required course” and accepted on all sides as such. In fact, increased individual self-respect would doubtless be a result, as each young citizen, after his training period, found himself actually, not theoretically, able to defend the country and ideals to which he has given his loyalty.
The question of disruption of the educational or business life of a young trainee is one which merits careful attention. The American Legion and many other proponents of universal military service have advocated that men should be given the training around the age of eighteen or when they leave high school, while the U. S. Chamber of Commerce in its proposal suggests “a flexible age group from seventeen to twenty- one” “to assure a minimum dislocation in the educational and business life of all young men.” Some dislocation is inevitable and some elasticity in taking the training will be included without a doubt in any final plan adopted by the country. Moreover, some financial provisions will probably be necessary to help care for dependents or partial dependents of some young men whose departure for training and suspension of earning power would cause the loss of vitally necessary income.
To many educators and college authorities, an interruption between the high school and college period seems disastrous. They fear a permanent swerving of academic interests and a resultant fall in numbers of men receiving higher education. They have seen many such instances after the last war when a break in school work, because of military necessity, became final and it is not surprising that they fear for the size of their freshman classes if interruption for military training occurs after high school graduation. A short break for training purposes not beset with unsettling war experiences might not have the disastrous effects that they have anticipated once the military training system is definitely established. College authorities might find then that young men had a newer and deeper interest and appreciation of the so-called higher education advantages after their tour of duty in the service. They might find, too, a demand for new and more rugged courses and a far less acquiescent student body. Freshman athletics would be bound to improve from the beneficial effects of military processing and school discipline should be far less a problem than at present.
Once the principle of universal military training is finally accepted by the Congress and the people of the United States, the next question immediately arising is of the type of that training and the method of administering it. What should be taught in this preparedness course? Strictly the use of arms or military and naval theory; actual field instruction or classroom discussions in school as part of the present system of education? Should it be given in regular service camps and at stations or in special civilian units such as the C.C.C.? Should the National Guard be utilized to conduct some phases of the training? Possibly a judicious combination of all of these may be necessary. The characteristic American method of success through trial and error probably will result eventually in the most practical and satisfactory method to give the best training in the short time allotted.
Two specific training proposals are worth considering. The first is that a year be spent in a military or naval organization by all young men as they come of military age. This was essentially the proposal of the late Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, who made the first official public proposal of military training in an address in Cleveland in January, 1944. He advocated a year of regular military induction and training in the Army or the Navy for “every young man when he reaches an age when military service can be expected of him . . . about the age when most boys either go to work or go to college.” He urged such a program of training for two reasons, (1) to build up a military reserve which could be made into a real army or navy in less than a year should sudden expansion of those forces become necessary and, (2) to provide a physical conditioning and broadening educational opportunity for all youth of the land. Secretary Knox had been greatly concerned that more than 25 per cent of the young Americans called up under the Selective Service Act could not pass reasonably moderate tests of physical fitness for any branch of the services and he hoped that the physical and mental standards of our youth could be raised significantly by a year of required training utilizing all the special up-building facilities developed in this war. He envisioned not only military drilling and skill in the use of weapons but a toughening process which developed the ability to live comfortably and safely in the open; an opportunity to know about other than local areas of the United States and to mix with men from other parts of the country—a generally broadening experience. In addition, he supported ample opportunity for vocational guidance whenever it seemed advisable. Such a year, he felt, would lead to greatly increased devotion to our country and its flag and bring home to our youngest citizens a feeling of responsibility for its safety and preservation in return for the benefits accepted.
This plan would fall in quite conveniently with present War and Navy Department planning, since if such a system were adopted in the near future, present military and naval organizations set up during the war to classify and train inductees could be maintained and not allowed to disintegrate in an indefinitely long transition period. At present, educational opportunities and physical rehabilitation are being successfully handled in the armed services along with the pursuits of war and unquestionably this work could be continued on a nationwide scale with profit to both the country and the young men concerned.
After a basic “boot-training” of about two months, the plan calls for the young men to be allowed to select specialized training in any of the various service branches. Today armies and navies are built on technicians. War is today “a complex cohesion of all the highly skilled scientific techniques” and even the foot soldier must know the functions of a policeman. In the Navy, rates depend upon specialized abilities and in the ten months remaining after the basic training the rudiments of a skill could be picked up. The young man, upon the completion of his compulsory training, then has had some slight experience in what he may, or may not, select as his chosen vocational field. If he does not continue to practice this skill, he may lose it, as those opposed to such training argue, but he will have had sound military indoctrination so that he can be put into effective action, if the need arises, much more rapidly than the completely inexperienced inductees of our last and present war. Moreover, his ability to discipline himself or others developed in the service, as well as his personal fitness, should make him increasingly valuable as a peace-time citizen and more alert whenever the welfare and safety of this country are concerned.
Such a military training program would fail in its purpose if it were not universal and compulsory. It must take in all youths from all strata of society at an impressionable age, and along with knowledge of ships, planes, and guns, it should make them all aware of and understanding of the component parts of our variegated society more effectively than even our system of public school education. If the system depended upon voluntary training, all kinds of excuses would develop to evade such training and the result would be far from democratic and probably far from successful.
The second type of plan for universal military training advocates the inclusion of this necessary desirable instruction in the existing educational structure of the country. Proponents of this system argue that it is unnecessary to take a year out of each boy’s life to learn the rudiments of the art of warfare thereby delaying his start in industry or his college education and thus ultimately delaying the contribution of every young man to the productivity of the country. To this group the element of improved national health to be derived from such training probably weighs as greatly as that of building up a military and naval reserve pool. If military education is an excellent national health measure, as recent statistics seem to prove, why wait until our youth have finished preparatory school or have gone to work before indoctrinating them in such a valuable and useful system? This proposal would institute military drill and education universally in all high and preparatory schools on the pattern of Reserve Officer Training Corps units and could be adopted for girls as well as boys. In this way, all young people would be “caught” and exposed to military indoctrination without any serious interruption in their lives. Special arrangements could be made to take care of boys who do not attend high school by separate classes in the evening or by concentrated instruction in special camps for a few months with adequate pay. This secondary school military training is based largely on the idea that physical drill, knowing the manual-of-arms, and a few theoretical courses would constitute adequate general knowledge, and while not sufficient to make a trained soldier, sailor, or marine, it would initiate all young people into basic military knowledge and behavior. It would speed up inductee training if war again loomed by having the youth of the country ready for immediate training in the specialized war skills which are likely to change drastically from decade to decade. In any future war, an alert and efficient service of professionals could be reinforced speedily from a population not unaccustomed to the use of arms. This plan would be considerably less expensive for the country from a financial point of view than a full year in any of the regular services with all the necessary organizational expense and upkeep which that entails. A relatively few regular officers could handle the new “Military Training” departments and courses in the schools throughout the country and this plan would also serve to keep the services in very close touch with the people and the thinking within the democracy they serve.
Co-operation with this new department could lead to more valuable work in other preparatory courses, notably instruction in mathematics including arithmetic, the physical sciences, and the industrial arts, so that a better foundation would be laid in these fields for work in military or naval science or for skills essential in event of war.
A modification of this latter plan has been suggested as a rapid rise of delinquency has been noted in recent years—in the depression years for lack of opportunities for the young and in the war-boom years from too many opportunities and too little supervision and direction. This plan advocates the use of the so-called “long vacation,” usually of ten to twelve weeks in summer, for intensive drill and military training of sophomores and juniors. In separate Army or Navy organizations or “Civilian Conservation Corps” camps these youngsters could enjoy all the healthful advantages of summer camp life while learning essential military discipline and health standards as well as such drill in firearms as is adapted to their age and experience.
Such a system might logically lead to a new development in year-round Citizens Military Training Camps and other experimental units, all with the idea of offering basic training for each of the services to American citizens up to the age of forty-five. Such volunteer training groups would enlarge greatly the numbers and the skills in a great military pool from which to meet war, replacement, or police demands of the nation.
Along with some type of universal military training for the youth of the land there should also go a great peace-time expansion of the Reserve Officer Training Corps for both the Army and Navy in the colleges and universities of this country. Expanded existing units and many new units are necessary to serve peace-time officer replacements in a greatly enlarged post-war Army and Navy. It seems highly likely that in the near future, all state universities as well as most colleges will have such units, for it is from this group of college men that we have a right to expect the qualities of leadership and characters of officer caliber. In fact, it might be well if Reserve Officer training were made compulsory for at least two college years, since those who receive the most educational benefits from society should, in return, be trained to serve in a correspondingly more responsible capacity. At present, the Secretary of War has power to expand the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps units at his discretion and a bill is now before the Congress to give the Secretary of the Navy corresponding power of peace-time expansion of Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps units. It is probable that this new reserve officer program may be best accomplished by converting to Reserve Officer Training Corps use the best facilities now utilized by the Navy V-12 Unit. This college training following some form of elementary peace-time training would be universally established and should enable officer candidates to concentrate on advanced work in modern methods and theories of warfare with some actual experience in the service. Such graduates would, therefore, be an immediate valuable addition to a reserve officer pool which, for the safety of the United States, must be kept sizable.
The American people should know the truth about their future military requirements. For many years to come, the United States will need large armed forces to enforce and consolidate the peace, to make security here at home a reality, and to support moral force in any new league of nations which may be set up after this war. The country thus faces the possibility of recruiting, maintaining, and paying for a large professional Army, Navy, and Air Force after the war or of using a much smaller professional force with a “callable” reserve of more than a million trained youths who could be taken into the service whenever the Congress felt it necessary. From the standpoints of both national security and individul training and development of the youth of this land, the latter plan would seem to be the more satisfactory and more in keeping with democratic ideals and traditions.
Never in the history of the United States have we been adequately prepared for war or even prepared for our own defense because of a popular fear of militarism. In this war, we nearly sacrificed our nation to this fear, for our enemies could have destroyed us before we were ready in December, 1941. With new war methods and new possibilities for increased devastation of civilian populations constantly being developed, if we are not ready the next time we are attacked it may very likely be the end of this country. The practical method to avert such a catastrophe is the democratic way familiar to our citizens of including in the basic education of all our youths such military arts and skills as will make them efficient, as well as willing defenders of this country, if (and when) the need arises. One of our military leaders, testifying before Congress recently, remarked, “If you want to fight, you have got to be strong; but if you want to have peace, you have got to be stronger still.”
As of old, again today military service must become a personal obligation—“the obligation of Freedom.” American youth can be counted on to take up that obligation cheerfully if the country and the Congress once decide specifically what it is. And our youth believes that universal military training can become a national weapon strong enough to maintain our peace.