In recent years, and increasingly lately, this country has read and heard a great deal about universal military training (UMT) as a fixed part of our national policy. This subject is such an important one from the standpoint of our national security, with respect to our national traditions, and in regard to our civic and religious beliefs as a people, that it merits more than usual consideration from all of us.
The president said some time ago that he meant to make UMT his administration’s number one objective in the 84th Congress, in spite of statements to the contrary during the 1954 political campaign. Military leaders have wanted to institute UMT for a long time, and the American Legion has announced UMT as its major legislative goal in this Congress.
Legislation to extend the draft for four years was introduced January 25. Committee hearings which were hardly open to the public were held February 1 and 2, and the bill went to the House of Representatives the next day and was passed five days later 394 to 4. H.R. 2967 was introduced also on January 25 to reactivate UMT. It establishes a permanent, long period compulsory reserve plan which would claim eight to ten years of the life of every man between the ages of 17 and 35, regardless of how much active duty he saw, and regardless of whether he enlisted or was drafted. It is the first time legislation would make all fit men be part of the reserve system, so all of America’s manhood would be militarized for many years. It would offer six months of active training to 17-19-year-olds and put them then into a ready reserve for nine-and-a-half years. In essence, this proposed legislation makes military service compulsory for all American men, claims at least eight years of their time, and is a big step toward eventual drafting of the youngest, most impressionable in the group – boys just out of high school, inexperienced in managing their own lives, forming their own independent philosophies, planning their own security. Sec. Wilson has said the plan would retain for free Americans their tradition of voluntary service as citizen-reserves. But, considering that free Americans would be given no choice, there is a question as to whether they would continue to feel free.
These are the facts. What do they mean? For you and me as citizens, for the boys of this country, and for us as a nation of people?
It means, first of all, that military leadership would control the nation’s manpower in peacetime. It means that American men would be taught the habit of obedience to command rather than encouraged to think for themselves.
It means, second, that Americans in time would come to look upon the bearing of arms as the ultimate in citizenship, rather than voting, community service, or taxpaying, all of which leave an individual with his freedom of choice in operation.
It means American life and expectations on a free, individual basis would be seriously crippled – under military discipline the individual’s chance to make free choices almost disappears. Robert M. Hutchins has pointed out that “It is surely one of the greatest differences between a slave state and a free country that the one relies on external discipline applied to the citizens by the state, and the other relies on their own self control and discipline.”
But, the proponents of UMT argue that this plan is a formula for peace. If this were the case, many of us who oppose it would support it. But history is against this argument. Europe has had conscription of a universal military training kind earlier than anywhere else. If UMT were a formula for peace, then, Europe should have been the most peaceful continent of all. Instead, it has been the center of more war outbreaks than anywhere else. In 1926 prominent citizens of 14 European countries appealed to the world to ask the League of Nations to propose abolition of compulsory military service as a first step toward true disarmament. In their words, “Conscription involves the degradation of the human personality and the destruction of liberty.”
UMT gives not security, but a gambler’s hope of victory. In a hydrogen era, no victory is possible. War cannot be prevented by armed force. Instead it begets more and more force until the world is an armed camp. We cannot scare our enemies into submission. If our monopoly for a few years of the atom bomb did not frighten Russia, She will not be frightened by UMT.
Under the American tradition of nonaggression and peaceful staying at home unless attacked, we have been able to mobilize quickly and with a spirit unmatched by the professional soldier.
All of this poses the question of what we can do then instead of UMT? We must first of all accept the inevitable fact that war does not work as a means of solving international problems. War is useless as well as wrong. Even through such a relatively feeble organization as the U.N., wars can be at least partially avoided through the forum of world opinion.
We can work for and insist that our public officials work for establishment of a system of world law binding upon would-be aggressors and non-aggressive alike. Only through the development of some such system can peace and democracy be assured. A military system cannot function democratically; it just is not made that way. Many thoughtful Americans are convinced that the real effects of UMT will be, not peace and security but:
- To bring every American young man under exposure to and influence by the military mind for eight years;
- To destroy the civil security of the individual young Americans; to destroy civilian manpower controls; and to give the professional military leadership control at all times of all Americans of fighting age;
- To give the armed forces an excuse to continue in service thousands of officers who otherwise never would be kept on active duty in peacetime;
- To make strong in all of us the habit of obedience to military command, or in other words, to militarize America.
There are many other considerations that should be thought over carefully before we rush blindly into adoption of a permanent policy that will mean a radical departure from anything we have done in the past. Every UMT plan in history has been inaugurated under the guise of national security and the promotion of peace. None has guaranteed security nor prevented the outbreak of war. On the other hand, wherever is has existed, UMT has meant reduction of civil freedoms and the promotion of the spirit of militarism. Unless we wish that to happen in America, we should inform ourselves, then act by letting members of Congress and of the executive department know what we think. Once fastened upon us in law, such a system will be perpetuated through one excuse or another until it becomes a permanent fixture. Then we shall have neither assurance of peace nor a possibility of preserving democracy.
A moment ago in connection with UMT, I mentioned the matter of money involved. A breakdown of our national finances shows that 65 percent of our federal tax money is now being spent for military purposes; 24 percent for fixed charges to pay for debts and veterans resulting from past wars. Thus, 89 percent is being spent for creeping suicide. The remaining 11 percent goes for what some call constructive purposes and others call “creeping socialism.” How mixed up can we get as a nation? What values do we really cherish when we get ourselves maneuvered into a position where we are willing to or have to waste our substance upon such unbalanced expenditures?
Dean James A. Pike of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City says, “There is too much noisy religiosity on the public level. When,” he says, “we put ‘In God We Trust’ on our postage stamps, open up a meditation room in the U.S. Capitol, and make constant reference to spiritual values and then fail to live up to our words with our deeds, we give an impression of hypocrisy to the rest of the world.” And to that, this reporter might add, we give an impression of hypocrisy, not only to the rest of the world, but to many of us here at home who wonder whether religion is something to be felt and thought and lived, or a label of respectability that is proper because of the suspicion and spirit of the times.
This week saw the passing of a great American. Walter White, said to be one sixty-fourth Negro, could easily have passed for a white man, but chose to retain his identification with the colored race because he believed that by so doing, he could make a greater contribution to the welfare of one-tenth of the American population. At 61 he suffered a heart attack and died last Monday night. He did live to see his career climaxed by the Supreme Court’s ban against racial segregation in the public schools.
Since 1931, Mr. White had been executive secretary of the NAACP. He once explained that his father, an Atlanta postman, died because of neglect after an injury, caused by his being a colored man. He joined the staff of the association at the age of 25. He tackled the Negro problem in particular and problems of race relations in general, and became a bitter and caustic foe of white supremacy. Governor Herman Talmadge of Georgia denounced him as a professional agitator. He may have been just that to the racial supremacists and to political demagogues, but to millions of Negro Americans he was a staunch supporter of their rights as citizens, under a Constitution that makes no provision for second-class citizenship.
Whether agitator or crusader, his contribution to American life has left an imprint that cannot be erased with his passing. Whether one always agreed with his methods, liberals of both races rarely disagreed with his motives.
There has always been, and most of us hope there always will be, a place for people like him in the American picture. He is one of a long line of many Americans who, in their day, refused to believe that this was the best possible of all worlds, and set about to do something to make it better. Patrick Henry, Carl Schurz, Dorothy Dix, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Eugene Debs, Theodore Roosevelt, as well as his distant cousin Franklin D., believed that by their own efforts they could promote the well-being of people, and did so in a way that carved out for themselves a niche of prominence in our history. We can only think with regret what our country may be like had it not been for the contribution of these and many more who had the courage to enlist in a cause and fight for their principles. Walter White is one of them.
Mr. E. L. Blystone, of Ardara, Pennsylvania, sends this little poem that, while smacking of satire, is all too true in reality of the world of today. He calls this poem, “In God We Trust, I Wonder.” It goes like this:
“Printed on our coins and stamps, states, In God We Trust.
’Tis but a bubble of thin air, that common sense will quickly bust.
A falsehood doing untold harm that gullible will swallow;
But when we look the facts in the face we find this claim quite hollow.
When preachers go to bed at night they usually lock their doors
They don’t trust this God of theirs, to carry out his chores.
Most all these modern churches are equipped with lightning rods,
No sensible congregations put their faith in Christian Gods.
Our government doesn’t trust this God, to guard it from all harm
But places its trust in well-trained men recruits from city, town, and farm.
Bombs, aeroplanes, and battle ships, and weapons of every king;
Are now employed to guard our land, in God We Trust, is wisely left behind.
Well-lighted streets at night we find will guard against thug and thief
In God We Trust are idle words we’d sooner trust a good police.
From pulpit, press, and radio In God We Trust, they bellow
But he who does will soon find out that they are wrong dear fellow.
In surgeons most of us will trust, and not our trust in God
Many who fail to practice this are resting ‘neath the sod.
A word to the wise is sufficient as along life’s highway you trod
Put your trust in your fellowman but never trust this Christian God.”
It certainly is not good poetry. Is it a true analysis of the difference between what we say we believe and what we actually believe? What do you think?