April 13, 1958

During the last few weeks this program has carried items in the news on the matter of Sputniks and on the crisis in American education, and has pointed out something of the relationship between the two. This week, two articles came to my attention, putting both subjects in such pertinent focus that I shall report as many excerpts of them as can be included within the 15-minute limitation because of the secular and moral implications of the two subjects.

The first appears in the “easy chair” department of Harper’s magazine for April, and is written by guest editor, Col. E. B. Crabill, infantry officer in three wars, earning 12 decorations, and serving in many battles all over the world. He recently retired, but his training and experience make what he says of more than cursory value.

He points out that since the Korean War, American citizens have paid an annual tax bill of around $70 billion. Instead of diminishing, this bill shows every sign of increasing. He says:

“The primary excuse for this astronomical bite is that a sacrosanct monstrosity labelled ‘national defense’ – do not touch … Why should it be a sacred cow? Have the people so much confidence in the Defense Department that they think it can do no wrong? Isn’t there a possibility of a little empire-building mixed up with the real requirements? …

“What the defense setup needs is a good tough inspection. Let’s take a hard look at some of the prevailing sophisms that are responsible for this astronomical spending. Any of them could be the subject of a complete article???

  1. The military leaders…are best able to determine our needs for national defense. They might be if they were able to rise above their prejudices, but they are not…. It might be possible to approach a solution by asking an admiral what the Army needs, an Army general what the Air Force needs, and an Air Force general what the Navy needs, but to ask each what his own service needs is like opening the doors of the treasury and handing him a shovel.
  2. The money appropriated for military purposes is necessary for the defense of the country. It is about as necessary as it is to furnish each voter in the country with an air-conditioned Cadillac.

“The characteristic demanded by the service in their airplanes, ships, weapons, and vehicles are now so expensive that the cost of them is from two to ten times as great as that – with a small loss in comfort, efficiency, or accuracy – of a serviceable substitute…. The Russians have a heavy trench mortar that looks as though it had been machined with a sledge hammer, but it throws a lethal shell a long distance.”

  1. It takes nine men in the rear to keep one man at the front. This is a great understatement. It started … far back … where animal transportation was all that was available…. Nowadays with motor and air transport, and radio and telephone communication, the proportion of rear-area personnel, instead of decreasing, has increased.
  2. The officers in our services are brave, intelligent, zealous, and unselfish…. I would call this 20 percent correct. We owe our success in wars to a very small group of heroes. The rest just go along for the ride. Nor is this small group made up of more generals than privates or vice versa. It is about the same in all ranks.
  3. All soldiers, sailors, and airmen contribute equally to their country’s defense and should be equally entitled to veteran’s benefits. Baloney.  If you believe this, go out some night when it is raining … dig yourself a foxhole with about four inches of water in the bottom and spend a couple of weeks there living on canned rations….

“Battles are won by a very few unusually brave men who are able to do the right thing at a critical time.… More often, they are decided by the boldness of some lieutenant or sergeant who makes a break-through which is then exploited by higher leaders….

  1. Wars of the Future will be all-out wars like World Wars I and II. This is highly improbable and plays directly into the hands of the Russians who obviously have no intention of getting into an all-out war with the U.S.
  2. Wars of the future will be decided by atomic bombs, airplanes, and guided missiles. Don’t you believe it. Any time she chooses to do so, Russia can march across Europe. There is nothing to stop her….
  3. Atomic Weapons are so devastating that they will eliminate war as a means of settling international disagreements. Don’t believe that one either. History is replete with weapons so devastating that war would be impossible.
  4. Wars are won by the nations having the best machines. This follows the old saying that God is on the side of the heaviest artillery…. History has too many instances in which a rabble poorly armed and trained but possessing high morale has defeated well-trained and well-equipped armies…”

Colonel Crabill lists nine suggestions which he calls “a better way,” only some of which can be reported here for lack of time:

  1. Stop depending on guided missiles, atomic bombs, and airplanes to solve all defense problems. They probably won’t be used in small wars, and will be suicidal to use in big wars.
  2. Keep ready and available in the … United States at least a dozen tough and well-trained divisions of professional soldiers that can be removed anywhere to back up decisions of the United Nations.
  3. Reduce by 50 percent the personnel on duty in the Pentagon, including assistant secretaries, admirals, and generals….
  4. Revise the military characteristics of war material, to eliminate requirements that make it expensive without proportionately increasing its combat value.
  5. Start the pay of enlisted men at $50 a week; of officers at $6,000 a year. This would probably eliminate the draft.
  6. Eliminate the corps of military police. This is an outstanding waste of good manpower.

Three other suggestions of similar nature are given. You read them in Harper’s for April, now on the newsstands. They are thought-provoking.


This second item deals with the values that Americans as a people hold. The morality, the ideals of a people, like those of an individual, can be measured more by what a people do than what they say. We spend more for tobacco, beverages, chewing gum, than we do upon the education of our children, though every public speaker that touches upon the subject declares piously, and momentarily at least, sincerely, that our children are our most precious resource. Then we go right out and appropriate millions for highways and thousands for schools.

The following comment comes from Dr. John R. Everett, president of Hollins College, and it appears in a recent bulletin of that college (December, 1957) under the title “Hollins Herald Issue.” It goes like this, in full:

“The Sputniks seem to be doing what all the leaders in American education have failed to do. Some yet unborn historians will have a field day trying to explain a sequence of events that even now appear to be part of a grim irrational melodrama.

“Future historians who try to make sense out of our age might first take a few television commercials. In these they will find giant corporations spending millions of dollars to tell that they are first in research. Pictures of fine buildings, test tubes, sputtering electric circuits and all the rest flash on the screen to the accompaniment of ungrammatical Madison Avenue phrases. But the meaning is clear: American progress is firmly based in research and is guided by industrial statesmen who know the value of educated brains.

“Since we expect our historian to be rational, he will then wonder why a country with an extremely short tradition of learning, Russia, could surpass the United States in science. He will look around and find a number of small things like thoughtless rivalries in the defense establishment, poor coordination in program planning, use of captured scientists from Germany, congressional distrust of “eggheads,” and so on. But he will know that although these things contribute to the explanation, they are only a small part of the truth.

“In order to get further facts our historian goes into the musty files and reads literally thousands of reports made by all sorts of agencies and associations. Soon a peculiar feeling of reading in a Mickey Mouse world begins to dawn. In one set of statistics he reads that in the Commonwealth of Virginia the average college professor lost 10 percent of his purchasing power in a 15-year period (1941-1956), while industrial workers gained 197 percent in their power to buy. Going on to the president’s committee report he finds that fresh PhD’s entered college teaching at about $3,700 a year and could not expect to double their salary in their entire lifetime! And then he runs across the odd fact that railroad engineers got more income than senior scholar-teachers, and that a hip-waving, nasal-voiced guitar player got as much for one performance as a professor got for five years of teaching. There must be a reason.

“Before looking for the reasons it is necessary to see the effects. More reports are read, and the Mickey Mouse world begins to disappear. The ancient and tested laws of human behavior appear to begin working again. He finds that the production of the PhD’s increased four times in the 10 years between 1946 and 1956. But like sensible people these young scholars went into industry or some other activity that gave them a decent share of America’s production. Figures and statements of this sort begin to appear – ‘three of every four new PhD’s in chemistry who take new jobs upon graduation go outside education’s environs. Three of every five new PhD’s in physics and other physical sciences take the same path.’ All this seems quite normal to our seasoned observer of human action.

“Of course he knows that the mid-twentieth century Americans were not stupid so his next step is to find out how industry and government were dealing with the problem of helping new talent on its way through the schools. Sure enough he uncovered all sorts of foundations, corporations and individuals supplying scholarship funds. High school teachers, guidance counselors and national testing bureaus were all looking for and financing the exceptional student. There was much to be done, but a good start was underway. Indeed, it had been going on for generations; regular scholarship plans had been in operation since the colleges were founded.

“But who was teaching this crop of bright students? Some dedicated souls who would rather teach than eat well, some second- or third-rate people who could not stand the strain of business competition, some people who could never quite make up their minds about a career so they just slipped into teaching jobs? All these and more. Where was the great weight? Still with the dedicated ones, but the balance was rapidly shifting.

“The political managers of the United States took immediate and decisive action. They gave speeches and made low interest money available for dormitories and dining. This was right where it was least likely to do the most good.

“The other leaders also became decisive. One of the nation’s largest companies and one of its greatest consumers of educated manpower gave over $1 million to the cause – less than the cost of three hour-long television shows. But one should not forget that it was a good public relations gesture because over 1,000 news clippings were received and there were some 40 favorable editorials. Less enlightened leadership did not come up to this standard, but there were a number of speeches given to all kinds of audiences indicating something should be done by someone.

“Our historian was back in the Mickey Mouse world. He could find no adequate reason for a great nation with the world’s powerful economic system refusing to support its scholars and teachers. As one report stated, it was like the improvident farmer who ate up his seed corn and then wondered about next year’s crop.

“But at least the search through the libraries had not been in vain. Sputniks I and II and what came after were explained.”




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