An Essential of Defense



Delivered at Governor's Island, New York, July 9, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, 627-629.

AMERICAN citizens are increasingly aware of an awakened interest in national defense. More than ever before, citizens of our great American communities have turned their thoughts toward prompt and complete realization of a national program that will insure American security. History shows that this security question is not a new problem for the United States. It is true that today we face necessities which require new considerations, if we are to secure adequate defense forces, but it must be remembered that more than 150 years ago our forefathers faced just as urgent necessities. The solution which they eventually found proved adequate for the needs which they faced. Today every patriotic citizen is directing his efforts toward securing a successful solution to the same problems in the light of the present world situation.

Foremost among the important major recommendations which the Congress is considering are proposals for universal military service. Current comment throughout the country centers upon the novelty of such proposals. Some critics emphasize that universal military service would introduce a change in our American way of life. Many who oppose the idea classify universal military service as un-American and contrary to our democratic way of life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Colonial days separate colonies organized militia, and later duty in the militia of the several States became an obligation and a privilege for the new American citizens. Washington's armies, small in number, were the result of State militia groups raised within the borders of each State, and joined together for Federal service in the common cause of protecting the new republic. Our Federal Constitution under its provisions for "common defense" established the doctrine of a militia comprising all able-bodied male citizens between 18 and 45 years of age.

Provision in Constitution

The first Secretary of War under the Constitution introduced a specific provision for a national militia. Secretary Knox called for an armed force composed of those citizens who by virtue of citizenship alone, were eligible for membership in the defense forces of the nation. Ample provisions existed in the new Constitution to support the Knox plan for a national militia. The framers of the Constitution unanimously supported the principle that all citizens accepted the obligation to bear arms in defense of the new liberties they had secured. Within the body of the Constitution, the concept of universal military service was established, leaving the scope and application to be decided as the varying circumstances of our national life might dictate.

Our forefathers accepted that this principle was a self-evident truth and required no limitation or definition, any more than the unchallenged words which established that a free people had founded a free government, and that human liberty was the goal sought by all. No definition was required to explain who "the people" were; no question was raised as to what "liberty" meant; no challenge was voiced as to the meaning of the word "free."

These honorable words, complete in their own meaning,acceptable to every liberty-loving patriot within the framework of the new Constitution and that document, embodying as it still does, the hopes and aspirations of a free people, encompassed as well with the grant of privilege its requirement of obligation.

There was then, as there is now, considerable difference of opinion as to the method which a free democratic people should follow in applying the principal of universal military service to the country. The doctrine of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has too frequently overshadowed the principle of national obligation—too few have appreciated the necessity of national service to insure the existence of this fundamental democratic doctrine.

Unprepared in Emergencies

In great national emergencies, whether in the nature of floods, earthquakes, tornadoes or of economic depressions or internal or external conflicts, internal strifes or wars, we have found ourselves so unprepared that we have had to overcome such crises by extraordinary efforts, involving unnecessary human and financial losses. Success has ultimately been achieved by an early resurgence of a spirit of national service, the activation of which, prior to an emergency, would surely have been an insurance against such unnecessary losses. It is well to remember that, as our frontiers disappeared and our population increased, the majority of our citizens felt that minimum restrictions should be placed upon each citizen in the pursuit of his own individual opportunity in this new nation. From a national defense viewpoint, this conclusion has been particularly true.

In the War of 1812 and later during the war between the States, as a result of years of neglect in arriving at a common solution for the application of the principle of universal military service, the United States found itself seriously hampered in effectively and efficiently securing adequate manpower to protect our national interests. Only a casual reference to historical records of the country will show that during the campaigns, in 1812 particularly, serious military reverses resulted from the necessity of conducting defense with hastily organized, untrained militia forces, in the face of fewer but well trained, adequately equipped enemy forces. A similar situation existed in the Northern forces at the outbreak of the war between the States. The best military thought on the subject at the time clearly established that, had the method of applying the principle of universal military service been adopted prior to, or at the time of these emergencies, these catastrophes might have been avoided.

Spanish War Losses Cited

Many will recall from personal experience or association with those who took part, the unnecessary casualties suffered by our defense forces during the Spanish-American War. Disease took its toll among the ranks of those men who had had only short periods of improvised training. Lack of adequate plans for the continuous development of a properly trained and well organized force resulted once again in incurring heavy losses far beyond the necessities.

After more than forty years of service in the Army of theUnited States, I can say that there has never been any occasion when this nation could not have accomplished its defense duties with more efficiency and economy, and with far less loss of human life, had our nation enforced a plan for universal military training. Furthermore, such a system of service is the only solution sufficiently democratic to insure an equitable distribution of the burden involved in such emergencies.

During the last World War we faced once again the problem of raising in a short space of time the largest Army our nation has ever gathered together in the defense of our democratic principles. Distant battlefields across the seas, and the valiant efforts of our Allies secured to us during that period a reasonable length of time in which to solve the problems of that war. Training camps were established for officer personnel, and large forces of men were trained for service overseas. As a result of a united effort, and in combination with our Allies, an American Army was organized, equipped, trained, transported, and led into battle in the greatest successful effort this country has ever accomplished. Although it took a year and a half to place an American Army in battle, we were convinced that victory had graced our arms only because we had found the solution to the problem of securing adequate national defense in the face of a major world emergency—i.e., by universal military training and effort.

Forces Curtailed in Twenty Years

In the last twenty years we have modified our appreciation of the word "victory" as applied to our participation during the last World War. We modified too in those years our understanding of the fundamental necessities which this nation must adopt if we are to be adequately prepared to defend our democratic institutions. The armed forces of the nation were seriously reduced in numbers, and funds for their adequate maintenance were curtailed during the twenty-year period that has followed the last World War.

Despite the provisions of the National Defense Act of 1920, the nation still failed to take into consideration the necessity for providing continuous military training for all young Americans, and making adequate provision for modern weapons. Today all of us are concerned with this proposal, and I think this brief review of historical facts has established that it is not a new problem, but an old and ever-present problem which we and all other democracies have faced or are facing at this moment. We are now facing a duty that we are asked to discharge to the nation—the duty of deciding how we shall apply promptly and efficiently the constitutional and democratic principle that we, as citizens, are obligated to defend the democratic institutions we are privileged to enjoy.

Let us study this question in the light of the rigid requirements of the technique of modern warfare. Visualize for a moment the technical problems involved in the operations of airplanes—air fighters, bombers and observation planes. Think of the skill necessary, not only for their operation, but for their maintenance and production. Comparable are the other mechanical weapons—tanks, anti-aircraft, modern artillery, machine guns and other automatic weapons. Add to these requirements the skill demanded of modern infantrymen, including the individual and group courage and determination essential to face and see through to a successful conclusion modern combat.

With such thoughts in mind, do you feel that large numbers of untrained men, partially equipped, with little or no organization, can successfully cope with the modern professional armies abroad in the world today?

Old System Found Inadequate Aside from the question of obligation of national service, adequate trained defense forces to meet the demands of modern war cannot be created by the haphazard methods we have followed in the past. Experience has demonstrated again and again that large numbers of skilled soldiers cannot be produced under such a system.

Service to the nation in peace and war embraces many lines of endeavor other than purely military—production, agriculture, labor, welfare and governmental forces are required, over and above normal numbers. But these are normal, every day pursuits, followed by millions of our people, whereas military service is exceptional, and involves such specialties peculiar to said service that the creation of this agency of the nation's security must be approached apart from the others, and must be given separate and distinct consideration. This conclusion is doubly sound in view of the possible emergencies facing us in the immediate future. No formless or vague provision for general national service will produce in time the trained military forces essential in such crises. We are called upon to defend our institutions as they now stand, to be prepared to meet a possible immediate danger. These conditions demand special treatment to insure timely results.

From the strict view of our immediate need for national defense, I think the answers to all these questions are obvious.

If we are to secure with minimum delay adequate manpower to build our national defense to its essential requirement, then our main consideration should be directed toward securing manpower for military training. Any vocational activity, or any social adventure, no matter how well pursued, no matter how successfully accepted, will probably produce large numbers of desirable recruits for military service. But it must be remembered that these young men, in a military sense, will still be recruits; they will still be untrained and uninformed in military requirements, and without such knowledge, the advantages gained in other fields will be of little immediate military value.

Training Is Held Essential It is essential that every American bring to his military service all other advantages which he may have acquired for the benefit of our country. However, it remains equally true that only through military training can these advantages be applied to the military necessities which the armed forces may have to face. The expenditure of large sums of money and the raising of large numbers of young Americans are not alone in themselves the solution to the problem of national defense. The production of necessary items of equipment and the training of adequate manpower in essential military duties are the only means and methods which will result in securing an efficient, well-equipped, well-trained and well-led defense force for this country.

The machinery of war has introduced new requirements which armed forces must master if they are to be successful in combat. Good intentions and brave words are desirable, but on the field of battle quiet determination to fight it out, backed up by adequate knowledge in the use of modern weapons, is essential for success.

Today our American Congress has enacted legislation which will provide large amounts of essential material for equipping an increased Army and Navy. It is imperative that prompt measures be taken to secure adequate manpower to be trained in the use of this equipment when it becomes available to our armed forces. There is no quarrel among us as to the need for immediate action. There should be noquarrel as to the method which must be adopted if we are to secure without delay adequate national defense. The principles which should receive our support are simple and easily secured.

Congress Bill Approved

These principles are embodied in a recent Congressional proposal for universal military service of American men in the age group of 21 to 45, for brief periods of military service This plan would provide an efficient method for rapidly acquiring large groups of physically fit men who could receive preliminary military instruction during the period required for American industry to produce essential modern equipment for their use. The production of equipment and the training of manpower must go on hand in hand. They are companion pieces.

I believe that our American nation has always had withinits own power the means to defend itself and to protect our American institutions. I believe that every American is determined to defend our American way of life. I believe that in our present emergency, our main concern is to adopt with all possible speed a simple, effective plan which shall insure the maximum degree of success in accomplishing the goal we all seek. I believe that any plan, regardless of its merit, which retards or delays in any way, the prompt realization of our essential adequate national defense requirements should be eliminated from our present considerations. I believe we face urgent needs today and that we must make sacrifices if we are to be successful in accomplishing national security.

And finally, I believe that our Army and Navy stand prepared to exert every effort, now as in the past, to see to it that our first duty, the defense of the land we love, shall be accomplished.