Compulsory Military Training-For What?


By FREDERICK C. SMITH, Republican Congressman from Ohio

Delivered over the Red Network of the National Broadcasting Company July 11, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 629-631

I WISH to consider with you, my fellow Americans, the proposals of universal, compulsory, military training and service in time of peace. This proposal which is being advanced by the present administration and other interested groups, if adopted, means that the American people will be forced to give up one of their most cherished traditions and yield to an alien system of military regimentation. The idea is entirely foreign to the American way of life and opposed to those fundamental concepts of liberty and the abhorrence of militarism which the American people have maintained through several hundred years.

Unfortunately, the national state of mind is at present so stirred up, excited and confused that it is difficult to consider this question calmly and without prejudice. We have been bombarded so much with scare headlines, war propaganda and frenzied appeals to our emotions, that we are today so alarmed and agitated as to be near hysteria. For this condition, some of our highest government officials are largely responsible. They have been the primary source of this agitation.

It is a grave error, in a time like the present, for those in authority and high places to add panic and confusion to the apprehension already existing. If our defenses have been neglected, we shall need clear and calm judgment to decide what must be done.

The question of universal compulsory military training is so important, so far reaching in its effect on the lives of all our people and the future of our nation, that we must make the greatest effort to consider it fairly and honestly and to understand its various aspects in relation to our American institutions.

First we should ask, "universal compulsory military service —for what?" Wherefore are all our men, and possibly all our women, to be forced into uniforms and training camps and our nation placed permanently under the European system of military domination?

Ostensibly for defense, of course. But let us first inquire whether such a course is necessary to obtain that objective, if, in fact, it will assure that objective, and whether or not there may be other reasons, than defense, for urging the acceptance of this proposal—at this time.

Today, a great war is raging across the Atlantic. It will hardly be necessary for me to remind you that there are in this country very influential persons and groups who are and have been doing everything possible to get us into that war. Would not the acceptance of universal compulsory military service, at this time, serve the war mongers to maneuver us closer to that holocaust? It is not a coincidence that those who advocate our entrance into the war are largely the same group who advocate universal compulsory military service.

Indeed we can scarcely avoid the conviction, after hearing and reading the rash statements of Mr. Roosevelt or the spokesmen of his administration, that it has only been because we have not had the compulsory military program they now urge upon us that we have not been catapulted into the war. If we had had a large standing army, there is little doubt that the necessary incident, or excuse, would have been found for declaring war.

Another condition that doubtless has caused considerable pressure to adopt universal compulsory military service—at this time—is the unemployment situation. For seven years the present administration has been promising to put the unemployed back to work. Today, with an election in the offing, that failure is entirely too conspicuous. In Europe Hitler and Mussolini promised to put the unemployed back to work. They did—in army and labor camps and now the sequel—war!

Is America now to import the system of Hitler and Mussolini? Is this to be the fate of the CCC boys, the NYA boys and girls, WPA workers and millions of idle young folks who today walk the streets looking into a bleak and hopeless future? Are these now to be herded into compulsory labor armies and military service? Americans, I ask you, is this our solution?

There is still another condition that is causing many persons to consider compulsory military service as a remedy. It is at last beginning to dawn upon our nation that Communism is becoming a real threat to our economy and government. We are finally beginning to understand that our greatest danger is not from the Communist party and its affiliates, or from Russia or other foreign places, but fromthe development of Communistic schemes, ideas and plans within our own government and institutions. We are beginning to realize the strength and power of these forces and their threat to the American way of life.

Strange to say, there are those who urge compulsory military service on the ground that it would help to protect us against the Communism that has already developed within our government. This I believe is a most fallacious and dangerous idea.

Our government is already literally saturated with people who advocate and strive for complete political planning and regimentation of all labor, agriculture and industry, for the complete overthrow of private property right and its replacement by political control and ownership of all the means of production; in short, for everything Stalin practices in the name of Communism.

There is no reason to believe that by further regimenting our people we could hope to overcome the bureaucratic regimentation and control that has been built up in our government. Especially as there would be great danger that the military regimentation would be in control of these self same forces.

There is but one way to combat the Communism within our government. That is for the free people of this nation to demand the destruction of the giant bureaucracy that has fastened itself upon us; free labor, agriculture and industry from the political shackles that are destroying them.

I challenge anyone to cite a single instance where Communism was even checked in the slightest by universal compulsory military service and a large standing army in peace time.

Did compulsory military service in peace time protect France against the spread and growth of Communism? It certainly did not save her democracy. At the same time that she was building the finest army in the world she drifted strongly into Communism.

Look at latin America. It teems with Communism. Nearly all of these countries have compulsory military service. Certainly there is no evidence any where in that land that this ism has been checked by it. Mexico is a good example. She has the military scheme, nevertheless she goes more and more Communistic. Stalin uses compulsory military service to destroy democracy.

Indeed, the world has long recognized the close relation that exists between militarism and Communism, if not that they are the same.

There are also some among us who believe that compulsory military service might act as a means to lessen strikes and labor troubles. All I can say on this point is—Heaven forbid that we shall ever resort to any measure of this kind for such a purpose.

Naturally whatever means we shall finally decide may be necessary for our national defense must be predicated upon our foreign policy. Is this nation now to be committed to the old system of militarism and imperialism in order to force our South American neighbors to accept our protection? What means shall we use to enforce any voluntary agreements as to protection or trade in case any of these nations wish to withdraw or fail to live up to their contracts?

It is well known that many of our neighbors below the Rio Grande do not have a very friendly feeling toward the United States, that they fear our power and imperialism more than they fear Europe. The peoples in these Latin countries have little in common with our people, their language, their culture is European. Europe has been the big purchaser of South American agricultural products, which

we naturally are unable to buy since we already have a surplus. Their governments, while called Republican, are actually more dictator than otherwise and Fascism and Communism are strongly entrenched in most of them. Germany has been able with her barter system and other devices to obtain a large share of South American trade.

Can anyone foretell what dangers or complications may result if the United States attempts to force her will on these people?

Sooner or later America must realize that no system of defense will be adequate if she continues the suicidal policy of meddling in other people's affairs throughout the world. Such a policy, if continued, will doubtless call for universal compulsory military training and all that goes with Imperialism.

We should be reminded that a big standing army and military force has always been a temptation to rulers and the heads of governments to use it to increase their own power and to make themselves appear great. Seldom have they failed to use it for this purpose.

Last but not least, what about our first line of defense, which now is so very sick? I refer to the state of our national finances. A military arm can never be any stronger than the finances of a nation.

The sinews of war, the kind and quantity of all the supplies to the army in the field depend on the state of health of the national finances. Only a Treasury that is in a sound state of health can possibly keep an army supplied with the right kind of things and enough of them.

That our finances are in bad shape all of us should know. There is no doubt the burden of national debt is becoming so heavy that we cannot bear much more.

What good can it do us if we have the biggest fleet and army in the world but cannot manage the means to support them?

The cost in dollars and the loss of productive energy, if universal compulsory military service and a large standing army in peace time were established, would be appalling. Instead of strengthening our defenses it would only weaken them.

It is the nature of this military program to create a caste system, where the more cunning and the richer are on top giving orders, while the less artful and poorer are kept at the bottom doing the fighting.

The Burke-Wadsworth Bill that proposes this plan starts out by doing this. It provides for exempting"Men whose employment in industry, agriculture, or other occupations of employment or whose work is engineering, chemistry, physics, medicine, or dentistry are found to be necessary to the maintenance of the national health, safety or interest."

Would this not exempt the richer groups, those who have been more fortunate in having enough money to educate and train themselves in the skilled trades and higher vocations? Oh, what an opportunity this would provide for political pull and favoritism!

Among other officials of the government, Congressmen too are exempted. Ditch diggers are not. This proves to me there is something wrong with this proposal. I have always thought ditch diggers do a pretty good job draining our fields. I am not so sure we Congressmen do as well in discharging our duties.

We dare not let this pass. I wish to emphasize that it would be especially dangerous under the present ominous conditions.

1. It would be a most effectual means to push us all the way into the war.

2. It would be adopting Hitler's plan for ending unemployment.

3. It would put the young manhood and womanhood of our country under the military control of the Communistic forces that now dominate our government.

4. It would further weaken our first line of defense by wrecking still more our finances.

5. It would create a caste system, where political corruption and favoritism would be rampant.

6. It would be about the last thing we need to complete a Communistic dictatorship.

There is no more need now for this program than there ever was. What IS needed in America today is more honest to God statesmanship and less politics. When we have this we shall have no trouble providing adequate national defense, without resorting to the European system of universal compulsory military service and huge standing armies in peace time.