Marching Down the Road to War
PEACE TIME CONSCRIPTION A MENACE TO OUR LIBERTIES
By BURTON K. WHEELER, United States Senator from Montana Delivered under the auspices of the "Keep Out of War Congress" over the Blue Network of the
National Broadcasting Company, August 15, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 689-692
I HAVE said in recent weeks that the United States is marching down the road to war. Peace time conscription is not only another step in that direction but it is the greatest step toward regimentation and militarism ever undertaken by the Congress of the United States. The General Staff has advocated it before, Secretary of War Stimson advocated it as far back as 1916, but the Congress never adopted it in peace time.
Those who advocate peace time conscription generally predicate their advocacy on two contentions. These contentions are: first, that large numbers of additional men are immediately needed for the army and navy and that this large number cannot be obtained by the traditional American method of voluntary enlistment; second, that conscription is the method of raising the needed men most consonant with a democratic form of government. I challenge both of those contentions. Note that these contentions are to some extent necessarily inter-related. If the nation were in imminent danger and required ten million men for its defense—and only a half million came forward—it would doubtless be both necessary and equitable to select by lot the necessary number from among the available manpower of the nation able to serve. On the other hand, if but ten thousand men were needed and more than that number offered to serve, few people would argue that it is either necessary or desirable to insist upon
impressing into the military service men who do not wish to enter.
Those who urge compulsory service at the present time contend that large numbers of men are immediately required for the army and navy to defend the nation, and that the men required cannot be obtained without resort to compulsory service. But this contention cannot survive any sort of reasonably close examination.
That the military events of the last year and the existing world situation generally bespeak a need on the part of this nation for increased and more effective defense—only the most foolhardy would deny. But common sense also dictates the magnitude and imminence of the dangers.
Nothing is so certain in the life of man as death. Because of this most of our citizens carry insurance against death; —yet, despite its certainty, few of us deem it wise to purchase so much insurance that in order to pay the premium we must starve ourselves and our families, The people desire to take out and pay for an adequate amount of insurance against a foreseeable danger, but they do not wish to assume a load of obligation so heavy that it will bring about the very event they seek to insure against.
I believe that while avoiding hysteria and foolish excesses, adequate sums of money should be appropriated to provide the army and navy with the most modern and efficient equipment obtainable, in ample quantity, and that steps should be
taken to insure efficient production of military supplies by the nation's industry. I believe, however, and on this all expert opinion is in agreement, that it is more important for our troops to be thoroughly trained and expert in the new mechanical warfare, and ably commanded, than that they be merely numerous. A small but expert force of Germans seized all of Norway; a small but expert Finnish army held the Russian Goliath at bay for many months. But a large French army was quickly crushed—less by the enemy than by its own incompetent and, in many instances, traitorous generals.
How large an army do we want? Today our army stands at a strength of 255,000 officers and men and will soon be at its full authorized strength of 375,000. The National Guard stands at 230,000 men with the number increasing rapidly. The Navy has 146,000 men and officers and is increasing the number to 170,000. This does not take into consideration our other armed forces.
How much of an increase is desirable to provide for the national safety?
Outside the army—all the most eminent military authorities—Hanson W. Baldwin of the New York Times, Major George Fielding Eliot, Col. Frederick Palmer, Basil Walker, and many others—agree that a force of 400,000 to 600,000 would be entirely adequate.
In view of what has been printed in the press—it is surprising to find on turning to the statements of our highest army authorities that their views do not differ materially from the quoted views of the military experts. At the recent hearings before the Senate Military Affairs Committee, General Marshall, Chief of Staff of the War Department, testified that the Army wanted a peace-time strength of 375,000 men.
When the full testimony of General Marshall is supplemented by the testimony of General Shedd, Colonel Twaddle, and Major Hershey, all of whom testified for the General Staff, the following facts are ascertained:
1. The General Staff and the War Department see no need for millions of soldiers and freely confess that it would be both unwise and impossible to attempt to induct into the army any such huge force as the public is accustomed to hear named.
2. What the General Staff testified to was that it is necessary at the present time to increase the army's strength immediately from 255,000 to 375,000—and to increase the strength of the National Guard from 230,000 to 400,000— a total increase of 290,000 men. Thereafter—it may wish to step up the strength of the army further to 500,000 in order to place the army on a full war footing.
In other words—without conscription—we shall soon have an army of 900,000 men. General Marshall definitely stated that they could be obtained by enlistment—but not—he thought—as quickly as necessary. I ask—for what purpose is it proposed to draft an additional 1,200,000 men?
It is indisputable according to the sworn testimony of General Staff officers—that enlistment in the Army—instead of being negligible as is generally believed—has been running well above the Army's quota. During the month of June when the Army was proceeding "cautiously" with its recruiting—approximately 27,000 men presented themselves for enlistment—of whom 18,000 were accepted. According to recent newspaper reports—enlistment during July has reached new high figures.
One should also bear in mind other factors which do effect enlistments in the Army. The minimum period for which a man may enlist;—the salary received at the start—and the opportunity for advancement thereafter.
Do you know that the army has refused to accept enlist-
ments for less than three years notwithstanding the law provides specifically that men may enlist in the army for one year? The General Staff wanted them for 3 years so they ignored the law.
It cannot be doubted that large numbers of young men who would be willing to enlist for one year—in order to get the training—are not willing to tie themselves down for a long 3-year period at $21 per month.
The conscription bill recognizes this fact—as it proposes to force them into the army for one year.
The testimony of General Shedd and General Marshall brings home this astounding proposition. Our General Staff is recommending that there now be imposed on the men of this country by compulsion what they refused to allow them to do voluntarily. This may seem a strange paradox—devoid of logic—but this is the testimony of the General Staff. Although the nation has been led to believe that the General Staff seeks conscriptions because it is necessary for national defense—the General Staff desires conscription whether or not the necessary men can be obtained by enlistment.
When we are considering the question of conscripting men for the army, we should bear in mind that the pay of an enlisted man is $21 per month, approximately $5 per week, with little or no chance for advancement. As compared with these prospects, a young man weighing the benefits of enlisting in the army will find that enrollment in the Civilian Conservation Corps for one year will pay him $30 per month to start, with fair possibility of advancing to assistant leader at $36 a month or leader at $45 a month. Better still, if the young man wishes to enroll in the Navy he will find that he will be paid $21 a month for the first four months, and by the end of the first year, he will in all likelihood advance to seaman first class at $54 per month. It is significant that the Navy has 7,000 men on the waiting list.
But it will be asked, what about the expense of such a program? At a time when Congress has passed defense bills which will require an expenditure of 18 billion dollars, approximately one-fiftieth of this amount, or 320 million dollars a year, does not loom very large. More important, the program of conscription would cost, at the General Staff's own estimate, a billion dollars per year.
I have mentioned the 18 billion dollars we recently appropriated for increased armaments. I was one of those who voted for these bills, because our army and navy men pleaded: "What good are men without arms?" Now the Military Affairs Committee turns around and in recommending conscription says: "What good are arms without men?" What sort of circular reasoning—what sort of strange logic are we being subjected to? First we are begged to give arms to our men—then men to our arms. For the arms we actually have—we have men waiting aplenty. If you do not believe me, read the accounts of the current first army maneuvers in New York—see the pictures of men drilling with pipes instead of guns, with trucks instead of tanks and with birds instead of planes.
I believe that the testimony of the General Staff itself and the figures I have quoted definitely disprove the first and major contention of the proponents of conscription— that only by conscription can the men needed to meet the demands of national defense be secured.
But we are told that another reason why we should abandon all American traditions and adopt peace time conscription is because it is so fair and so democratic
How can one say that conscription constitutes the essence of the democratic concept and is at the same time the chief hallmark of all those dictator regimes from which democracy has been completely and shamelessly banished. Where is conscription found in its fullest flower, where is it ennobled
and glorified as the highest honor of the citizen,—if not in those lands where militarism and totalitarianism have blanketed the populace, and stifled democracy, most completely?
Every nation must defend itself from invasion—that is the universal law of self-preservation. Every inhabitant of a land must be ready to contribute to its defense—even to laying down his life if need be.
To say, however, that every resident of a country must be prepared to defend the country from invasion, even at the cost of his life if need be, is something very different from the proposition to turning over to one man the power to compel free citizens to spend part of their lives in the army, when men are available who are perfectly willing to make a career of this work.
To use a homely illustration no one can doubt that keeping the streets of our cities clean, free from pestilential and disease-breeding dirt, is a matter of the most immediate and vital concern to the inhabitants of every city and to the state. No one would dispute, either, that if some unforeseeable emergency arose every citizen in the city or state affected would be commanded to clean them if necessary to safeguard the public welfare. Yet, because this obligation is inherent in citizenship, no one has come forward to advocate that it is undemocratic to permit our streets to be cleaned by those who are willing to make this their work—nor would it be contended that street-cleaning should be performed by citizens conscripted for such purpose.
What has been said of street-cleaning is, of course, equally applicable to the occupations of firemen, policemen, transport workers and the like. The performance of all these tasks is vital to the functioning of our society and the welfare of our nation;—in the absence of volunteers they would fall upon the general body of citizenry, but we have never found it necessary on democratic grounds to require every citizen to spend a year of his life cleaning streets.
The democracy which we hail in our country, and which we all seek jealously to guard, no doubt means different things to different people, but it is certain that to every one of us democracy means at least the right to choose freely our own occupations and to conduct our lives with the greatest amount of freedom consistent with the general welfare. I recognize that where the defense of the nation and the public weal are concerned, the rights of the individual must yield. But conversely, I believe that if the public necessity does not require, the essence of democracy is to leave the individual unmolested in the enjoyment of "the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".
It is significant to point out here that the English guard their liberties more jealously than we do. In the World War, it was not until after the Battle of the Marne that England resorted to conscription. And while they were at war Australia and New Zealand defeated conscription in a public referendum. And today, Canada and Australia only resorted to conscription months after they entered this war— and even then with the provision that no conscript could be sent out of Canada or Australia.
Certainly, to many millions of Americans it will seem that if conscription in peace time is democracy—then democracy has reached its fullest flowering in lands across the waters which surround us—in Japan;—in Germany;—in Italy;—in Russia.
Many sincere persons who view conscription with mistrust and dislike, nevertheless withhold their opposition on the ground that "it does not seem right that only the jobless and the low-paid worker should be obliged to join the Army." General Shedd probably referred to this aspect of the question when he said "they (the principles of conscrip-
tion) spread the requirements of military service over the entire personnel in such a just and proper way ..."
In almost the next breath, however, General Shedd was explaining that if we had the compulsory selective service recommended by the General Staff it would be designed to select the "unimportant" men, while the important ones would not be inducted into the Army.
Said General Shedd, I quote—"Well, I believe it (voluntary enlistment) would tend more to disrupt the country, because you cannot pick and choose the unimportant man. I do not mean unimportant from his point of view, but unimportant in the whole economic life of our country."
During the last war, after Congress had enacted the Selective Service Act, it also passed a resolution stating what categories of men would be chosen first, and what classes would be deferred. It is interesting to note that in Class I, those to be called first were married men who have habitually failed to support their families; married men dependent on wives for support; unskilled farm laborers; and unskilled industrial laborers.
Is there anything democratic about a conscription law that grabs the unimportant man—the unskilled farm laborer and sends him off to the trenches at $21 per month while the skilled man or the important man gets from $15 to $20 a day in the factory or draws down huge bonuses as president of a corporation? The son of a captain of industry is obviously "important" to business; he must prepare to take over his father's place. Mrs. Jones' son, an unemployed worker, is important only to the army. It is to Mrs. Jones' son that the army looks for recruits now—and it will be to him they will turn for conscription. The only question is: —shall young Jones be induced to join the army voluntarily by offering him a decent rate of pay and a fair chance of promotion, or shall he be forced to join the army at $21 a month—whether he likes it or not? If there is any doubt about what the answer is—just ask young Jones.
But another reason for conscription was advanced by Secretary of War Stimson. Said Mr. Stimson:—
"Conscription is necessary to impress upon the country the gravity of the world situation."
For Secretary Stimson it is not enough that the American people should arrive at its opinion of the world situation on the basis of free—open and rational consideration of the situation—it must be stampeded into a militaristic frame of mind, and made ready for any adventures the Secretary thinks necessary.
"Government by persuasion," said Secretary Stimson, "is very much slower than government by arbitrary force." So —the Secretary is attempting by this Bill to remedy the disadvantage by giving us "government by arbitrary force". There are, however, still a few of us who believe "government by persuasion" still has virtues for which increased speed cannot compensate. Maybe Hitler made the trains run on time—but the German people are now paying the price in tears and blood and life.
I have suggested the reasons why the General Staff wants conscription. From the beginning of time the General Staffs of every country in the world have wanted conscription. That is part of militarism. I now ask, why do high administration officials and financiers with international connections urge it upon us? I am afraid that only the future will reveal this to us—but I say to you now that it is NOT because they believe our shores or skies are in danger of invasion. For these men there is an entire hemisphere to be "defended." When men begin to envisage the defense of their country in terms of entire hemisphere, then—of course—millions upon millions of men are necessary.
It was in the name of defense of Germany that Hitler invaded Czecho-Slovakia. It was in the name of defense that Hitler invaded Poland, Belgium, Holland and Norway. In the name of defense Russia invaded little Finland. To what corners of the world is it now proposed or intended to send these millions of our men—in the name of defense?
Enact peace time conscription and no longer will this be a free land . . . no longer will a citizen be able to say that he disagrees with a governmental edict. Hushed whispers will replace free speech; . . . secret meetings in dark places will supplant free assemblage; . . . labor and industry—men and women will be shackled by the chains they have themselves forged. And all this—mark you—while this last great democracy is; still at peace. . . . Is this the sort of society for which our forebears shed their blood? . . . Is this the goal for which we strive?
Some senators say. the people want conscription. I challenge them to go to the country on that issue. I would like to have the New York lawyers—the Army General Staff— and any others who are advocating the passage of this Bill— stand before the farmers—the workers—the mothers and
fathers and tell them what a fine thing peace time conscription is for their boys. I would like to see a national referendum on the question of conscription, I would like to see those who will have to do the fighting and the dying decide this question.
The original Burke-Wadsworth Bill recited in its preamble that—I quote—"the Congress hereby declares that the integrity and institutions of the United States are gravely threatened." The Military Affairs Committee has striken this clause from the revised Bill. I deeply deplore its omission from the present Bill.
For I say to you, and I say it to you with all the solemnity of which I am capable—the integrity and institutions of the United States are indeed gravely threatened—and it is the Bill now before Congress—and the hysteria which bred it— which creates that threat.
If this Bill passes—it will slit the throat of the last Democracy still living—it will accord to Hitler his greatest and cheapest victory. On the headstone of American Democracy he will inscribe—"Here Lies The Foremost Victim Of The War Of Nerves."
Great Britain Will Not Fall
WE ARE STRONGER THAN EVER
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain Delivered to the House of Commons, London, August 20, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 692-
ALMOST a year has passed since the war began. It is natural for us, therefore, to pause on our journey at this milestone and survey the dark, wide field. It is also useful to compare the first year of this second war against German aggression with its fore-runner a quarter of a century ago.
Although this war is, in fact, only a continuation of the last, very great differences in its character are apparent. In the last war millions of men fought by hurling enormous masses of steel at one another. Men and shells was the cry and prodigious slaughter was the consequence.
In this war nothing of this kind has yet appeared. It is a conflict of strategy, of organization, of technical operators, science, mechanics and morale.
Year's Casualties Contrasted
The British casualties in the first twelve months of the great war amounted to 365,000. In this war British killed, wounded, prisoners and missing, including civilians, are about 92,000, but of these a large proportion are alive as prisoners of war. Throughout all Europe for one man killed or wounded in this first year perhaps five were killed or wounded in 1914-15.
The slaughter is but a fraction, but the consequences to the belligerents have been even more deadly. We have seen great countries with powerful armies dashed out of coherent existence in a few weeks. We have seen the French Republic and the renowned French Army beaten into complete and total submission with less than the casualties which they suffered in any one of half a dozen of the battles of 1914-18.
The entire body—it might almost seem at times the soul— of France has succumbed to physical effects incomparably less terrible than those which were sustained with fortitude and undaunted will-power twenty-five years ago.
Although up to the present the loss of life has been mercifully diminished the decisions reached in the course of the struggle are even more profound upon the fate of nations
than anything which has ever happened since barbaric times.
Moves are made upon scientific and strategic boards, advantages are gained by mechanical means as the result of which scores of millions of men become incapable of further resistance, or judge themselves incapable of further resistance, and a fearful game of chess proceeds from check to mate by which the unhappy players seem to be inexorably bound.
Entire Populations Involved There is another and far more obvious difference from 1914. The whole of the warring nations are involved—not only soldiers, but the entire population; men, women and children.
The fronts are everywhere. The trenches are dug in the towns and the streets. Every village is fortified. Every road is barred. The front line runs through the factories. The workmen are soldiers, with different weapons but the same courage.
There seems to be every reason to believe that this new kind of war is well suited to the genius and resources of the British Nation and Empire, and that once we get properly equipped and properly started a war of this kind will be more favorable to us than the somber mass slaughters of the Somme and Passchendaele.
If it is a case of whole nations fighting and suffering together, that ought to suit us, too, because we are the most united of all the nations, because we entered the war upon the national will and with our eyes open, because we have been nursed in freedom and individual responsibility and are the products, not of totalitarian uniformity, but of tolerance and variety.
If all these qualities are turned, as they are being turned, to the arts of war, we may be able to show the enemy quite a lot of things they have not thought of yet.
British Science Leads Since the Germans drove out the Jews and lowered their technical standards, our science is definitely ahead of theirs.