Is the Extension of the Draft Necessary?


By NORMAN THOMAS, Socialist Leader

Delivered over radio, July 29, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 670-672.

SPEAKING over this network a few days ago Mr. Alfred M. Landon gave reluctant assent to the extension of the draft as a necessary consequence of the bellicose policy of the Administration, which he roundly denounced. In the course of his speech he did me the honor to say that I alone, of Presidential candidates in the last election, had loyally and consistently adhered to my preelection statements.

I appreciate this statement from Governor Landon. But I disagree with him in thinking that Mr. Roosevelt's policy, dangerous as it has been, has yet made it imperative to break faith with the drafted men and to give the President increased power over an indefinitely enlarged army, of itself unnecessary for our defense, and a standing temptation to aggression.

Any legislative formula which will extend indefinitely the term of service of drafted men and increase indefinitely their number, will have the double effect of adversely affecting the morale of the army and of encouraging the President to disregard his solemn promises to the American people that not one of our sons shall be put into foreign wars.

These considerations are infinitely weightier in their effect upon national safety than the contention, which I do not deny, that the army can do a better job training its men and organizing its divisions if they can hold draftees for more than a year.

Creating an Emergency

This latter claim, however, has been grossly exaggerated for political purposes. Who of my hearers who has followed the discussion of this issue in Congress and the press would guess for instance, that less than 14,000 draftees will have to be replaced by new men before December 1st of this year; that it will be March of next year before more than 100,000 will have to be replaced in any one month; and that the term of National Guardsmen in active service will likewise expire, not simultaneously, but month by month? In large measure, the War Department has deliberately created the situation on the basis of which it now asks new legislation. It called men into service long before equipment for their proper training was ready and it merged the regular army with drafted men.

Let it not be forgotten that now we have more than 500,000 officers and men in our regular army, or almost as many as Hanson W. Baldwin and other military critics have told us would be necessary for hemispheric defense, if properly trained and equipped. A very competent newspaper man informs me that less than 8,000 men are involved in all the distant stations, of the proper garrisoning of which General Marshall made a public issue.

There is, then, no insuperable problem of army organization if the War Department will remember the intention of Congress when the Draft Law was passed. Clearly that intention was to train a large number of civilians sufficiently to make them an adequate reserve. It was not the intention of Congress to use the Draft Law to train an army for aggression. Many of us argued that even from a military standpoint we did not need the kind of army which Hoffman Nickerson calls the "armed horde"; that given our geographical position and the nature of modern warfare, an army adequate for our defense could be relatively small, well-paid, well-equipped and recruited under the volunteer system as are other public servants. We argued that to adopt peacetime military conscription was to adopt a revolutionary change in the American way of life.

Congress, under pressure both from Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Willkie, overruled these contentions but in adopting a bill for peacetime conscription it emphatically did not intend to adopt a plan for building an army like Hitler's to be used in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Islands of the Sea.

The only thing that can clear the War Department and the President himself from a charge of bad faith to the men and disloyalty to the purpose of the Conscription Law would be clear proof of a danger to our national defense even graver than that which existed when the law was adopted. The President himself recognized this truth when, in his message to Congress, he asserted with great emphasis "I do believe—I know—that the danger is infinitely greater." To that statement I reply, respectfully but earnestly: "Mr. President, if what you say it true it is because of what you have done and what you expect to do contrary to the spirit of your promise to the American people not to put their sons into foreign wars.

"Let us look at the record. A year ago Stalin was Hitler's virtual ally; today he is his enemy and the German invasion of Russia proceeds far more slowly than the German timetable. Even military victory is not likely to abolish a Russian resistance which will greatly weaken German's power to strike elsewhere. A year ago we lived in momentary dread of a British collapse; today our fears are not for England, but for the British Empire, which has actually been expanded during the year by British conquest of Italian East Africa and Ethiopia and French Syria. A year ago Nazi air war threatened the devastation of the British Isles; today the RAF with comparative impunity carries the war into western Europe and the actual physical invasion of England seems less and less likely. A year ago our nearest neighbor, Mexico, was in an unsettled condition and it was at least possible that there might be civil war by which Nazis could profit; today Mexico is internally at peace and on more friendly terms with the American government than ever before. In general progress has been made with all South American countries. The Carribeans has become an American lake. A year ago our enormous armament program had hardly begun; today it has been pushed far, despite mistakes and failures which have cost us, and will cost us, dear. It is true that when the Conscription bill was passed Japan had not then occupied bases in Indo-China, but neither had her potential strength been weakened by another year of war.

"Where then, Mr. President, is the infinitely greater danger, unless you yourself have determined to preserve the British Empire, perhaps with us as senior or junior partner, at any cost; unless you yourself are willing if necessary to have our sons die in jungles and deserts in Asia and Africa as well as on the Continent of Europe?"

Neither Japan nor Germany, nor both combined can or will aggressively attack us in this hemisphere, or even in thePhilippines unless first they are convinced that, come what may, we intend and we are ready aggressively to attack them.

Where the Danger Lies

The real danger lies simply in the Administration's aggression. Since the election the President no longer talks of steps short of war; since the occupation of Iceland in the eastern hemisphere he no longer talks of defense of the western hemisphere. The Administration's original demand for holding draftees in service was accompanied by demand for the removal of any restriction of the power of the President to send our sons anywhere in the wide world without declaration of war by Congress. Owing to the intensity of opposition this demand was temporarily withdrawn, but only temporarily. Indeed, Secretary Stimson's formula for the declaration of a national emergency would probably nave evaded any restriction upon the power of the President and for that reason was rejected, even by the Administration's devoted followers in the Senate. If Congress now gives the President the power he wants, ways will easily be found to use that power in Africa, Siberia, Indo-China, and the Dutch East Indies. Already two of Great Britain's leading Generals have confidently expressed their conviction that American boys can and must be used in Europe and Africa for complete victory over Hitler. Indeed strange rumors are afloat, to one of which Senator Wheeler referred in a letter to the Secretary of War—as yet unanswered—that 20,000 American soldiers are now in Egypt.

Against this background of facts the most logical explanation of the present demand is that it is a further step in the process by which an unwilling people are being put into total war. The extraordinary vehemence with which the Secretary of War, General Marshall and others have denounced drafted men for the crime of speaking out like American citizens against foreign wars and against prolongation of the draft is evidence in point. I grant the social •danger of putting a vast army into politics, but when Secretary Stimson, a well-trained lawyer familiar with the Constitutional definition of treason, deliberately accused Senator Wheeler of near-treason, because certain postal cards opposing our entry into war reached drafted men, he showed a conception of the meaning of democracy in and for a conscript army not far from Hitler's own. For our army also the rule is "theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die."

"Democracy" in the Army

I have before me a copy of army regulations No. 600 to 610. These regulations definitely state: "Officers will keep as close touch as possible with the men under their command, will take an interest in the organization life, will bear their complaints, will endeavor on all occasions to remove the existence of those causes which make for dissatisfaction, and will strive to build up such relations as confidence and sympathy as will insure the free approach of their men to them for counsel and assistance, not only in militaryand organizational matters, but in personal or family distress or perplexity."

This regulation in letter and spirit should be interpreted so as to encourage, not discourage draftees, members of our so-called citizen's army, to write to their Commander-in-Chief. There is even today no regulation forbidding them to do all that Senator Wheeler's cards asked of citizens.

Organization of pressure groups in the army to affect Congressional legislation is a different matter. Yet in a democratic country where soldiers supposedly have the right to vote, I think draftees should be given a right equivalent to that now enjoyed by officers.

Again I quote: "With regard to policies and facts which the public interest does not require to be kept confidential, officers are entirely free to testify as to their opinions and beliefs when summoned before appropriate committees of the Senate and House of Representatives." Congress should take the same care to find out the opinion of draftees as it has taken to get the opinion of officers. The latter, I may add, have repeatedly changed their mind on the size of the army and the length of training under what looks like political pressure. To know what the men think about morale is vastly important to morale.

The Issue Is War

Once more the basic issue in connection with the extension of the draft, as of our government policy toward Japan, boils down to the question, do we want war? More than ever I am opposed to American entry into total war which will inevitably destroy a democracy which we cannot give to others. Hence my opposition to this legislation which will increase the President's power to wage total war without even convincing the American people of its necessity. That danger is far graver than any danger of attack upon us.

If our sons are to be held for service they are richly entitled to some form of bonus but no bonus can altogether compensate them or deliver America from the danger which I fear.

To the Administration and Congress I say: "Neither the American people nor the verdict of history will forgive you if you put us into total war or send our sons to decide which of two ruthless dictators shall dominate the European continent and which of two rival empires shall exploit the poor people of Indo-China or keep the Indian patriot Nehru in jail. The judgment of history and of the people may be delayed. It will be inescapable. For your failure, here on this blessed continent, to make our own democracy work for the conquest of our own poverty, for your sacrifice of it to armament economics, militarism, imperialism and war itself, generations will pay in blood and tears. Out of that conviction arises my plea; it is late, but not too late. America wants to be kept from total war; it can be kept from total war, but you will make the task of thus delivering our people vastly harder if you extend the draft. Act now to give us hope of peace."