Are We Drafting a Larger Army Than We Can Supply?


By DR. HARVEY N. DAVIS, President of Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N. J.

Delivered at Opening of 71st Year of the College, September 28, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 18-21

A LOT of water has gone over the dam since we met a year ago to start the seventieth academic year of this College. Then 1 said that we already were, to all intents and purposes, at war, even though we claimed still to be neutrals, and I urged that we should think and act accordingly. Now we all know that we are at war, and that it is going to take all we have in us to win it. Then we had a draft army that, by law, could not be sent out of the Western Hemisphere, and some of the isolationists were arguing as to where Iceland lay with respect to the imaginary boundary of that hemisphere. Now Americans in uniform are in Ireland, in Egypt, in Irak, in Iran, in Eritrea, in India, in China, in Australia, in the Solomon Islands, and in a lot of other places all around the world. Then some of our first draftees were already being demobilized after their year of service, and others were talking about "Over the hill in October." Now every induction is, without question, for the duration, there is talk of lowering the draft age to eighteen, and women are serving both in the Army and in the Navy. Truly the thinking of America has changed a lot in this one year; I suspect that it will have to change a lot more in the year that now lies ahead of us.

Let us here and now rededicate ourselves to the great task of winning this war for the purpose of preserving and developing for ourselves and our children a way of life that we believe in. Let us also prepare ourselves as best we can to win the peace after this war and to play our parts unfalteringly in making the whole world the kind of a world in which all right thinking people can live in peace, with mutualrespect and mutual consideration.

How can we at Stevens best help in winning this war?

Production the Fifth Front

In his Labor Day speech, President Roosevelt spoke of four great fronts, all vital and all interrelated. They were the Russian Front, the Pacific Ocean area, the Mediterranean and Middle East area, and the European area. All of them are interrelated, and all of them are indeed vital, not only to our allies, but to us. I wish that he had gone on to mention that great fifth front that is so closely related to all the rest, and so very vital to all of them, namely the production front in our factories here at home.

A year ago production loomed large in everybody's mind. Our main duty was to be the arsenal of the democracies. If we fired a gun, it was to be solely to insure the delivery of the materiel of war to Great Britain. Now public sentiment seems to have swung to the opposite extreme. A uniform's the thing. There is a service flag in every block. Our radios are constantly inserting alluring spot descriptions of how well all sorts of men, particularly technical men, can serve their country in the armed services. Indeed a personable young man can hardly travel for an hour on a train without having some draftee say, "Where's your uniform, buddy?" Nobody stops to realize that the man in civies may be playing

an important part in helping to provide the weapons that may make the difference between life and death to that particular draftee six months hence. Recently a "Chin Strap Post" of World War I veterans adopted a resolution that "all young single men of draft age who are employed as defense workers should be placed in Class 1-A immediately."

Is it not time that the American public should stop and think about what all this may mean to the very lives of our soldiers and sailors in the months that lie ahead? Somehow the public must be made to realize that this is fundamentally a highly mechanized war, and that we are in far more danger of losing it in the factories and shipyards at home than in any of the combat areas. Somehow we must learn to give more public respect and appreciation to our production army at the bench and at the machine tool, as well as to our other army in uniform.

Insignia for Production Workers

One of the things we greatly need is some form of carefully guarded insignia that will bring to the conscientious war worker the respect that he deserves. The Army-Navy E buttons that are beginning to appear are fine, provided that more than a selected few of our vast army of war workers are to be privileged to wear them. But the public must learn to recognize and appreciate them.

The Man Power Problem

This brings me to one of the most important problems that this country is facing today. It is the problem of the wise allocation of our human resources as between the armed forces on the one hand and the production forces on the other. Even if we completely mobilize all our men and women, and even if we manage to prevent disadvantageous labor migration and labor piracy as between different war industries, we still will not have solved the problem of how many men belong in the Army and how many in the factories. Should the demand for a quota, or the need to keep an airplane factory running at top efficiency, weigh heavier with this or that local draft board?

Power Lacking to Make Binding Decisions

Apparently, at this moment, nobody in Washington except the President himself has the power to make any binding decision on this important matter. The country hoped that this would be one of the chief concerns of the Manpower Allocation Board, but Mr. McNutt's recent testimony at a senate hearing shows why that Board has not yet given us the wise and vigorous leadership in this matter that we had hoped for. Like so many other Boards in Washington it apparently has no power in this matter beyond advice and moral suasion.

Depriving Industry of Skilled Men

In the meantime General Hershey announces that an army of from ten to thirteen millions is contemplated, and his office is serving notice on essential war industries that they must look forward to losing many thousands of skilled workers, and even many skilled supervisors, to the draft during the coming year, although almost simultaneously another Washington official said publicly that one of the major problems facing industry is that of finding and training a million new supervisors during the same coming year. Recently, for instance, a small company working overtime on parts and accessories for fighting airplanes, lost its assistant production manager to the draft. When last heard from, he was a buck private building barracks at a cantonment.

Furthermore, in some highly industrialized areas rigid draft quotas are taking men right and left out of war industries; then replacements have to be hired from less highly industrialized areas twenty and thirty miles away. This means an increased transportation problem; and yet we are trying to save gas and rubber.

Experience in France and Britain Warning to U. S.

All this raises the very serious question of whether we are not trying to draft a larger army than we can produce for. We have been abundantly warned, both by recent history and by competent observers to consider this question carefully. It has been frequently stated that one of the major causes of the fall of France was that during the so-called "phoney war" period in 1939 she stripped her munitions factories of skilled workmen and sent them to the Maginot Line. More recently Mr. Hedley Williams, a regional administrator of the British Ministry of Production, sent to Washington to aid us in our planning, has warned us of certain British mistakes which the United States could profitably avoid. One of them was drafting men from industry to the Army. "Britain," he said, "did this at first; then had to send them back. There is no use having a big army in the field if there are not enough men at home to keep it properly equipped."

Apparently we made this same mistake ourselves in World War I. An Army officer recently told the story of how, at one time, during that war, he found himself in charge of training a battalion of raw recruits. He says that both he and they worked hard and he presently had them just about ready to go abroad, when suddenly someone in Washington woke up to the fact that the war industries had been hamstrung, and sent out a blanket order that all enlisted men with such and such qualifications and such and such skills were to be demobilized at once and sent back into the factories. When this particular officer had complied with that order, he had, he says, scarcely a corporal's guard left; and both he and his men had utterly wasted some three months of valuable time.

That there is danger of our making the same mistake again—the mistake of trying to build a larger army than we can produce for—has been admitted to me in private conversation by more than one officer high up in the Ordnance Department of our present Army.

Priorities in Men is Basic Problem

To make, and to enforce, a wise decision on this fundamental problem of priorities in men—to arbitrate the necessarily conflicting claims of the armed services and the war industries for skilled men—would seem to be a proper, and a most important, function of the Manpower Allocation Board, and the responsibility for stating forcefully the needs of the war industries would seem to rest squarely on the War Production Board's official representation on the Allocation Board. Let us hope that sufficient authority may soon be vested in them so that they can give us the enlightened leadership that we so sorely need, and bring order out of the present chaos.

"Disastrous Chaos at Present"

For there is disastrous chaos at present. The more than three thousand local draft boards of the country, conscientious as they are even though they are unpaid and largely unpraised, are now forced to act in ways that are seriously undermining the production side of our war effort. As long ago as last March a "night timekeeper in a war industries plant " writing from "somewhere in California" to the Christian Science Monitor said, "The feeling of uncertainty about the classification of possible selectees is upsetting the morale. Foremen simply don't know what to do next. No one knows who's going and who isn't. No one knows justwhat men to take off one job and break in on another. In the meantime the draft boards, acting with a sort of secret absoluteness, are keeping thousands of men in a stew."

For "Reserved Occupations"

I myself believe that the ultimate answer must be a legally established system of "reserved occupations" such as was set up by the British Parliament early in 1939, before the war started, and adhered to ever since, with only such modifications of detail as the changing situation required.

The Engineers

All this is a matter of special concern to the colleges of engineering throughout the country, and to Stevens in particular, because technically trained men have a uniquely important part to play in the winning of this war, both in the armed services and in the war industries. Engineers are key men in all modern production, both as line officers directly charged with executive responsibilities at all levels in the production army itself, and as staff officers concerned with production planning, production control, inspection and personnel. Engineers are still more important in the conception, design, development, and final preparation for mass production of all the improvements in the materiel of war that we must have if our planes and tanks and guns are not presently to be obsolete before they are even delivered to our combat forces.

Need for Engineers Will Continue

In the words of General Somervell, "When Hitler put his war on wheels, he ran it straight down our alley. When he hitched his chariot to an internal combustion engine, he opened up a new battle front—a front we know well."

Or—as Mark Sullivan rephrased it at a recent A.I.E.E. meeting—"The organization of large scale engineering work . . . is America's choice of a battle front. On that ground we are called to meet our enemies, and it is fortunate that this is true, for the freedom of the world depends on our acceptance of this front and our success on it."

It is a commonly held, but fatally erroneous idea, that, now that our war industries are pretty well tuned up for mass production, all that remains is to let the wheels turn without further benefit of engineers until the victory is ground out. That is very far from true.

Even to keep the wheels turning requires a surprising amount of engineering attention. A couple of years ago the Wright Aeronautical Corporation got a new model of an airplane engine ready for production. During the period of its development about 150 technically trained men, engineers, draftsmen, and the like, had spent full time on the job of whipping it into shape. During the hectic period while it was being put into mass production, it took some 500 technically trained men, including a lot of production engineers, to lay out the new production lines, get the fabrication bugs ironed out, and get mass production going. This is, of course, not surprising. But, now that every thing is rolling sweetly, do you suppose that engineers are no longer needed? On the contrary, it is now taking about two and one half times as many technically trained men to keep mass production going as it took to develop the new engine in the first place. That this is not exceptional, but typical, is something that the general public, the Draft Boards, and even official Washington must learn to appreciate.

Must Compete with Enemy in Improving Weapons

But it is for the purpose of continuing the steady improvement of our war materiel to keep pace with our enemies, and of developing new weapons as a result of an absolutely unprecedented amount of organized war research, that the war industries most need a continuing, and if possible, asteadily increasing, influx of technically trained personnel. One very large company reports that they have underway at this moment more development work on war material than at any previous time in the defense or war program. Another is now carrying an engineering and development payroll that is more than three times what it was in the first half of 1940, although at the earlier time the company already had large British and French war orders.

Gambling with Lives

This company estimates that if its technical men are to be drained off his winter by the Draft Boards, and no replacements from the engineering colleges can be counted on for the duration, it will doubtless be able to finish up such developments as are already far enough along to get into production in 1943, but that achieved technical progress must begin to lag by 1944. What this means is that any Draft Board that insists on diverting engineering students into the armed forces now, is gambling on its belief that the war will end in 1943, and is staking the lives of a lot of soldiers and sailors in 1944 as its ante.

Stevens Students Helping Industry

For these reasons we at Stevens have conceived it to be our most important contribution to the war effort to train a large majority of our students for service on the production front, leaving it to other engineering colleges, particularly the land-grant colleges with long established R. O. T. C. units, to feed the needed technically trained men into the armed services. Furthermore, we are undertaking to get practically all of our students into active service on the production front immediately, in relays each working four months each year in such a way as to give steady dependable service throughout the year to each cooperating war industry. One hundred and sixty-six of our undergraduates are thus engaged at this moment. In addition practically all of our seniors worked in war industries throughout last summer, and they will graduate on May 1st, five weeks earlier than usual.

I am not saying that it would be best for the war effort that all engineering schools should follow our lead. The armed services also need fully trained engineering graduates, and, in general, they need them as soon as they can get them. We have already undertaken to completely accelerate some of our undergraduates who are headed for the Navy. But the armed services are getting at the moment, rather more than their share of the young engineers of the country. Last spring a special consultant in the W. P. B. organization estimated the need of the war industries for young engineers in 1942 as about five times that of the armed services. Nevertheless the armed services got about 49 per cent of the engineering graduates of 1942. As with man-power generally, so particularly with technically trained man power, we need enlightened guidance and perspective as to the conflicting priorities of combat and production.

Draft Boards Have Duty to Production

Particularly is wise guidance needed in the face of a very recent surge of feeling in the local Draft Boards, inspired perhaps by Secretary Stimson's recent pronouncement as to the Army Officer Training Reserve. Some draft boards are beginning to say to all college students, even to engineering seniors, "Join up immediately for officer training or else _______." This would of course mean that the war industries could hope for no more recruits from the colleges for the duration.

As far as I can discover, such an attitude on the part of any Local Draft Board is not forced upon it by any orders from Washington, is not approved of by the National Selective Service Headquarters in Washington, is directlycontrary to the most recent directives on the subject, the most important of which is, we are told, about to be reissued in only slightly modified form, and is directly contrary to the fundamental basis of the Selective Service System itself, which has been repeatedly defined officially in such words as the following:

"The Selective Service System has the responsibility to select men for military service, etc. . . . On the other hand, the Selective Service System has the corollary responsibility to select for retention in their civilian endeavor an adequate supply of trained, qualified, or skilled men in order to maintain those civilian activities necessary to war production, etc. . . ."

Secretary Stimson's Latest Statement

It is to be hoped that a still later pronouncement by Secretary Stimson himself under date of September 17, 1942, will correct any misapprehension that his earlier statement may have caused. This later statement says in part:

"The army is greatly in need of men of specialized training particularly in physics, chemistry, engineering, and medicine. We are equally interested in having adequate numbers of men of such training available to war production industries and civilian research agencies of the government."

An Industrial Reserve Corps

At least two ways of meeting this problem of adjusting the relative priorities of the armed services and of the war industries in young engineers are possible. The first is a legally established system of reserved occupations such as I have already advocated for other reasons. If adopted, it should include provisions for training men for the especially critical occupations such as engineering. A second solution would be an industrial training corps in the engineering schools, a corps parallel to the officer training corps that the armed services have already established in all colleges. Such a corps, to be effective, must have the same power to hold its members out of the draft that the other service corps have. If such a corps is established, it would seem to be especially appropriate to build into it something equivalent to the Stevens Accelerated Service Plan, so as to make its members immediately active, on a part time basis, on the production front.

"College Exists to Help Win War and Peace"

And finally a word to you, our own undergraduates at Stevens. This college, like every other college, exists, for the duration, solely for the purpose of helping to win the war and the peace. Every one of you is studying on borrowed time. It is your job to prepare yourselves just as effectively as you can to help in winning the war and the peace. You are studying in a field which is basic both in the armed services and in the war production industries. You are also in a position to give active service on the production front this year, and every year until you graduate.

"Work As You Never Worked Before"

All this is not so much a privilege as a great responsibility. You have got to work as you never worked before. That is your patriotic duty. It is for that purpose, and that purpose only, that you are being allowed to stay here. If you flunk, you won't be allowed to stay here, and rightly so. The armed services will need you, and will take you, the moment you show that you have reached the limit of your trainability in engineering. Particularly will all this be true if and when the draft age goes down to eighteen. So let this be a year of no dawdling, no wasting of time, and no ineffective methods of studying. If you need help in learning how to study, or how to budget your time, go to the Dean before, instead of after, you get into real trouble.

Engineers Need English and History

Do not underestimate the importance of your English and History. You will need the History to understand both the war and what goes on after the war. And you will need the skill in English all through your college course. In particular, if you can learn to read rapidly and accurately, you will save much valuable time, and improve your grades materially.

Meanwhile remember that the physical education program of this college is even more important now than ever before. Go at it with vigor and enthusiasm. You will need well conditioned bodies and steady nerves either for combat or for war-time production.

Do not let the extra-curricular activities of this college languish. They are often the best training in character and leadership that is available to you. But keep them in proper perspective. Leaders without well trained brains are useless in war time.

"Keep Cool and Keep Working"

Be courageous, but steady, in all your thinking. Be comforted by another sentence in Secretary Stimson's latest pronouncement, namely:

"I am now re-emphasizing the fact that where students Jin these fields and their teachers fall within the classification for deferment by provisions of the Occupational Bulletins of Selective Service they are doing the job their country wants them to do and performing their full duty in the war effort."

Therefore don't let yourselves be stampeded into rash decisions or premature actions by rumors or apparent trends or general public excitement. Keep cool—and keep working—both while you are here, and where ever you may find yourselves when you leave. We expect you to play your parts well and we expect to be proud of you throughout your lives.