The Struggle is for Survival


By LIEUTENANT GENERAL LESLEY J. McNAIR, U. S. ARMY, Commanding General, Army Ground Forces

Armistice Day Address to Troops of the Army Ground Forces, Over Blue Network from Washington, D. C.,November 11, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 111-114.

MR. McKELWAY, I appreciate this opportunity deeply, for it enables me to reach my far-flung command for the first time. With your permission then, I shall address myself directly to my comrades in the Army Ground Forces. I am trying to picture them—over a million strong—as I have seen and admired them so often at work in the field during the past two years.

Armistice Day has been observed variously through the years since 1918. This year it is hardly appropriate to think of the day as the end of a great war, for after all it was only an armistice. In less than a month will come the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, when the armistice ended for us. We are fighting again, a fiercer, more desperate struggle than the other one; our men are overseas once more, andare dying. As a nation, we are just beginning to fight. Amid such events, I am thinking not so much of the Armistice Day that we have observed for so many years, but of another day close by—November 3, 1917—not 1918—25 years ago. On that day, three American soldiers died on the battlefields of France—our first battle deaths in that war. The drama enacted then carries special appeal today.

At that time, the 1st American Division—very green—was serving at the battle front on what might be called an instructional tour. The division was parceled out among the French troops, generally by battalion, under the French high command. A particular battalion of infantry had gone into line for the first time during the night of November 2-3. At about three o'clock in the morning, the Germans delivered a terrific artillery bombardment on a certain point of the line held by this battalion, smothering the trenches and pinning down the defenders. The fire was followed quickly by the German infantry in the assault, and in a short time the enemy was in the American trenches. The Germans withdrew at once, taking with them an American sergeant and ten privates as prisoners, which was the purpose of the raid. Three American soldiers were left dead in the trench.

The funeral was at the nearby French town of Bathelement, war-wrecked and within sound of the guns. The French general, under whose command the Americans were serving, spoke as follows:

"The death of this humble corporal and these privates appeals to us with unwonted grandeur. We will ask, therefore, that the mortal remains of these young men be left with us forever. We will inscribe upon their tombs, 'Here lie the first soldiers of the United States to fall on the fields of France for justice and liberty.' The passerby will stop and uncover his head. The travelers of France, of the Allied countries, of America, and the men of heart, who will come to visit our battlefields of Lorraine, will go out of their way to come here to bring to these graves the tribute of their respect and gratitude. Corporal Gresham, Private Enright, and Private Hay, in the name of France, I thank you. God receive your souls."

Thus we have the picture war-hardened enemies pouncing on green American troops, taking every possible advantage of our lack of training and battle experience. Pearl Harbor was another such case.

It is fitting from a sentimental viewpoint that we memorialize today those who already have lost their lives in this war, and that we hail our fighting Allies who have borne and are bearing the burden while we train and cross the seas. But it is more practical and realistic to take stock of the situation ahead of us, and ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. Just how are we American soldiers going to do our part in crushing our enemies and winning the war?

It is in order first to look over our enemies—as they are, not as we wish they were.

Both Germany and Japan are military nations. Comparatively speaking, both always have been at war or preparing for it. They are have-not nations and have no intention of remaining so. Their soldiers of today were born and brought up in the military tradition.

The German Army certainly—and the German people probably—never looked upon the Armistice of 1918 as other than just that. There was no question that the war would be renewed, because they would renew it. The only questions were of ways and means, of how and when. The German soldier was born to the Goose-step—and do not think lightly of that goose-step, for it is symbolic of the highest and sternest in military training.

The German training always has been of the finest, as Americans learned full well in the World War. So extensive and thorough was their military training prior to the present war that it was reported that during the winter 1939-40, they created divisions ready for battle in six months, enabling them to expand their strength enormously during the period just before the fall of France. Their preparations for the opening campaign in Poland were carried out by several diplomatic coups, which involved extensive troop movements, together with elaborate maneuvers in the field at home. As a result, the Polish campaign proceeded with clocklike precision, and at the same time afforded them valuable battle training at a nominal cost. The French campaign of 1940 was prepared equally thoroughly and was conducted so swiftly that enormous results were achieved with lightning rapidity.

In Russia things have not gone so smoothly for the Germans. The Russians have profited by the fate of Poland and France. Then too, the great strength of the Red Army, their marvelous fighting spirit, and their sound strategy and tactics have matched the German might. The situation goes to show that, great as is the German Army, the German soldier is no superman; he has a ceiling, even though it is an elevated one.

The German training has paid dividends other than victory to German arms. Let us consider the World War figures. The total battle deaths of that war have been stated as roughly eight millions, of which 37 per cent were German, and 63 per cent Allied. In other words, the Allies lost about 75 per cent more than did the Germans. The difference in numbers is more than one and one-half million men; that is, Germany gained that number of men, as compared with the Allies, as a result of the war. Since the Germans attacked almost continuously on one front or another until near the end of the war, and the attack is more costly than the defense, the difference in battle losses must be attributed to superior German training and leadership. Need we argue as to the need of training?

Let us consider Japan. The modern Japanese Army was built on a foundation of German tutelage, although beyond doubt the Japanese national characteristics and ancient military background afforded the German teachers some very apt pupils. The Japanese have been considered by many—and military men among them—as merely imitators. They do imitate well—too well—those foreign offerings which they decide after deliberation are worth imitating. But in addition, they originate—diabolically from the military viewpoint. As the first year of our war passes, and the Japanese strategy unfolds, who is there to call it amateurish? If imitations are discovered, they are of sound and proved principles. Their strategy is being shaped precisely to fit Japan's interests, full of boldness, boundless in scope, and deadly in execution.

Training of the Japanese soldier apparently is comparable in thoroughness with that of the German. Like the German, the Japanese troops are war-hardened—in their case by the Chinese War. Their physical stamina is of the highest. Young Japanese-American soldiers now in our Army are displaying physical qualities which you Americans must take seriously. They run about as much as they walk, and for surprising distances.

The Jap is a hard, relentless fighter—a killer. He fights with every available means, including treachery. Apparently he has no fear of death. His fighting tactics are sound and clever. He uses every weapon he has. His clothing, equipment, weapons, and tactics are selected for the task at hand, and resemble European standards only as those suit his needs. He attacks habitually, endeavoring always to encircle his adversary by stealth and speed, or else to filter throughopenings along the front. His speed on foot in jungle terrain is remarkable. He travels light in everything except weapons and ammunition, although he has the essentials even in small details. He is adept in employing the fire of all kinds of weapons. If his enemy is prone to be road-bound, especially in difficult terrain, he mines or otherwise obstructs the roads, piles up the enemy's transport, encircles him by moving off roads, and then destroys or captures him. It is clear that his skill is the result of training, for the same pattern is observed in all Jap operations. He is equally at home in the jungle, in open country, and in mountains. He is fully abreast of modern technical advances, although he displays a marked preference for simple and rugged equipment, provided that it answers requirements.

These brief descriptions may appear to portray our enemies as admirable. A better word is formidable. We are concerned with bald facts. If the facts are against us, let's change the score—and we can do it. It certainly is both silly and dangerous to kid ourselves into believing that we face a pushover. It's better—and healthier—to hit the dirt now, and get good. Your comrades overseas are learning about their enemies the hard way. You must avoid some of that grief.

All in all, we must admit that the Germans and Japs both have done well by themselves thus far, thanks to thorough, painstaking preparations for years, careful planning, and bold, unscrupulous leadership. The results admittedly have paid no small dividends on the great gamble of these two nations. Our job is to break up the game.

Now let's look at our side of the picture. We are building an Army of free men—free because our forefathers made us so. We are a have-nation. We most certainly are anything but militaristic. We probably are called mercenary, commercial, materialistic, or whatnot, partly because we are not uninterested in such aspects and partly because we are not military—decidedly not. It is true, of course, that we have military establishments, but they always have been comparatively small, and the citizenry as a whole has been almost entirely unaffected by them. The contrast between us and our enemies, in point of military prowess and background, could hardly be greater. We now are beginning to test our kind of an army against those of our veteran enemies. How are we doing?

As a generality, an army needs material and personnel. Material—arms, equipment, transportation, clothing—has given and is giving even our vast industrial system a few headaches, especially on account of aiding our Allies, but the matter is being licked. We still lack material here at home, but things are coming along, and troops are going overseas in an excellent state of material. Moreover, our material is modern and of the highest quality. The quantity is ample, in fact, more than ample. We certainly are over-transported, especially in view of the fact that we must find ships for all our trucks. In any event, the state of material is favorable; would that the picture in all respects were equally so.

As to personnel, your commanders all agree that our Army has superb human material—both officers and enlisted men. You are unsurpassed as potential soldiers, but actually you have not yet reached the peerless class. I do not prophesy that you will be the best, but believe that you could become the best if you went to work with the fanatical zeal of our enemies.

Such fine soldiers deserve and must have fine leadership. This vital need has been and still is a difficult problem. While our pre-war Army had many able and experienced officers—both professional and citizen—the number was far too small for our present Army of millions. However, thesituation is being met as our present officers—especially the young ones—gain experience, and by the tremendous output of our officer candidate schools. These fine, young officers, in a sense, are the broad foundation on which our war army is being built.

Leadership is the first essential of good training, as of battle itself. The leader must teach his troops thoroughly, correctly, and interestingly. It is his duty to see to it that they know the things they must know in order to fight effectively. He must do more—a vital something more. By his personality, enthusiasm, and solid knowledge, he must supply the spark which infuses his men with his spirit and carries them individually and collectively along with him.

Many of you feel no doubt that you are something like veterans, for you have been training a long time. On the other hand, some of you are new in the service, even though you may be no longer recruits. On the whole, the Ground Forces are a green Army. Whether you are veteran or recruit, training is your object in life. You can not have too much of it. 

The size of our overseas forces, under present conditions at least, is a matter of shipping. It follows that every man who goes must pay his freight—either directly or indirectly—in combat value. By thorough training, each of you can be worth two untrained men, doubling our total strength overseas. You must train so that our transports will carry record cargoes of fighting power.

Training thus far has been good, bad, and indifferent—largely according to the quality of leadership. On the whole, you have trained actively and faithfully. Progress has been praiseworthy. The Army of 1942 is greatly improved as compared with the 1941 model. The older troop units are looking like veterans, and the new units are coming along fast. They soon will be challenging the older ones.

Discipline is definitely better today than a year ago, and this is a sign of the greatest importance. Your spirits are higher, your interest is keener, and your progress correspondingly greater. Perhaps the condition is due to increased pay, and certainly that boon was welcome. Pearl Harbor has spurred. Improved leadership has made itself felt. Whatever may be the causes, the results are altogether encouraging and helpful in view of the stern outlook ahead.

The maneuvers which have just been completed in various parts of the country also have reflected fine progress as compared with 1941. Maneuvers always are a severe test of physical condition and stamina. Those of you who participated displayed a fine brand of soldiering. You put out all the way. You endured real hardships uncomplainingly. Your interest was intense and sustained. You learned a great deal—probably more than you realize.

Devotion to duty and heroism during the maneuvers were in evidence constantly—just as truly as in battle, even though less conspicuous. Six officers and 115 enlisted men died from accidental causes attributable directly to the maneuvers. Thirty-three of the deaths were by drowning, many of them due to exploits for which your comrades volunteered in order to further the success of their companies in the mock warfare. Such actions are if anything more heroic than in battle, for stimulus and realism necessarily are absent in some degree at maneuvers.

I am thinking tonight of what is in the hearts of you soldiers, for the spirit is the controlling element in battle.

In war men do the impossible. Great souls shine forth—sometimes as officers, sometimes as privates. Perhaps they are born so; perhaps they are made by self-training, by contemplating inwardly what lies ahead, by charting their course and storing up resolve. Great as is the influence ofleadership, it alone is not enough. Soldiers—our kind of soldiers—must be right inside.

When soldiers are right and leaders lead, the combination is unbeatable, irresistible. Such troops can not be stopped; they never tire; they never turn back, but go forward always.

Our soldiers must have the fighting spirit. If you call that hating our enemies, then we must hate with every fiber of our being. We must lust for battle; our object in life must be to kill; we must scheme and plan night and day to kill. There need be no pangs of conscience, for our enemies have lighted the way to faster, surer, and crueler killing; they are past masters. We must hurry to catch up with them if we are to survive. Since killing is the object of our efforts, the sooner we get in the killing mood, the better and more skillful we shall be when the real test comes. The struggle is for survival—kill or be killed.

Modern warfare employs many deadly weapons, but men survive in spite of them. The one positive method is hand-to-hand combat. War kills by fire so far as possible, but final victory against a determined enemy is by close combat. For this reason, a fighting army is set to kill, and seeks ever to come to grips with the enemy.

I wonder whether you all are thinking in terms of killing by battling man to man. I do not know, and perhaps you yourself do not know your own feelings. A recent group of voluntary enlistments—totalling 30,000—reveals but five per cent for the infantry and armored force both. These two arms are preeminently those of close combat. Does this figure mean that our soldiers prefer the more genteel forms of warfare? If so, the sooner we change such preferences, the better for our Country. There is no doubt that Americans can and will fight when aroused they are brave in battle. You are going to get killing mad eventually; why not now, while you have time to learn thoroughly the art of killing. Soldiers learn quickly and well in battle—no doubt about that—but the method is costly to both you and the Nation.

Certain surveys have given the answer—true or false—that one-fourth of you want to fight, that one-fourth do not want to fight, and that one-half are on the fence. I'd prefer to think that more than one-fourth want to fight; but, even if the figures are true, the picture is all right, because those of you who do not hate now are going to do so later. It is the avowed purpose of the Army to make killers of all of you; if not at home, far from the enemy, then overseas.

Also, there are certain indications that one-half of you in combat divisions expect to fight. All of you must not only expect to fight, but must be determined to fight and kill.

Again, it is said that one-half of you expect the war to end within two years. But your reason must tell you that it will end only when you finish it. If you intend to do thejob in two years, make yourself into fighting devils now, not later.

If I seem to ask more of you tonight than you have given already, it is not that I do not appreciate what you have done and are doing. You have come a long way, and have earned the respect and gratitude of our people. But you still have a rough road to travel. It is too much to expect a peace-loving nation such as ours to turn in a flash and in full fury to an all-out war overseas. Time is necessary for our people and our soldiers to make this fiendish transformation. I am not impatient with either you or our people. Nevertheless we must hurry—you soldiers of the Nation above all must hurry, for yours is the greatest burden and the gravest responsibility. You have the furthest to go. You must hit harder and harder. You must become tougher and tougher. You must hate more and more. Your devotion to duty must deepen. You must ration your pleasure time. You must think and act war. Casualty lists—and even a defeat perchance—must only fire your zeal the more. You must hurry and you must hate if you will do the job before you,

I know full well that the American soldier is a thinking man, and he thinks straight in the long run. Equally I know that no words of mine can force you to prepare yourself inside for this desperate war. Some things you must think out for yourself in your own way. Do it now as we ponder this day—what it means and what it calls for. We salute those who have gone before and shown the way. We take stock of the enemies who threaten us. We review frankly our strength and our weakness; both are formidable. I hope very much that the day will leave you more resolute and purposeful soldiers, ready and eager to go to work harder than ever in this deadly serious task of hitting Hitler and Hirohito on the training ground this winter.

We have applauded and pulled for the Navy, our Air Forces, and our ground comrades overseas, first in the Pacific and now in Africa. You can see the pattern of the struggles which will decide the war. The United States is stretching out its arms to encircle the globe . . . not in conquest—in protection. Even with our powerful Allies, the task is vast and calls for our utmost all-out effort. Let no one of you be the super-optimist and conclude that Africa is the beginning of the end. It is only another great stride forward in our part of the war. Our great advance guard overseas must be followed by a great main body—or else. I hope that it may include you all.

Your country now is the greatest in the world. It has required a century and a half to build. It has given you much, and now it calls for your help—and perhaps you yourself—in return. Your comrades overseas need you now and will need you even more later. The fate of this Nation is in your hands; its people trust you, believe in you, pray for you. You must not and will not let them down.