The Army—It Is America
ABSENTEEISM NOT CONFINED TO FACTORIES
By LIEUT. GENERAL BEN LEAR, Commander of the Second Army
Delivered at Army Day Luncheon, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 6, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 421-424.
I REGRET that conditions make it impossible for some large units of our combat troops to participate in the celebration of Army Day this year. I would like to have you look them over closely.
You see comparatively few of the troops we are preparing for battle overseas. A few of them come to our big cities on furlough but most of the soldiers you see are part of military establishments that are doing most useful work but not being hardened mentally, morally, and physically for the grim and self-sacrificing labor of battle. Therefore it is natural that in your mind's eye is a different picture of my field soldiers than I have.
I see them in training and in review—lean and hardened young men, alert, obedient, intelligent, aggressive, keyed to the desire to meet their enemies and destroy them. Many are successful graduates of our Ranger training—young men who march 25 miles in eight hours with 65 pounds of equipment on their backs, who march five miles in one hour, and nine miles in two hours, who have experienced crawling under overhead machine-gun fire, and advancing under overhead artillery fire, who have developed to a high degree their perceptions of sight and sound by night as well as by day, who have clambered over the hardest obstacle and combat reaction courses, and who, at the end of a long march against time or at the end of a long day of hard work, return to their barracks singing.
I see these keen, determined, grim young faces as I walk past their ranks when they are drawn up for review. Their equipment is in meticulous order; their uniforms are clean and pressed and their shoes shined; their posture immensely improved; their muscles hard as steel, and they have that look in the eyes, that set of the chin, that pride of carriage of men who know their task is an enormous one—and that they will get it done.
Yes, I wish you could see my men—your men, the flower of the nation's manhood—as I see them and know them. If you did, and if some of your political leaders did, you possibly would want to make them a little more proud of you than they are.
Refers Back to 1917
This is Army Day, anniversary of the day in 1917 when the United States, sorely unprepared for conflict, entered the first World War, prelude to the war that today is the Armageddon of the institutions of free men.
The observance of Army Day began in 1928, under the sponsorship of the Military Order of the World War, and with the cooperation of virtually all the military and veterans' organizations of the nation. It was the thought of those sponsoring Army Day to pay tribute to the Army of the United States and to provide a means for bringing to the attention of the public those things for which the Army stands, its requirements and the necessity for an adequate national defense.
In retrospect, how much value may be attached to these celebrations? In 1920, two years after the termination of the last war, we were assured by act of Congress that our regular Army would consist of some 20,000 officers and 400,000 enlisted men, in addition to some 200.000 National Guardsmen.
But by the time the emergency that resulted in the present World War was before our eyes—our closed eyes—our Regular Army had dwindled to a mere 12,000 officers and 170,000 enlisted men, a pathetic figure when one considers our strategic waterway across the Isthmus of Panama, our foreign possessions, and our responsible place in world affairs. We had not a single full-strength, fully equipped infantry division, not one.
Exposed to Ridicule
We had only four skeleton divisions—skeleton in strength and equipment—and five others on paper. And we had the record of having sunk unfinished modern battleships as the result of a disarmament conference gesture. Our wishful thinking had indeed been successful, our complacency undisturbed by the warnings of our military leaders, our ignorance and unrealism as 100 per cent as our boasts of Americanism and our soft belly exposed to the ridicule, the insult and finally the weapons of our enemies.
So determined were we that we would not be enticed or swindled by the propaganda of our friends, we opened our ears and loaned our pens and schools to the propaganda of our enemies. We were absorbed by the fear of war.
There we were—in spite of the good resolutions in 1920, in spite of annual Army Day celebrations since 1928.
It would be a waste of my time and of yours, if I did not speak frankly to you today.
A year ago I stood before an audience in Detroit and told about what our young men of the combat forces would have to face—hunger, thirst, cold, excessive heat, battle in deserts and in swamps, wounds, disease and death. And I asked them if they, the civilians, could take it.
I told them—and how true it is—that what they could do for our troops, that would have more meaning to these men on the battlefronts than any other thing—was to make the soldiers proud of the people on the home front.
Public Support Urged
That is all the man about to die ever asks of you—that he may be proud of you; that you conduct yourselves in dignity; that you save him from worry about you; that, like him, you despise cheapness, tawdriness, selfishness, meanness; that you do not whimper and complain; that you walk in the dignity of free men; that you, in your safety and your comfort, back him up.
Should I praise you for marvels of production? You could still do more—and all of you know it!—and yet notearn the stature of your fighting men who, when needs be, fight to the last round and the last man.
Should I praise you for unity of effort? The Army expects that of every combat unit in the sight and sound of the fury of battle, when men's comrades fall bleeding beside them.
Should I praise you for non-partisanship in all political matters? There are no Democrats and Republicans, New Dealers or anti-New Dealers, blocs or pressure groups in Africa when your infantrymen and artillerymen stand to meet Rommel's tanks, in New Guinea when fever-ridden soldiers fight yard by yard through dismal swamps, in the air when tired and worn fliers are called out day after day perform their daring missions.
Should I praise you for overcoming absenteeism in industry. What happens to the soldier who makes himself a voluntary absentee from the field of battle? And is the gold-brick welcomed by the men to whom he is not a comrade or is he ostracized?
Speaks of Absenteeism
I do not wish to enter a one-sided controversy over absenteeism. It has many forms—that subject of absenteeism—and it is not exclusively confined to factories. When a farmer who can produce, even though it takes greater effort in 1943 than it did in 1942, fails to do so, isn't he an absentee? When a person of wealth fails to subscribe and pay up his fair share in the purchase of War Bonds, isn't he an absentee? When a purchaser of bonds runs around the corner to the post office and stands in line to cash his bonds in, isn't he an absentee? When men and women capable of lending their time and efforts to war purposes do as little as they can as late as possible, aren't they absentees? When politicians make political capital of every little thing they can lay their hands on and magnify and make mountains out of molehills, aren't they absentees?
I have a rather broad notion of absenteeism.
Let me discuss a few other things in your lives that have a relation to the welfare, the esprit de corps of our soldiers—and that have a relation to your backing of them. I think they are legitimately of concern to you. They are to me.
We have found some reluctance in many cities and small towns in the matter of vice suppression. That also is a matter of grave concern to us. I am proud to say that the rate of venereal disease in our Army is very low, and that condition reflects an increasingly high standard of discipline.
Put City Out of Bounds
But that improvement often is attained without the cooperation of the local authorities and townspeople. We can always put a city or town "out of bounds," but it is a little difficult to do that when our men must have some place to go to get away from the tedium of their camps.
A year ago our people were exclaiming, "Just tell us what you want us to do." That tune has disappeared. Today we find newspaper advertisements, posters on trucks, in railway stations and public buildings, radio broadcasters, addresses over the radio and before civic clubs, urging us to conserve rubber, buy bonds, support the Red Cross, enlist in the WAVES, WAACS, SPARS, and other auxiliary military organizations, not to use the telephone or telegraph when it can be avoided, and a number of other things. Urging us, I repeat. There must be mass support of these things, complete unity of purpose and public discipline, on the part of all, not just 60, 70, or 80 per cent of our people.
Those of us who feel inclined to grouse, complain or criticize the conditions which face us today, or the inconveniences and hardships which we are experiencing orwhich may possibly come to us as the war progresses, should come to a quick halt and ask ourselves: Are we experiencing anything compared to the horrors suffered by the people of Russia, Great Britain, and China?
Questioning is Continued
Are we doing our full part toward the winning of this war? Are we doing as much as the peoples of Great Britain, Russia, and China? Are we contributing as much as the individual German and Jap citizens toward winning this war? If we are not contributing as much as the people of our enemy nations, then we must do more. If we are not doing all we should, then we must catch up. The Germans and the Japs are our personal enemies.
It is very important in times like these for the intelligent citizen to make sound evaluations with his relationship to the war, to his community, to his position in life, and to his responsibilities. That applies to all members of society.
For instance, I would suggest that you look to the family discipline, since the Army or the factories sooner or later inherit the children of the nation and have to cope with the type of discipline or lack of discipline, that results from their home and school life.
We have had great stadiums, a vast continent with lots of elbow room, and schools with acres of playgrounds for physical instruction. We have advertised vitamins and health pills and labor-saving gadgets and all sorts of substitutes for good, clean, arduous, energetic, muscle building, and character-building human endeavor. But Mr. McNutt is author of the statement that out of 22,000,000 young men between the ages of 18 and 38, there are 7,000,000 who are physically unfit for military duty under our present modified and none-too-high standards of physical fitness for entry into the service.
One-third Not Acceptable
I repeat, one-third of the young men of this country between the ages of 18 and 38 are not acceptable for service in the Army because of their physical unfitness. Doesn't that shock your complacency?
This leads me to ask you a question that I consider most pertinent: What do you mean by the American high standard of living? Is this the result? If so, how do you define the word standard—and what have been our standards? Certainly not high enough standards—for the things that count.
It's not the gadgets that count, nor glittering automobiles doctored for high octane gas and a speed of 90 miles an hour. Nor endless varieties of canned food, to make life easier for housewives. Nor any other of the impermanent signs of progress.
We've had those so-called high standards of living for the past generation—and one-third of our youth is unfit for military service. And many that pass our none-too-high physical standards for entrance into the Army require much time and patience to harden physically—even more time and patience to toughen morally.
We are in a fight, a deadly fight, a fight in which thousands of our best young men will perish.
The biggest job in the Army is to knock the complacency out of young officers and men, to make them realize that only by dint of their greatest effort, their utmost unselfishness, their infinite pains, and their capacity for self-sacrifice—in each of them, personally and individually—will victory be attained. We must arouse in them the spirit of the offensive.
Symbol is Unselfishness
Do you know what those words mean? Many of our young people, despite their high school and university educa-
tion, don't know until they have been in the Army, among combat troops for months, greatest efforts, utmost unselfishness, infinite pains, and capacity for self-sacrifice. The symbol of success in unselfishness in the Army is the devotion, the timeless, ever-present devotion of the good noncommissioned officer and the officer towards their men. The symbol of greatest efforts and infinite pains is in the faithful, ardent, forceful, continuous training of every man to be a soldier, not cannon fodder.
The example of unselfishness is in the officer who thinks only of his men and of how to serve, protect, and lead them—of the soldier who loves his comrades and will give his life to aid and protect them. Such men can stand at the feet of the Almighty and salute the hereafter with honor and pride.
Such men we need to bring victory. And I am proud to say that they have that stuff in them—these American men and youths—for us to evoke and develop. With those qualities added to their technical training, they will win this war. Without those qualities, all the technical training we could provide, all the magnificent equipment that you could produce, would be lost on the field of battle. Man himself, in all his pride and courage housed in that frail garment of human flesh, remains the decisive factor in battle.
Politicians are Mentioned
It is with great concern that I have followed the political debate over the size of the Army. Certainly the political leaders that have undertaken to interfere with the Army's carefully considered and intensively studied strategical concepts do not do so unless they feel they have backing at home. Perhaps you think the war can be won without fighting—by the Russians, for instance, by the Navy, by the Air Force—without the flowing blood of our ground soldiers, without your real sacrifice not only of comforts but even of conveniences, possibly a few necessities that will prove not to be necessary.
It is my personal opinion that the debate over the size of the Army—a debate over whether we are going to be too little and too late and fail our fighting men and Allies—is due to the fact that a substantial proportion of our people don't realize we are in a fight in which they must do their full share. Must bombs, projectiles, and bullets land in our front yards before all of us realize that we are in a fighting war?
Let's put an end to this harassing of ourselves. Our enemies are Germans and Japs. And let's kill all pettifogging, complacency, and the various forms of absenteeism, that stand between us and the complete crushing of Germany and Japan.
I have been very frank with you.
Critical Eye Used
But I am accustomed to viewing troops with a critical eye, that their shortcomings may be corrected. I am accustomed to expecting much of our leaders of troops and making the appropriate recommendations when leaders indicate that their capacities are insufficient for the jobs they hold.
Perhaps I have discussed—too harshly, do you think—some civilian shortcomings that have come to my attention. However, I do not think you would have profited by my appearance here if I suffered from complacency in viewing the national scene or sought to flatter or appease where I see weaknesses that affect the very lives of the men with whom I labor.
I can conclude on a positive note. I invite you, fellow Americans, to join the Army. All of you.
What does this Army at war mean, to us, to your sons and neighbors, who are serving in it now?
It means the life and growth and character of our country. Its greatness of spirit measures the national greatness of character. It means the highest purpose, the strongest comradeship, the purest unselfishness, the ultimate in self-sacrifice. It is social order, social hygiene, equal opportunity to serve by those fit for service, self-respect and respect for one's associates—tolerant good humor, good health, pride, austerity, and the discipline of teamwork.
Army Is America
For the duration of the war this Army is not a thing you support, not a burden, not an expense. It is you. It is America, the heartbeat and the soul of the Republic. You are either in it or outside of it, one of us or strangers to us. And unlike the tests that must be applied to the man who must drive the bayonet to the heart of our enemies, all thatis required of you to enter this Army of the Republic is moral fitness.
If all join and become one with us, no one need worry about the indomitable spirit of the American soldier. Through the hardest going and the most bitter sacrifices and suffering, he will fight his way with courage reinforced by your nobility, your capacity for self-sacrifice, your great measure of human dignity. And he will know, as his comrades fall around him, that no sacrifice is too great on behalf of such a people.
He will know that when he returns in those ranks thinned by battle he may look with pride upon his fellow citizens at home, and join them in the next great task—the task of preserving in times of peace the standards of honor, of patriotic ideals, of justice, of opportunity, and of dignity without which no democracy can long endure.
I invite you to join the Army.