Let's Plan Now for Our Returning Soldier


By HONORABLE ELBERT D. THOMAS, Senior United States Senator from Utah

Delivered at The Evening Star National Radio Forum over NBC's Station WMAL,Washington, D. C., September 29, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 28-31.

IT is no new thing for government to take care of veterans after wars are over. This practice started in ancient times. Soldiers have always been beneficiaries of the governments they have protected and of the governments they have helped to set up. But, seldom have governments planned for the care of the veterans while the war was still on.

After ten years of experimental planning in other lines, it is natural that our government should turn to plans to better conditions for the returned soldier. If we do not plan, hardship will follow. Injury will be done to millions of our men and women and their families. The war and post-war adjustments are bound to affect the whole economic structure of our land. Chaos, hard times and unemployment of the gravest character may follow. That we must assume, because the past has proved it. Not to be prepared would bea political blunder of omission which our people should never forgive.

Few realize the magnitude of our present war undertakings. While we have been in the process of adjustment to war industry for over three years, still our industrial economy is not stable. With that fact in mind, it must never be forgotten that it is easier to adjust to a war economy than it is to change from a war economy to one of peace. The problem in adjusting to war is a simple one. It merely means turning all endeavor towards the defeat of the enemy. But the problem of adjusting from war to peace will be a complex one because that means the stopping of a single endeavor and the returning to the complex objectives of our nation; peacetime economic life. If with pressure of war upon us it has taken over three years to reach the position we have now, I think we can assume that it will take even longerthan three years before our land attains a normal economic procedure again when once the war is over. I repeat, it would be a political crime not to plan, in the face of these facts.

I have mentioned only general adjustments. Let us remember that the individual's adjustment will also be complex. After three or four years of war service, men's natures will have changed, their ideals, their outlooks will be different and society may change even in its attitude towards these men. Never forget Kipling described things right when he wrote:

"It's Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy how's your soul,
But it's make way for Mr. Atkins when the drums begin to roll."

U.S.O.'s will not thrive when the war is over.

If the men and women in our Army and Navy have been fighting to preserve what we call "the American way of life," surely the government which wants to maintain the American way of life, because that is what it is defending, should plan that the way will not be lost in the adjustment after the war when our soldier men and women have saved it through war. President Roosevelt tells us that we must not only win the war but we must see that it stays won. By that he implies a proper international organization for the preservation of peace. But, that is only half the task.

The preservation of the decent life domestically is quite as essential as the preservation of the peace for our nation internationally. For a nation to be defeated by poverty, disease and unemployment is quite as disastrous as to be defeated by a military enemy. War is the greatest of all wasters, but a loss of wealth and happiness through shiftless inertia on the part of the government is the next greatest waste. Let us never forget that fact. One brings death by murder; the other by suicide.

Everyone in the United States rejoiced that our President saw this problem as it may affect our fighting men and women. He has put forth his plan. That plan has been criticized by certain elements in our political life as being offered at this time for political reasons and for political purposes. Political indeed! Only those who do not know American History would so charge. The President did not mention the fact, but he might have said that most of that which he recommended was already our National policy and that his suggestions will be merely an expansion of what our government has already put into law.

It is not entirely improper that I should be asked by The Evening Star to occupy this time on their Forum in regard to this subject because one of the amendments to the Selective Service Act which I offered, and which I was successful in having accepted by the Congress of the United States, was an amendment giving to those who were called under that act into service a promise that the government of the United States would see to it that those men who left jobs for this service would have their jobs back when they returned to civilian life. The guarantee of a job then became national policy by law. Being sure of a job is the greatest step towards restoring the individual's economic well being.

When I showed that amendment to one of our leading Senators, he said it was a fine idea, everyone would be glad to sec that the boys had their jobs back, but the amendment was patently unconstitutional. It never dawned on me that anyone would assume that if under the power of the Constitution we had a right to take a man from his job, we might not have a right to restore him to his job afterwards. The Constitution of the United States is, of course, our fundamental law, but, to me, in its final analysis the Constitutionis merely the people's companion in the accomplishments of the people's purposes. Those purposes may at some time be social, at some time economic, at some time political; they may even, when it comes to the defense of our land, be extremely personal. Under the Constitution, government may take away the property of one for the good of all. It may cause a man to lose his life. Surely, then, it seems to me the Constitution may protect a man in his job if government has been responsible for his loss of a job.

Now, of course, such musing is not constitutional law as such, but that is the way I felt and that is the way I argued. I will not turn to the exact constitutional argument I made on the floor of the Senate in defense of the amendment but I will say this: the all-embracing war powers under our Constitution are so great that I doubt very much whether any one will test those powers when they are exerted in a constructive way if they do not test them when they are exerted in a destructive way. This much, though, as a constitutional argument I will say: The Constitution of the United States confers upon Congress the express power to raise and support armies. That power is all inclusive. The Constitution likewise provides that Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary to carry into execution its delegated powers.

When we guarantee the boys called into the service their jobs in the Federal Government, no one could possibly question that right. The right to force a state to return a job to one of its employees is, of course, questionable. Therefore, the amendment in this particular was merely advisory. The great question was whether the government had the power to ask a private employer to give back to a soldier boy his job and in a constitutional way this question then was simply whether the requirement that private employers restore to their jobs men who had been called to military duty, was properly calculated to aid in the raising and supporting of an army. Of this there can be no doubt. The knowledge upon the part of men drafted for the service that their jobs would be open upon completion of their military duty is without doubt a highly important factor in sustaining and improving morale during their period of service. Likewise, the imposition of such a requirement upon employers will play a significant part in lessening economic maladjustments which inevitably accompany the conscription of an army. By reason of these considerations, as well as others of a similar nature, it was plain that a provision to assure the restoration of employment after military service was necessary and proper in the constitutional sense in the exercise of a power to raise and support armies, and is therefore valid under the Constitution.

Further, I think it is proper to say that, if the Congress of the United States is not interested in making secure the lives of the citizens of the United States in every particular before, during or after an emergency, Congress would be thoughtless about the welfare of the citizens of the United States.

What I personally want to avoid is distress of such a nature that will cause us to turn to "make work panaceas." I brought out on the floor of the Senate the Blue Print Law providing for the making of blue prints and the gathering together of specifications and the full completion of plans for a works program so that our cities will be ready to inaugurate such a program in case a period of unemployment follows this war. Our experience in the depression showed that it took about two years to get ready to hire men on a great public works project. The Blue Print Bill was designed to overcome this waiting period when men are desperate for lack of work.

As I remember the last war, the aftermath was worse thanthe war itself, lt is pretty hard to urge patriotism on a group of men who have been called to defend their country and explain that it is a patriotic duty to work on some unnecessary project. You see, war has been with nations so long that all the honors which nations have been able to bestow upon men are given to our fighting men, but few nations have moved forward to that plane where they plan a peacetime happiness for those same men.

We have built and we are continuing to build hospitals for the sick and injured. We will provide vocational training for those who are not prepared enough to enter into their life's work. We will give bonuses and we will make jobs which are so close to ordinary charity that we will break the spirits of men. We will do all those things because we have done them. But surely, have we not enough of a social memory to realize that we will have to do those things and that, therefore, we might just as well plan to do them properly instead of haphazardly? In those plans can we not take care also of those men and women who have been fortunate enough to have missed injury in the war but who have not been fortunate enough to rehabilitate themselves economically in the peace? Think of all the things we do for the man or the woman who is called into the service. Is it fantastic to assume that government has an obligation to these same people when they are mustered out? It is a serious thing to take three or four years of a young person's life during the time that he or she might be getting a high school or college education. It is hard ever to go back. Young ambitious spirits almost refuse to go back. It is well that they do because there is always a generation following which is cheated or retarded by the preference of the generation of returned soldiers for whom special places are being made. The learning time naturally comes in our premature years. To cheat a man out of the opportunity to prepare for life is a sad cheating in very deed. Yet war does that, for it cheats not only the returned soldier but it also cheats the next generation by giving it the extra competition of the returned soldier.

Of course, our taxpayer associations will say we cannot afford it. Cannot afford good health I Cannot afford education! Cannot afford economic stability! Cannot afford purposeful, happy living! We may also be accused of being paternalistic. If we can afford billions and billions of dollars to destroy, we can afford thousands and thousands of dollars to build up. The economic well-being of our nation demands it. Our social sensibilities demand it. The logic of the situation demands it. America can no longer say she cannot afford to do some good for her citizens when those citizens have done so much for America.

To a thoughtful person the saddest aspect of war, as that war is related to the people under a government, is that governments find ways to do anything for the benefit of persons during wartimes: persons, therefore, seem to be more valuable in times of war than in times of peace. Are they, though? Even in times of great emergency, even for the soldier who fights more than all of his other twelve or thirteen million companions in arms, the time spent in actual battle is insignificant compared with the time spent in training and getting to and from the battle. Thus, even in wartime, the training of men is an all-important factor. Without it we would be defeated.

Should not the training for citizenship be reckoned quite as much worthwhile? Is not a man, just because he is a man, important in the sight of any democracy? Or, is he to be thought of as the former Kaiser thought of him, merely so much gun fodder? How is it that in a democracy we sometimes slip to that place where we think it is economically unwise to build up and make strong our citizens?

Let me give you one illustration about how universal education and alert health measures in peace time actually pay in wartime. In the testimony of one of the leading personnel officers of our Army before one of our committees, it was pointed out that one-half of all the men called for the draft were rejected; that is, five out of every ten men called were rejected for some reason or another. In those states where educational requirements were low, where school nurses were unheard of, and where health regulations were just average, seven men out of every ten were rejected. But, in those states where educational requirements were high, school nurses were furnished, and health administration was on a state-wide basis, only three out of ten men were rejected. In addition to that the acceptance ratio of those persons who enlisted in our armed forces was very much higher in the states of high educational and health standards.

That is a lesson for all of us. Did the states who paid well for the education of their youth and for the improvement of health waste money? Certainly not! There is not greater waste in wartime, or in peacetime for that matter, than a man who, because of lack of educational qualifications or because of health conditions, which could have been remedied easily, proved himself unacceptable for military service. No matter how glorious we assume war to be, no matter how wonderful the sacrifice of those who give their lives for their country, war must be marked down as an economic waste. It is a destructive process. The economic good that comes from it is merely accidental and not a result of planning. Any person who would plan an economic advantage for his people by way of the war process would be criminal indeed, especially when so many other ways are open.

Now let us stay in the realm of simple economics for a minute or two because when our boys come home and when we try to plan measures for their welfare, there will be those who say we cannot afford it. Isn't it strange that there is no one saying that we cannot afford all of this money that we are deliberately spending for destructive purposes? Hasn't the time come when it will be recognized as the most elementary kind of thinking to any that it is wiser to spend to build men and communities up than it is to spend to destroy men and communities?

I want to see the four freedoms enjoyed by us. I want them carried to the rest of the world by those of us who are convinced that the four freedoms pay from a dollar and cent standpoint. I want all mankind to recognize the worth of the individual life and to realize that the bigger we can make that life the better it will be for all persons. The American people believe in that doctrine whether they recognize it or not. Most Americans have savings bank accounts. Most Americans believe in insurance. Most Americans have bought government bonds. There are but few Americans, and they surely are not worthy of being called Americans, who do not realize that a happy neighborhood is a better place to live in than one of squalor. When cities zone, they zone for the simple reason that man does not like to be questioned every minute of the day as to whether or not he is his brother's keeper. A happy neighborhood allows him to live his life out with less concern than if each day he must go to his place of employment through filth, squalor, unhappiness and poverty.

Merchants like to establish their stores in places where people can buy. Do not tell me that the American people do not actually believe in high standards of life for everybody. The little soul who years ago thought that poverty was justified because it caused those of us who were not poverty stricken to express a sense of pity and thus built up our souls, failed to realize how worthy of pity such soulswere. This manner of argument shows, I believe, that the proper care of our returned soldiers is a moral responsibility. I am deliberate in that because this nation of ours is one built upon faith—and faith in its final analysis demands actions based upon moral reasons. Americans really want to see our government act because it is right to act. They want right action not just expedient action. This holds for our international as well as national relations.

I am deliberately making this case a moral issue because the war we are fighting is basically a moral one. The four freedoms, if they are to be attained, can only be attained through a proper moral attitude and when morality comes into our economics, then life becomes worthwhile. The day of the exploiter, the advantage-taker, has not gone by any means. Men are not perfect. But show me, from one end of the United States to the other, where we honor today the advantage-taker, the exploiter, the man who lives his big life by trodding down the small lives of his neighbors! That day has gone in America. Even self-seeking colleges who like to increase their endowments by honorary degrees, do not bestow those degrees on exploiters any longer.

Service to one's community and to one's fellowmen is demanded of all. The soldier boys, when they return, will be taken care of. There is no doubt about that in my mind. The Government has already made it its policy and the American people have given this policy their approval. Woe to the politician, who goes in front of his people expecting votes, who attacks his opponent for thinking of the welfare of American men, women and children. The dollar and cent candidate, when it comes to taking care of our soldier men and women in communities where there are free elections, is a thing of the past in American politics.