Military Service for Youth


By FRANK KNOX, Secretary of the Navy

Delivered before the Greater Cleveland Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Cleveland, Ohio, January 14, 1944

Vital Speeche of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 230

ALL around the world today there are men fighting on the land and in At air and on the sea who learned their first lessons in love of country and flag, in devotion to their country's cause in peace or war, as Boy Scouts. Who can measure the proportions of the debt which the whole country owes in this hour of greatest crisis to the Scout movement? Surely it cannot be gainsaid that those who learned the fundamentals of patriotism and citizenship

as members of some troop of Boy Scouts are among those who know what they are fighting for.

In the early days of the republic, when our forefathers were engaged in carving homes and communities from the wilderness, such an organization as the Boy Scouts was unnecessary. The boys and young men of those days learned the lesson of devotion and courage, and love of flag and country in the hard way.

When America consisted almost solely of sparse settlements, along our Atlantic seaboard, when men and women began their migration westward, through the mountains and across the prairies, subduing a continent, the boys were taught to care for themselves in the open, to read the signs of nature in woods and fields, to handle a gun and to shoot straight, because that was the price of survival.

Need of Self-Reliance

But, when the wide reaches of the West had been won, when great cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific had sprung up, when the days of Indian uprisings had disappeared, when creature comforts multiplied, with the growth of cities, and there was no longer a frontier to the westward—then some means of teaching young America to be self-reliant became necessary.

Obviously our boys and young men should not be permitted to grow up without those virile qualities which must always be a part of the equipment of free men. It was in the presence of this need that the Boy Scout movement was born, and throughout the long and successful life of the Boy Scout organization this need has been filled in some small degree. The enlarged need of such training will grow more obvious as life in the United States leaves farther and farther behind the hard and dangerous living conditions of pioneer times.

There is no sounder truism than this—only the men who are fit to be free men remain free. To put it another way, we shall remain free, in this great country of ours only so long as we are willing and able to fight to maintain our freedom. And this applies where the danger to our freedom comes from enemies from without, who would conquer us by force, or enemies from within, who by subversive methods, by the wiles of demagogs, by the selfish pursuit of special privilege, strive to destroy our free institutions and take our liberties from us.

While this second danger from within is a real one, against which we must be militantly on guard, it is the first and main danger to which I would like to address myself tonight.

We shall be free from the danger of destruction and conquest, from without, only if we are sufficiently strong and sufficiently courageous to defeat force, from without, by the disposition and the employment of greater force of our own.

Perils That Confront Us

Only a few years ago, had I come to you and warned you that within the course of a few years we, in the United States of America, would be confronted by a would-be conqueror, possessing immense military resources, and seeking world domination, against whom we should have to summon the last reserves of our strength in ail-out war—had I come to you thus you would have looked upon me with derision and laughed my words to scorn. And yet that is precisely where we find ourselves tonight, as I speak to you. Never have such dangers threatened the liberties of our people as during the past three or four years—dangers which continue to the very present.

At a time when we are straining every resource, shouldering a frightful burden of debt, sending millions of our young men to desperate battle in Europe, and in the Far East building a huge fleet, strong enough to dominate the seven seas, and turning out in unprecedented numbers aircraft to sweep the skies, who, under these circumstances, will dare to say that such dangers will never come again?

Certainly it is the part of prudence, a requirement for our future safety, that we assume that they may. If this is true, then regard for our future safety demands that we shall so organize the lives of our men and women that they will never in the future be lacking in those stern qualities which free men and women must always possess if they are to remain free.

Has it ever occurred to you, my friends, that under Divine Providence human affairs are so ordered that effort and sacrifice and discipline are inevitably and invariably the price of progress? God did not intend very evidently that the human family was going to be "wafted to heaven on flowery beds of ease." He wisely ordained that the human race must fight its way to heaven, because, in His infinite wisdom, He knew that refinement of character and loftiness of soul was exclusively the fruit of sacrifice and labor and self-discipline. It has been so from the beginning of mankind, and I have no doubt will continue to be until the final chapter is written.

If you have followed me in what I have said thus far you will go with me, I am sure, while I pursue this subject with reference to some of our domestic policies, the need for and the wisdom of which this devastating war has highlighted.

Example of the Marines

There is as you know, in the Navy Department, the United States Marine Corps. This is probably one of the finest fighting organizations the world has ever known. It has a wonderful tradition and its officers and men have illumined with their courage and sacrifice many of the most glorious pages of our history. It undoubtedly has as fine an "esprit de corps" as may be found in any military organization anywhere.

And, as the basis for this indomitable spirit, it has always been found necessary to have the foundation of physical fitness. So high are the physical, and other standards, required of marines that, in the present war, only one man in five, of the hundreds of thousands of young men who have applied for admission into the corps, were able to pass the rigorous requirements.

Here is unquestionably a danger signal which we should not ignore. Why is it that fewer than 20 per cent of American youths could pass the examinations for admission to the Marine Corps? Perhaps I can best answer that question by repeating a statement made to me by one of the officers of the Marine Training Station at New River, recently. He said:

"We are compelled to teach these men everything. They have forgotten how to walk, because it was easier to ride, and something to ride in was almost always available. They can't carry a pack, because most of them have never known what it was to use their shoulders.

"They don't know how to take care of themselves out-of-doors, because almost all of them have never lived out-of-doors. Their muscular endurance is trifling, because they have seldom used their muscles. They can't fire a gun because most of them have never handled weapons and they can't hit anything they shoot at because only a trifling fraction have ever been taught marksmanship.

"In a war like this," he continued, "whether to the east or the west, where the rule is hall or be killed, they come to us, unfit, and we have to make them fit."

Improve Physique of People

That they are doing this successfully the Marines have attested at Guadalcanal, at Bougainville, at Tarawa, andonly the other day at Cape Gloucester. Therefore, in the unfitness of American youth, so startlingly shown by the very high percentage of young Americans who could not pass the reasonably moderate tests of service in the Army and Navy —more than 25 per cent being rejected for physical reasons—there lies a profoundly important lesson for us. We must, in the future, spend more time, thought, and money, in improving the physical qualities of our people.

You here in Cleveland and the United States, who support the Boy Scout movement, are doing what you can, but it is far from enough. The task is one which cannot be discharged by a small percentage of generous and thoughtful people, who interest themselves in movements such as the Boy Scout movement. It is a problem so vast, and so important, that it must engage the careful attention of the entire country, and he supported out of the public purse.

Any program, having for its purpose the building of a strong and more virile race of American citizens, must find its beginnings in the care of mothers and infants. All too many American babies come into the world handicapped, at the very start, by the lack of that care at birth, and in young childhood, which supplies the foundation for vigorous adult life.

Most of the ills which disqualified the young men from military service in this war, were the direct result of lack of care, or ignorance, or poverty, of the parents while they were children. Malnutrition, lack of care of the eyes, and teeth, and ears—these were the most prolific causes of physical disabilities among young men and young women of today.

Care for Children

Our first concern, therefore, in any program for national physical well-being, must be care for children. This can take many forms but certainly should include frequent medical examination, in the public schools, in order to correct physical deficiencies at their beginnings.

The second step is one which your organization is designed to supply. That is to teach the city-bred boys and girls how to take care of themselves out-of-doors: to teach their legs how to walk, and to teach their arms how to lift, and carry, and teach their minds how to accommodate themselves, in comfort, out under the open skies.

As we move farther and farther from pioneer conditions, this sort of training for boys and girls becomes more and more important. The lessons taught us in this war, if we take them seriously, ought to result in a swift upsurge in Boy Scout and Girl Scout work. Indeed, I am not sure that scouting ought not to be made a part of our public school curriculum, and thus extend its benefits to all boys and girls, everywhere. Certainly the lessons which Boy Scout training can teach a boy are just as important as any other single subject he may be taught in school.

As to Military Service Age

And now, we come to the third important link, in the task of building a strong and virile America in the future. It has to do with the young man, when he reaches an age when military service can be expected of him, in time of war —say between 17 and 19 years of age. Normally, this would be about the age most boys finish high school, and either go to work, or go to college. That would be the ideal time, in a boy's life, when a year of his time should be given to his country for the purpose of training him physically, and mentally, and spiritually, for citizenship, the first duty of which is service in defense of his country in case of emergency.

Surely we must have learned from our present experiences that there is no safety or peace in unpreparedness. The unspeakable folly of the theory that we are more likely to resort to war or become involved in war because we are reasonably prepared against the danger of war has been made so plain that few will be found to deny it.

Therefore, I believe thoroughly that one of the best measures we can take to insure that our individual liberties will be preserved and that free Americans will remain free is to require that every boy, when he attains the age of 17 or 18, shall be required to spend at least one year in training on land or at sea against the possibility that sometime in his younger manhood his services may be required to help protect the country.

During such a year, especially if his period of service should chance to be in the Navy, he will be given training that will not only make him a good navy man but he will also be trained in one or many skills or crafts which could be useful in later life. The same is true, in lesser measure, of service in the land forces.

Certainly all of such young men would be given physical training of the highest value, would be instructed in the expert use of firearms, would be taught how to live comfortably in the open and would be taught lessons in patriotism, love of country and devotion to flag, which are an essential part in the education of every American.

Should Be No Exemptions

Such a system of universal training is in complete harmony with the democratic ideal. No one should be exempt; rich and poor boys from the city and boys from the farm, boys of all races and religions, all. should be made to shoulder a common responsibility of personal preparedness, as a shield for the future security of our country.

I can think of scores of benefits which would flow from an intelligent use of this principle. Properly used, a year's service with the colors would provide, for every young man, a chance to enjoy the benefits of occupational guidance.

Under such expert direction many a boy would find himself, and pursue after that, that training best suited to his capacity and predisposition. Healthy habits could be instilled which would last for the rest of his life. Helpful education in democratic government could be imparted; the responsibility of citizenship under a popular form of government could be taught. The list might be prolonged.

I venture to say, if our people have the wisdom, growing out of the experience of this war, to institute a system of universal training, we will reap, in that way, many highly valuable benefits from our war expenditures. It is my profound conviction that now is the time to begin the agitation for such a system of training.

Host of Unfit Youth

As a people, we are still shocked to discover that more than half our young men are physically unfit. We have just had driven home to us the necessity of an adequate preparedness. We now know that peace, of any worthwhile duration, may only be expected, if we are prepared to put force behind it. The wisdom of the maintenance of an adequate navy, an adequate air force and an adequate army, is now widely recognized.

Furthermore, the country will find itself, at the conclusion of hostilities, with five or six million men abroad, consumed with anxiety to get home. And yet, the retention of many of them, because of the unsettled nature of the world, when hostilities cease, will be paramount.

It would be infinitely better, if we could set up the machinery for a universal training law, while the war was still on, and then say to these millions of young men overseas:

"You have borne the heat and the burden of the war. You have won. You have earned the right to come home,

and go back to the pursuits of peace. We are sending, to take your place, a sufficient number of young men, who have taken their military training, so that all of you, who want to return at once, can do so."

Such a plan would provide us instantly with enough young men, anxious and eager for the experience, to fill all our needs overseas, in the period of adjustment, immediately following the close of hostilities.

Training Facilities Available

d there is another factor which would tend to support a program of training to be instituted while the war is still on. All over the country we will find, when this war is finished, literally thousands of training camps, with adequate buildings and equipment, for the training of these young men. They are available in more than ample proportions. They would provide ideal surroundings for the annual call to the colors for training under this principle.

Also, there will be available, at the close of hostilities, an abundance of the instructors and officers, required by such a system of training; young men who would be glad to stay in the service, if their service was made permanent, or reasonably so. Of course, I do not expect immediate action on these suggestions. But I do know that the time is already here when we should be thinking about these things and getting ready to do something about them. I know you love your country. I know you are devoted to its principles, but love and devotion are not enough. We have got to find practical ways in which to display that love and effectuate that devotion.

This great war, which is still only at its beginnings, has shown us how, in one way, we can display our concern for our country's future—and the one way I emphasize tonight, is deliberately to set about correcting one of our more glaring weaknesses, which the war has disclosed—our physical weakness and our physical unreadiness. To this cause I summon you, not only as patriotic men and women, but as fathers and mothers.

Surely all of us will admit how much greater is the enjoyment of life when good health is one of its assets. And so, I give you in my concluding thought, for the days of the future, a healthy young America; a young America that knows how to march, that knows how to carry a heavy load, that knows how to take care of itself out-of-doors, that knows how to handle a gun and become expert in its use; a young America that will not be deficient in that virile fitness which is the price of liberties maintained and freedom defended.