The Same Liability for All


By HON. HENRY L. STIMSON, Secretary of War

Delivered before the Senate Military Affairs Committee, Washington, D. C., January 19, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 258-261.

MY FUNCTION this morning will be to try to give you a general picture of the problem of the National Service Act as it confronts us in the War Department. I shall leave it to others to discuss the economic features and the administrative details. I shall speak from the standpoint of the Army and the effects which it would have on the coming problems of the war.

As the year 1943 passed its meridian and approached its end, the great problem which loomed up in front of us was that of the invasion of the continent of Europe. That was the objective towards which our main thoughts and efforts were being put forth. 1944 would be the climax of the war. For the first time our troops and those of Britain would have to meet and defeat the great masses of the German army. There was no doubt or question about the formidable. size and fighting power of our antagonists. Every day in Italy was showing us that fact. But neither was there any assurance that the war could be successfully finished unless such an invasion was made and the great army of the Germans was beaten. The best information which we could gather from our Intelligence people and those of our allies indicated that the suggestion that Germany and its armies would surely fall apart from the pounding which it was undergoing from Russia and the air was mere wishful thinking. The only sure road to a final peace which would be permanent lay through the decisive defeat of the German army.

But we were approaching this great crisis with the momentum of a successful year behind us. We had every reason to be encouraged with the fine fighting of the allied troops and with the accord of the allied leaders behind them who were planning the strategy of this great climax. In council, on the field, in the air, and on the sea, the allied forces and their leaders were behaving in a way worthy of the hopes which we had of successfully passing through the great crisis which was before us. All differences of viewpoint between the military leaders of the United States and Great Britain had been ironed out in August at Quebec and complete harmony existed as to the program which lay before them. When in December those leaders met the leader of the third great nation to be involved in the gigantic struggle of 1944, no divergence of opinion was found. On the contrary the plans of America and Britain met with a powerful re-enforcement of opinion from the great authority of Marshal Stalin. That meeting, this re-enforcement which we thus received from him has been one of the most important high points of the war.

Behind us lay the accomplishments of our troops. We felt no doubt as to their capacity to meet the best forces which Germany could throw against them. During the year those troops had three times successfully accomplished, and each time with increasing skill, the most difficult problem of modern war—the successful landing of a large force upon a hostile coast. Together with our allies they had captured a great German army in Tunis. They had accomplished the conquest of Sicily in an amazingly short time, and they were now successfully securing in southern Italy the air bases to be used against southern Germany which was a primary purpose of their action in the Italian peninsula. We had at our hand for the spearhead of the coming invasion victorious veterans led by accomplished leaders accustomed to success.

In the air the most terrible and successful attack which has ever been launched against the entire munitions industries of an enemy nation was being successfully carried out by the American Air Force and the R.A.F, against Germany. New inventions, some of the most important having their origin in America, were making it possible to carry out unremittingly throughout the blinding winter weather which habitually blocks air work in that region this steady, remorseless, and devastating attack.

On the sea the menacing submarine warfare, in which until the summer of 1943 victory had been hovering in the balance, had been won by the allied navy and air forces. After many doubts and fears the road now lay wide openby which the might of America could be poured through Britain onto the battlefields of Europe.

On the other side of the world in the Pacific the Japanese threat which until a short year before had been poised against the Panama Canal, Hawaii, the Aleutians, and our western coast, had been definitely checked and thrown back by a series of brilliant victories of the Navy and the Allied forces under the able leadership of General MacArthur, and both our Navy and those Allied troops were steadily advancing on the first steps towards the ultimate conquest of Japan.

Everything looked hopeful. We had taken the initiative throughout the world. Our leaders and troops and equipment had been proven worthy of their task. The great battles of the war lay before us but there was every reason for hopefulness and confidence in the ultimate result.

Suddenly what happened? To our troops looking over their shoulders from the battlefields of the Mediterranean and the steaming jungles of the South Seas, the American front at home suddenly seemed to be on the point of going sour, A host of what seemed to our soldiers petty controversies in industry and labor, each one of which threatened to put a check in the production of priceless weapons, arose throughout our land. The three vital industries of the home front, upon which basically all our production of weapons and transportation depend, were threatened with, or actually experienced, nationwide strikes—coal, steel, and the railroads. If such a situation had arisen in Germany, you know It we should all have thought we were on the point of winning the war hands down.

It does not require great imagination to realize the effect these occurrences upon our troops fighting on those battlefields which have marked our steady progress towards victory. It is my duty to visit and inspect the units of the Army, to visit the wounded in the hospitals and talk to them, and countless letters come to the War Department from them and their families bearing upon this situation, I can tell you that today that situation, the industrial unrest and lack of a sense of patriotic responsibility which it seems to evidence in large numbers of our population, has aroused a strong feeling of resentment and injustice among the men of the Armed Forces. I believe it is hazardous to belittle the effect which such a situation will have upon the ultimate welfare of our democracy. If it continues, it will surely affect the morale of the Army. It is likely to prolong the war and endanger our ultimate success; and, when those troops come back to us again at the close of the war and we are faced with the acute problem of demobilization, it may have an effect upon the future unity of our nation which is disturbing to contemplate. This war will last much longer than the last Great War. The effect of the division between the men who have borne the burden of the fighting abroad and the men who have shown this irresponsibility at home, will have a longer time to sink in and be accentuated. It will not be forgotten easily.

The men in the Army see this country divided into two entirely distinct classes. On the one hand are the men who are in the Armed Forces. Their enlistment has been carried out with the aid of the Selective Service Law, a process of selection applied to them by their nation under the sanction of compulsion. They have been told not only that they must serve; but the time, the place, and the method of their service has been chosen for them in the light of their respective aptitudes to fit the requirements of the nation. They are being a duty which they cannot escape and which involves the possibility of death or mutilation.

On the other side they see that the government imposes no corresponding duty upon the remaining men of the nation and even permits them to leave the most important war jobs without regard to the needs of their country.

Our democracy has been founded upon a basis of equality and justice. I tell you that today the men in the Armed Forces are beginning to believe that they are being discriminated against in a matter which is one of fundamental justice as between man and man. There is danger that under the influence of that feeling, they will not give even fair recognition to the tremendous production effort which has actually been accomplished by the great majority of American management and labor.

This being the situation, the evident remedy is for the nation to make clear in no uncertain terms the equality of obligation of its citizens. I have heard people say:

"We must penalize strikes; it isn't necessary to pass a General Service Law; we must simply prevent strikes."

The trouble with this diagnosis is that it treats a symptom and not the disease. The cause of the present situation is deep and fundamental and it will not be remedied by merely making criminal what is a consequence of a grave underlying lack of responsibility.

It must be remembered that these men who strike or threaten to strike are Americans like all of the rest of us. The men in war production are not essentially different from the men who are proving themselves heroes in the South Pacific and on the Italian peninsula. They can be more accurately defined as the victims of the failure of the nation to develop a sense of responsibility in this gravest of all wars.

What we must do is to get at this underlying cause and by proper organization bring home to each of these men the fact that his individual work is just as patriotic and important to the Government as any other cog in the great machine of victory; that they owe a patriotic duty to the particular job on which they are engaged comparable to that which the infantryman owes to his rifle, or the artilleryman to his gun, or the pilot to his plane.

The purpose of a National Service Law is to get at this basic evil which produces the irresponsibility out of which stem strikes, threats of strikes, excessive turnovers, absenteeism, and the other manifestations of irresponsibility with which we are now plagued. It is aimed to extend the principles of democracy and justice more evenly throughout our population. There is no difference between the patriotic obligations resting upon these two classes of men which I have described. Certainly the nation has no less right to require a man to make weapons than it has to require another man to fight with those weapons. Both processes should be so designated and carried out as to serve the interest of the country in winning the war. In a democracy they should also be so designed and executed as to serve the principles of justice between its citizens.

These principles are not only self-evident but our history shows how and why they are only now coming into general practice. Originally we had no methods of selection either in getting our men or in getting our weapons. Such methods were then not necessary. Our armies were small and our weapons were simple. Our people were accustomed to arms and usually possessed them. The method of volunteering was sufficient to get enough men for our requirements and the few and simple weapons which they needed were easily obtainable.

But even by the middle of the last century armies had grown to a size which the volunteer system could not handle. In the War Between the States, while both parties began with volunteers, both of them were soon driven to the system of compulsory selection.

When the First World War came we wisely determined upon and enacted a Selective Service Act at the very opening of the conflict and were thereby saved all difficulties in raising and maintaining the enormous armies which we found we required.

In that First World War weapons and their manufacture had also become numerous and complex and required organization for their production. But the United States succeeded in getting through the war without resorting to a National Service Act to regulate their production. This was mainly due to two happy accidents: First, we were able to buy the great bulk of our heavy armament from our Allies who had been fighting for three years and fortunately had surplus supplies on hand. Secondly, the war ended before we had begun to feel any great strain upon our manpower.

Now the mechanization of warfare has become infinitely greater. Today the small arms upon which our ancestors depended have been crowded into insignificance by the machine guns, the mortars, the tanks, the planes, and the tremendous artillery with which the soldier rights.

Not only that, but this war is global in character and our country has been fortunate enough to be able to do its fighting on other territory than our own. We have been able to keep our enemies away from our own homes but that requires the further mechanization involved in building huge fleets of navies, merchant vessels, and landing craft for the protection and transport of our armies to where they will do their fighting.

In meeting this overwhelming problem of production with its terrific strain upon our manpower, the same necessity of orderly selection in the interest of the nation which brought us to the Selective Service System for the selection of our fighting men is bringing us to a Selective Service System for the selection of our civil manpower. No other system will produce the effective results which our nation needs and no other system will be just and fair from the standpoint and interests of our fighting men.

Thus Selective National Service is not an abandonment of democracy but rather an evolution of intelligent democracy to meet the complex, mechanical development of modern war.

Concretely, I believe that a National Service Law will produce the following results:

First and foremost, it will minimize the calling of strikes by clarifying the patriotic duty of the individual worker. In the Austin-Wadsworth proposal now before this Committee, this moral duty has also behind it the force of appropriate legal sanctions and penalties.

Secondly, it will remedy the grave sense of injustice which the Armed Forces now feel has been practiced against them. This is irrefutable and, as I have pointed out, is most pregnant with danger.

Thirdly, it will point out to civilian war workers that they are working for their country in the civilian ranks and that their responsibility is just as definitely recognized by the nation as that of soldiers on the front. By and large this will tend to powerfully heighten his morale in the winning of the war.

Fourthly, it will tend powerfully towards increasing effectiveness in production when the Government itself takes a hand not only in keeping men on necessary jobs but also in finding men for particular jobs where they are especially needed, rather than leaving the choice to chance.

In this connection let me point out one of the greatest evils in the present situation. It is the heavy turnover of labor in some of our great war industries such as the aircraft factories. This is not only a shocking waste of manpower hut it is so heavy that it stands as a constant threat to maximum production of the implements of war.

One of the important effects of the National Service Act would be to bring war workers from less essential to more essential industries when necessary.

At present the unevenness of the distribution of our labor is producing shortages in some of our most vital weapons when there is excess of labor available in other neighboring places. For example, while there is an excess of labor for the production of machine guns, tanks and ships in some places, in nearby places there is a shortage in the vital production of aircraft engines and landing craft.

In this situation the Army has even been called upon to furlough soldiers in order that they may take the place of workmen or miners who have left their jobs to do something which they think will offer them better pay. That happened in the copper mines of Montana as well as in the airplane factories of California. Think of the waste of such a situation, taking soldiers from training for combat because they are the only persons who can be directed to stay where they are put!

On the other hand, a National Service Act will not cause the evils which have been feared by its opponents. The man or woman who wants to do his or her part to win the war as quickly as possible has nothing to fear from a National Service Act. That Act does not impair the rights of the worker in respect to wage scales, hours of labor, seniority rights, membership in unions or other basic interests of the civilian workers. Wherever justified by considerations of family or health, deferment from service would be granted by the local Selective Service Board. I would not advocate any National Service Act which would not protect such elemental rights to the fullest. National Service Acts have been enacted by the great English-speaking democracies which are now fighting this war with us, namely Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. With them the legislation has worked so successfully that the exercise of sanctions has become rare; the existence of the National Service organization and the morale which it creates having proved that the people of a country want to do their duty when it is clearly pointed out to them by their government.

Again I have heard men say:

"The proposal of a General Service Law is too late; it might have been useful earlier; now our production is doing very well; and the war is almost over."

There are so many errors in this statement that it is hard to do them justice. In the first place, it is never too late to remedy an injustice which leaves a deep sense of grievance in our soldiers and lengthens and jeopardizes the remainder of the war, with the resulting cost of thousands of lives.

But in fact the war is not almost over. We are approaching its most critical and difficult period and that period is the one when we shall require not only a large but a flexible production. That is the period when we are likely to be confronted with new weapons of the enemy which will change the method of combat and require new weapons for ourselves. It is notorious that the course of conflict constantly brings out changes in the needed equipment and weapons. We have seen that many times already in the past two years. Tanks and anti-tank guns, destroyers and escort vessels, the types of airplanes and artillery, in fact almost all the weapons of war have been changing and fluctuating in their usefulness, rising and falling in the demand for them. We are building today planes of a size never before witnessed on the battlefield and requiring enormous supplies for airplane labor for that purpose. Yesterday we were calling for hundreds of escort vessels to protect our commerce from the submarine. Today we are calling for hundreds of landing craft to facilitate out invasion.

The total scale of our production programs for 1944 exceeds even the production for 1943.

I seriously warn you that the coming year will call for a production effort not only larger but far more flexible, for the purpose of meeting emergencies greater than we have ever faced before.

Our country has but one national purpose today—it is to win the war as quickly as possible. I have been discussing the logic of national service as an orderly, efficient process by which a democracy can give all-out effort in war. But more important now, national service will be the means of hastening the end of this war.

Mark what this thought really means. No variety of twisted thinking will deny the right of the millions of American men in uniform to every chance of living through this conflict. Their lives have already been placed in jeopardy by the nation in summoning them to arms. It would be an act of the most cruel and despicable indifference if we avoided any course which would give them their chance to come through this war with their lives.

We say that we can win this war. General Eisenhower has said that he believes we can win our victory over Hitler in 1944, but he has added the solemn warning that this will be possibly only with the all-out effort of every American.

Every month the war is prolonged will be measured in the lives of thousands of young men, in billions of dollars. The attrition in manpower and in our national wealth will be felt for generations if this conflict is prolonged. National Service is the one weapon we have neglected to use. Posterity will never forgive us if we sacrifice our plain duty to a desire for creature comfort or for private gain. It will be tragic indeed if the discontent and resentment felt by our gallant soldiers on the fighting fronts burns deeply and festers in their hearts. Unless we set forth boldly to stamp it out, the hot name will destroy some of the great love of country which, alone, can make a man endure the hardship, the pain and the death which service above self has offered them.

The voices of these soldiers speak out very clearly today in demanding that all Americans accept the same liability which a soldier must accept for service to country. They are far away now, but some day they will return. I hope they will come back eagerly, feeling that the hardship and the sacrifice have been worthwhile. I hope they may feel that those who will never come back have not made their sacrifice in vain.

To me it appears to be the plain duty of the Congress to give our troops this all-out necessary backing. It is time for all pledges to be redeemed in acts which, alone, can prove the sincerity and the determination of this great nation.

I remind this Committee now of the solemn statement with which our Congress concluded its declaration of war against Japan and against Germany on December 11, 1941:

"To bring the conflict to a successful termination, all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States."

I ask no more than that you examine this proposed legislation in the light of that statement.