Adopt National Service Legislation Now


By HENRY L. STIMSON, Secretary of War

Broadcast over Blue Network from Washington, D. C., February 18, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 295-297.

WE have reached a crisis in this war. At such a time I feel it is my duty to speak plainly to you. I speak to all Americans, but primarily to those who have sons or husbands or other dear ones at the front.

As Secretary of War my single purpose has been to strive for the quickest possible victory of American arms—a victory which will save every possible life which might be sacrificed in a needlessly prolonged war. Today we are in danger of a delay—an unnecessary delay—I believe which may cost thousands of unnecessary casualties.

At this moment our armed forces are at the very peak of combat and the time of conclusion of the war hangs in the balance. The great masses of our armies are deployed and locked in struggle with the enemy throughout the entire world; in cruel depths of snow and freezing rain along the German border, astride the ice-clad Appennines in Italy, in the broiling heat of Luzon and swarming over the seas and through the vast reaches of the winter sky. The sun never sets upon their battle. The world has not seen such a fight before.

It is a desperate struggle against desperate enemies. Without exception and in every theater our men are rendering a noble account of American fortitude and American valor. But the cost is growing as the climax mounts; and as more and more troops become engaged our casualties rise higher week by week.

In every war, particularly in every desperate war like this, every month of the struggle brings out new problems in the race for victory—unforeseeable problems until the test of battle has produced them; problems of new forms and numbers of weapons and of ammunition, new types and numbers of airplanes and ships and transports, of new applications of science and finally new estimates of the numbers and the training of the men necessary to handle the new weapons.

Modern war is thus a great and grim evolution and he who recognizes that and meets it is the one who wins the war. Prompt meeting of the new needs will save lives.

"The Enemy Does Not Wait"

To wage such a war we cannot depend upon the old methods of peacetime industry. The enemy does not wait.

We must have a ready efficient means of putting workers into the new jobs immediately.

Today in America there is no such means. While we have long since recognized that our Government must have the means of scientifically selecting and training our soldiers and putting them where they can best fight for their country's welfare, we have never given our Government the adequate machinery to produce the equipment and weapons which these soldiers are to fight with. While we have by law organized our young fighters and compelled them to sacrifice their lives if need be in that service, we have never by law organized our workers who are to equip those soldiers and have them ready and able to fight at the proper moment.

In this we stand alone among our Allies. While we have no service law, Britain and Russia have been working under such laws since the very beginning of the war. And of course our enemies have all been so organized from the very start. We alone are depending upon voluntary and therefore ineffective methods of organization among the workers who are producing the arms and equipment of our soldiers and furnishing them with their ships and all the other necessities of this war.

As a result, ever since the beginning of this war, there has been in America a constant and alarming turnover of workers in industries which are essential to the conduct of the war. In some important industries this turnover has actually amounted to 90 per cent per year. By every means of public exhortation the nation's leaders have stressed the importance of having the workers stay on essential jobs. They have only been partially successful.

Literally hundreds of thousands of workers, trained for jobs, work at them for a brief time and then quit for something else. Ask any plant manager if he can get efficient production when he must constantly slow down to train new workers for his idle machines. Every possible expedient has been suggested and tried and it has failed.

It has become clear that there is only one remedy to this situation—that of adopting national service legislation to keep men at their war tasks.

"Deadly Shortages" Looming

The inevitable result of this failure of American democracy is now becoming apparent at this crisis of the war. Shortages, deadly shortages, are now looming up before us at a moment when every ounce of our power should be thrown into the combat. I mean both shortages of weapons and shortages of manpower caused by the misplacement of our men. Our infantry will run short of its necessary replacements if the places of young men of military age and fitness who are now working in essential war jobs cannot be promptly filled by available men who are older or not physically capable of the job, of the fighting. There is now no legal means of effecting this necessary transposition.

On July 6 the President of the United States called the attention of the Congress to this situation and asked for the prompt enactment of a National Service Law. The Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, the chairman of the War Production Board, General Marshall, the Chief of Staff, and Admiral King, the Chief of Naval Operations, have all united in pointing out the approaching danger and the necessity for the remedy. They have said that during the first six months of this year, ending July 1, there will be 900,000 more men needed for the armed forces and another 700,000 needed for war production.

Every responsible leader of the military and naval forces of this country as well as those responsible for war production are thus united in asking for national action to meet these shortages which would delay our onward sweep to victory.

This call has been heeded by the House of Representatives. With much care a bill has been drafted which all of the military and naval leaders agreed would put into effect principles of law and organization which will be effective for meeting the coming danger. The House of Representatives in its finest tradition rose to the occasion. Its Speaker even descended from the rostrum and spoke in favor of the bill. After four days of searching debate the House passed the measure on Feb. 1.

Review of "Many Voices"

Since that date the bill has been pending in the Military Affairs Committee of the Senate for nearly three week According to the press, the committee has been hearing many voices—voices which object to placing upon our men at home the same compulsory responsibility for national duty that has rested upon our men in uniform ever since 1940; voices which call it "slavery" to serve one's country at a bench or at a lathe; voices which, flying in the face of demonstrated experience, loudly assert that manpower shortage in industries can be met in this fourth year of this war by a mere invitation to work; voices which, ignoring the long struggle which lies ahead of us to reduce Japan, express pious hopes of the early fall of Berlin as the end of military and naval needs; so many voices speaking for special and, by comparison, trivial interests, that they seem to have stifled the voice of national interest and suffocated the bill.

Enemies of the bill are beginning to boast today in the streets of Washington that they have killed it.

Amid this confusion of voices, what has become of the call of the President and the judgment and reasoned please of General Marshall and Admiral King? Will those who have trusted to these men the lives of 12,000,000 citizens in uniform, at the eleventh critical hour deny to them the strength they say they need to bring this conflict to a close, with the saving of as many men, as many lives, as possible?"

I have read that some are troubled lest, under the bill passed by the House, civilian workers may be sent too far from their homes to work in munition plants. Does this seem a very weighty objection to you fathers and mothers, you wives and sweethearts of our fighting men, whose loved ones have been bravely and willingly fighting in the torrid jungles of New Guinea or the frozen hillsides of the Rhine?

Your men are risking their lives at the direction of their country and many thousands of miles from home which some of them have not seen for thirty months. The word of their leaders has been enough for them to offer the full measure of their devotion. I say that prolonged consideration of comparatively trivial details of this legislation should not be allowed to jeopardize the giving to our fighting men of the full support of our own strength.

"We Dare Not Delay Longer"

We dare not delay longer. The fighting on every front grows more savage as our brutal enemies are pressed back into their citadels.

I say to you, as the pledge of my official duty, that the passage of this measure by the Senate with its main principles unchanged is needed by the Army and the Navy to supply critical shortages in our essential industrial plants and to help fill the places of young vigorous workers who may be then sent as replacements to battle-weary troops.

But even more than this, I believe that the passage of the bill will be a signal to the men on the battlefront thatthere is to be no longer discrimination against them on the homefront. It will be a sign to our soldiers and sailors that all of America is behind them. Action by the Congress will sustain and strengthen their spirit in the thick of battle—yes, and the spirit of their families waiting at home for the victory that will bring their men back.

That is the crisis with which we are confronted. I say again to you fathers and mothers, wives and friends of the soldiers, for whose welfare I have a great, responsibility, that every day this war is prolonged is inexpressibly costly in precious lives. Let us stand together. Let us speed the victory by treating this crisis of the war in the true spirit of American democracy, with justice between man and man, between soldier and civilian.

When the facts are thus understood, I believe that the voice of American conscience will be heard.