Universal Military Training


By RALPH A. BARD, Under Secretary of the Navy

Delivered before Citizens Committee For Military Training of Young Men, Inc, New York, N. Y., May 25, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 559-561.

IT is a real pleasure to attend a meeting such as this which is promoting what I believe to be one of the most important "causes" in this and succeeding generations. The need for universal military training is so urgent and so logical that it is difficult for many of us to understand why we have to "sell" it. But an informed citizenry is the basis of a good democracy—so educate we must.

I have spoken on this subject many times and, as you might expect, I have, by this time, developed a list of reasons why I believe universal military training to be of such great importance to all of us. Some of you have heard these reasons before. If so, then perhaps repetition will emphasize their importance. To those of you who haven't heard my reasons—I will give you a brief digest without elaboration.

1. Universal military training is necessary to an adequate program of national defense. The tools of war and the knowledge of their use should be in the hands of those who want war stopped. For such a force to be effective—it must be available.

2. The adoption of a sound plan for universal military training now will enable the United States to speak with greater authority at the peace table in favor of an international organization to enforce peace.

3. The adoption of such a plan now will reassure other peace-loving nations that the United States proposes to cooperate with them in outlawing war and that this country will never again retreat into isolationism.

4. It is more democratic and fitting to our form of government to insure national security by universal military training, rather than by maintaining a large standing army.

5. Although one of the objectives of Dumbarton Oaks is to eliminate militarism as an instrument of national policy for all time—we must admit from sad experience that any world organization established to keep peace must be ready to use force—to be effective. The big powers must be able to muster a sufficient force at a moment's notice to counteract a threat of force from an aggressor nation. A paper threat is no threat at all. Those who want universal peace must use universal military training—so as to be prepared to instantly enforce sanctions against an offending nation. As George Washington aptly said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."

6. In the event another war cannot be averted then this country should be prepared to win the war with a minimum loss of men and wealth. An inadequate Army and Navy results in appeasement policies before war and forces a costly defensive strategy during the first phases of the war. In the past, our comparative isolation has aided us in overcoming this tremendous initial handicap, but technological developments have completely voided even this degree of geographic isolation.

7. Modern warfare is so technical and complex that our former concepts of military training are antiquated. When war was more simple, an American was considered partially prepared to defend his country if he had a rifle and knew how to use it. Modern war cannot be handled by untrained recruits. Weapons of today and tomorrow require much training—and there is not sufficient time to train after the shooting starts. The only answer is individual as well as national preparedness. Universal military training is the only democratic system which will meet the time factor as to trained personnel.

8. It must be recognized that even in peacetime the Army and Navy will require additional methods of procurement of personnel to properly maintain their establishments. Universal military training furnishes the best method.

9. All are agreed this country must maintain a strong military force to keep the peace. This means

(a) A large professional fighting force,


(b) A large trained reserve supplementary to a small professional force.

The argument boils down to the acceptance of (a) or (b).

No democracy can long exist without a high degree of public interest and participation in the activities of its government. A democracy is as strong as the extent to which it draws upon the whole population for its servants and its leaders. Universal military training is by far the best method of maintaining an alert and democratized military force which will be the most representative of the people—in fact, it is the people. The principle of equal service to the country is the foundation for a free people.

History is strewn with the wreckage of great powers which wittingly or unwittingly made too wide a separation between their military and the rest of their citizenry. The long continuance of a large professional Army and Navy tends to create a cleavage between such forces and the public they serve—and make coup d'etats and usurpations not only possible, but sometimes attractive. A potential citizens' army is the best insurance against militarization of a democracy.

10. There is a prevalent suspicion toward universal military training because it is feared the Army and Navy will misuse the year's training to implant a spirit of militarism among the youths undergoing training. It is true those undergoing training should be trained by professional military men but it is wholly inconceivable that this one year of training will in any way undermine the democratic ideals of this country; and as long as we have a comparatively small professional military organization conducting the training, it is difficult to see how the well-being of the democracy could be adversely affected. Even extended service during wartime has not made the men in our armed forces militaristic. Certainly one year's military training in peacetime, under these same officers, will do less to make them war-minded.

As the Secretary of the Navy has stated, "Universal military training no more means that we are looking for war than getting vaccinated means a man is looking for smallpox or taking out auto insurance means he expects his car to burn."

11. The program of universal military training would be administered by a civilian agency up to and including induction. After induction the administration of the program would be the responsibility of the branch of the service to which the inductee is assigned.

12. Although universal military training should only be considered because it is necessary to our national defense, many worth while by-products would be obtained during the period of such training—namely:

(a) The physical standards of the Nation's youth would be improved.

(b) The illiteracy rate of the country would be lessened.

(c) Ideas of responsible American citizenship and sound character would be developed.

(d) A year under military training would strengthen the home discipline and self-control of our youth.

(e) To the extent permitted, the educational status of those undergoing military training would be improved.

(f) Universal military training would develop a sense of mass citizenship—and mass duty. By bringing together our boys from all parts of our country and from all walks of life, they would get to know one another and better understand teamwork and fair play.

(g) Persons undergoing such training could, within quota limitations, receive training in the service and in the specialty of their choice. Universal military training will interfere very slightly, if any, with the 20 per cent of our youth who go to college. For the 80 per cent who do not go to college, universal military training will stimulate their thinking and improve their education. The special courses taken will assist greatly in helping these boys determine their choice of careers and, unquestionably many will continue their education who otherwise would have had none.

I doubt if many people realize the amount of wonderful education that would be derived from this training. This is so important that I would like to give you an idea of what the Navy contemplates.

The Navy's program for a year of universal military training has four phases. The first phase covers the thirteen week period of recruit training which provides for a general introduction to the Navy. Trainees will learn the terminology of the Service, the rudiments of seafaring, how to drill, and the elements of military discipline. Great attention will be given to building in each man a condition of basic health and physical stamina. All will be given the physical conditioning program which has produced such remarkable results during the present war. In addition to these periods of instruction and drill, many extracurricular activities will be available for those who are interested. During the third month of this period, trainees will be selected for further training in a specialty. Oral and written tests will be used to determine talents and aptitudes. The various ratings in the Navy will be explained and each trainee will be asked to express a preference. Within the limits of individual capacity and numbers needed in each rating, these preferences will be honored.

The second phase of the program provides for a thirteen week assignment to appropriate Class "A" schools for which they have been selected. This period will be devoted to specialization and every individual will be taught one of the more than one hundred skills essential to the functioning of the Navy. Such skills include, just to mention a very few, radio technicians, carpenters, machinists, photographers, pharmacists, cooks, bakers, clerical workers, printers, painters, storekeepers, telegraphers, and many others. Such training will give a man the fundamentals that will permit him to pursue the further development of these skills when he leaves the Navy.

After specialized instruction in one of these Class "A" schools, trainees will be reassembled for the third phase of training which will also last about thirteen weeks.

This is the "operational" phase. Each group will represent the crew of such units as a battleship, an aircraft carrier, a repair ship, a fighting air squadron, a motor torpedo boat squadron, or a Seabee battalion. Men previously trained in their specialty will learn teamwork, the necessity for constant coordination of all the parts, and the smoothness of operation which only comes with joint practice. Antiaircraft gunnery, aircraft gunnery, fire fighting, damage control, flight deck handling of aircraft, and the organization of ships and squadrons are some of the problems trainees will solve during this period.

The last phase of this year of training will be spent in the Navy's finest schools—the ships and the Naval aircraft. Trainees will go to. sea in battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and other types of vessels.

They will be part of ships and shore based aircraft squadrons. At sea the training fleet will take up tactical problems and trainees will learn to man their battle stations at various conditions of readiness. During this period the trainees will be absorbing the "know how" which comes with experience aboard ship and with Naval aircraft. This final period will be the most interesting to the men and the most fruitful to the Navy.

Through these four phases—introduction, specialization teamwork, and practice—the Navy will get the maximum of utilization from the year of universal military training. Thus will be produced a reservoir of trained men ready to man the fleet if and when it becomes necessary.

13. Finally, I want to make it clear to you the Navy does not take the position that universal military training is the sole answer to the maintenance of peace. It is but one of the cornerstones in the arch which provides the foundation for peace—but this cornerstone is all important—for upon the power to enforce the agreements of peace-loving nations in this day and age rests the success and survival of the peace program of the world.