Almost simultaneous with the Army’s announcement that the peacetime draft would shift into high with the induction of 20,000 trainees in January was the companion announcement by General Jacob L. Devers, chief of Army Ground Forces, that every youth drafted into the Army “will be treated as a human being, never a raw recruit.” Speaking before the American War Mothers, General Devers outlined a serviceman’s utopia in which draftees would be sent to posts “as near home as possible,” would be given a “chance to ask questions,” and would be assigned uniforms “individually fitted.” As if that were not enough to indicate a new way of Army life, General Devers assured the mothers that training instructors, no longer to be thought of as tough drill sergeants, would try "to establish a personal relationship with the incoming recruit," and that all trainees would be "told the reason for everything they do that is new to them." The Army's principal authority on combat training then went on to say that the Army would insist that each trainee write home; that each would be interviewed by his company commander and chaplain, both of whom, in turn, would write personal letters to his mother; and that (the real clincher) "neither he nor his instructors will use profanity."
The good General's attempts to lighten the hearts of American mothers had a derisive reception among World War II veterans—among those, at least, who let their reactions be known to newspapermen. The most recent victims of the Army's penchant for sending Maine fishermen to the California desert and Oregon lumbermen to Cape Cod were unanimous in the opinion that it would be a good thing if the Army could assign men to camps within easy traveling distance of home. But they warned that "as near home as possible" was a typical and necessary Army "out."
As for individually fitted uniforms, one ex-infantryman remarked that he had "spent four years looking for the individual my uniform was fit for."
Buttoning his civilian sports jacket more securely, an ex-pfc pointed out that there was nothing new or particularly desirable about having training instructors establish a "personal relationship with the incoming recruit." "My own instructor-recruit relationship," he recalled, "was very personal—painfully so, in fact." And taking up the promise that the recruit would be given a reason for everything that was new to him, a former Chemical Warfare sergeant said, "Sure, the reason being: 'I told ya to do it and shut up!'"
A captain of paratroopers who was retired for wounds was disturbed by the declaration that neither the recruit nor the instructors would use profanity. "How," he wondered, "are they going to teach anything?"
Such comments may be overcaustic, but two of the veterans I have quoted shed enough blood in and around the Bulge to have a deep personal interest in a well-run Army. They are heartily in favor of the Army's attempts to lighten the life of enlisted men. They know, however, that no amount of sugar-coating can disguise the fact that military life of necessity must be in harsh opposition to the democratic virtues of undisciplined civilian life.
The veterans have not forgotten that much the same picture of humanized service in a "civilian" Army was projected for their benefit at the start of the 1940 draft. At that time, too, military leaders were busily promoting the idea that the Army was not so much a militarized regime as a glorified trade school in which young men not only equipped themselves for steady peacetime work but also acquired all the wholesome personal qualities that, by implication, their parents, schools, and churches had failed to nurture.
The GI of 1940 -1945 was not treated, to borrow another fine phrase from General Devers, as "a person of individual dignity and feelings." And there will be no sadder Sad Sack than the draftee of 1949 who expects to have a tender regard shown for his individuality. The Army's job is to reduce diverse personalities to fighting groups of men trained to act in unison and without hesitation at a given command. As the wounded captain of paratroopers pointed out, "The Army wouldn't be an army if the men in its ranks were not broken early of the notion that their personal feelings had any bearing whatsoever on the conduct of a military operation. Nobody should know that better than a general."
By an ironic twist the veterans were not alone in their opinion that General Devers was much too able and forthright a soldier to believe what he would have the American War Mothers believe. His soothing words boomeranged when one of our more realistic American mothers wrote to the New York Herald Tribune protesting the ban on the top sergeant's profanity ("That is not a crime—it's an art.") and suggested that the General had been put on the spot by too much ''Momism.'' Her letter raised a pertinent point:
"Just why, please, must the mothers of these draftees be placated in this way? War being war, and the draft designed to make men and not sissies out of our youth, I can see no point in a boarding-school approach and soft treatment. And not to face the realities of discomfort, loneliness and the hard give-and-take of mixed humanity around them in camp is to deprive these boys of the very essence of the new experience which will make them come alive to their own efficiency and ability—if it is there—to meet whatever happens.
To understand why the Army pretends that it is running a boarding school, one must recall what happened in late 1945 and early 1946. That was the period when the GI's of World War II regained their civilian freedom of speech and had their innings at the expense of their former officers. The home front was suddenly exposed to a five-year accumulation of gripes about the rigors of living as a slave to rank. On top of that, the end of censorship meant a heavy dose of hitherto untold stories of gambling, graft, and promiscuous girls in every theater of operation, with accounts of bungling and brutality adding more fat to the fire.
When the Army tried to push the idea of Universal Military Training in 1946 it met the determined resistance not only of politically orientated groups but also of militant members of religious and parental organizations who by that time had a fixed notion that military life was "bad for our boys." The Army spent all of 1947-1948 trying to dispel this notion and, with UMT still the goal, hasn't relaxed its efforts yet. The public must be made to realize that training the nation's youth for war is the best way to train them for peace.
What the Army means this time when it promises that recruits will be treated as human beings is that the training procedures developed at Fort Knox will be extended throughout the Army, wherever practical. (As the veterans would say, keep an eye on the Army's "out.") For those who don't know—and if such persons exist, the Army will feel that its public relations staff has fallen down—Fort Knox from January, 1947, through July, 1948, was the scene of what must stand as the world's most noble experiment in the techniques of democratizing, purifying, and mentally energizing an army unit. And it worked, within certain limits.
Anyone who accepted the Army's invitation to see the first 664 Umtees in action at their Fort Knox training center must agree that no dogface ever had it so good. The simulated draftees had excellent food, luxurious lounging facilities, Army-imported girls for post dances, hobby shops, educational programs, and the personal attention of chaplains, doctors, psychiatrists, and a variety of teachers. Their high spirits were everywhere apparent, despite the official ban on drinking, profanity, and bad women.
The teen-age Umtees attended church as GI's never had before, sat through protracted lectures on morality and good citizenship, and enrolled in educational courses ranging from radio-station techniques to Spanish. Fifty-one of them were able to obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma, and only one contracted a venereal disease. To make everything perfect, the Protestant chaplain had eighty-two of the boys come to him for baptism, while ten were baptized by the Catholic chaplain, twenty-two received First Communion, and thirty-three were confirmed.
To keep the record straight it must be noted that the 664 Umtees were hand-picked from volunteers for Regular Army service and had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the importance of their showing the value of the UMT experiment. They could hardly be called reasonable facsimiles of 664 boys conscripted from civilian life.
Moreover, they were under the close personal supervision, for six months, of 560 carefully selected officers and enlisted men, plus a staff of civilian teachers. Not even a wealthy private school, let alone an undermanned Army, could provide such individualized training as a regular thing.
So the training at Fort Knox must be considered as ideal rather than typical. As for the results: it's true that attendance at religious services was almost 100 per cent during the first month when the only alternative was an hour-long lecture. After that the attendance of Protestant trainees dropped to 25 per cent, with the Catholic boys continuing to respond somewhat better. It is also true that 21 per cent of the boys were inspired to enroll for evening educational courses, but only 8 per cent of them completed the courses they had selected—which tends to dispel the rumor that the Army has successfully blended military training and higher education.
Baptisms and diplomas are less important to an army, however, than good morale, and the Umtees had plenty of the latter. Those who were able to talk to reporters on the side were most convincing in their assurances that the morality regulations imposed on them were not too tough to take. They had to observe the no-swearing rule only when certain officers known to be conscientious were around. They could not get beer and prophylactics at their Post Exchange, but it wasn't much trouble to go the extra distance to the regular Fort Knox PX. And while the bartenders of Louisville were warned not to serve them drinks, no bartender could spot an Umtee who had taken the precaution of removing his distinguishing insignia.
The Army, let me hasten to add, is candid enough to admit, when not talking to American mothers, that much of the Fort Knox training program is not applicable to the draft. What the Army hopes is that its various training commands will gradually be able to adopt such constructive Fort Knox developments as the trainee court, in which the recruits themselves judge and impose punishment for minor infractions of regulations, the prohibition against profanity during the training period, the religious instruction, the compulsory citizenship and morality lectures by chaplains and others, and the elimination of browbeating through personalized student-instructor relations.
The catch is that even this moderate amount of special handling for draftees is too much to ask of military training commands at this juncture. Training cadres are in such short supply and existing field units, notably combat divisions and anti-aircraft battalions, are so undermanned that a large percentage of draftees, like the eighteen-year-old volunteers, must be sent straight to combat outfits after a short period of indoctrination. This means that their basic training will be in divisions rather than in Fort Knox type schools, and that it will be limited at the outset to eight weeks, in contrast to the six-month course at Fort Knox. Under the circumstances some of their officers may be too busy to remind them to write home to their mothers.