The Army can boast that it had no less respected a figure than General Jimmy Doolittle head an investigation of GI gripes about the military "caste" system, and that it took action on twelve of the fourteen recommendations in the Doolittle Report.
In response to popular demand the Army has approved "in principle" the Doolittle recommendations that the food, travel privileges, travel allowances, and opportunities for advancement be "equalized" among officers and enlisted men. It has promised a more equal distribution of decorative awards. It has dropped the military regulation prohibiting the association of officers and men, although the officers' exclusive clubs remain. It has made off-post saluting unnecessary, except in occupied territories and special situations. It has enabled enlisted men to accumulate terminal leave pay, as officers do, and made it easier for them to register complaints.
In addition to these reforms, which will be carried out "where practical," the Army has taken steps to make the dress uniforms of officers and men alike, except for insignia, and to discourage, "where necessary," those officers who use military vehicles (and enlisted drivers) for social purposes, or who use off-limits signs to reserve civilian pleasures for themselves, or who commandeer more than their share of liquor and other scarce items. Most important of all, the Army has reformed, under Congressional compulsion, its Prussianized court-martial system.
Embedded in the 1948 Selective Service Act is the requirement that the Army must drop its star-chamber approach to justice and base its disciplinary actions on something akin to civilian court procedures. So now, for the first time, enlisted men are authorized to be members of the court in the trial of other enlisted men, if the accused so desires. This is in keeping with the time-honored civilian conception of the right of a man to be tried by his peers. Its effect is somewhat offset by the presence of officers on the same jury and by the fact that the enlisted men who serve as jurors will be selected by the commanding officer who calls the court and who holds their future in his hands.
Other safeguards written into the Selective Service Act for better administration of military justice are the provisions that the law member of the court-martial, the judge advocate, and the counsel for the defense be professional lawyers, that the accused be represented by counsel at pre-trial investigations, and that he be allowed to cross-question prosecution witnesses. What is an even more radical departure, the commanding officer who appoints the court-martial is forbidden henceforth to admonish any member of the court with respect to findings and sentences. This ends the old Army custom whereby commanding officers picked the jurors and then instructed them on what action to take, thus serving as both accuser and judge.
Further to remove the influence of the field command on judicial matters, Congress has now made the Judge Advocate General's Department an independent agency in the Army and given it the power of review. This separation of powers was bitterly fought by military leaders from General Eisenhower on down, on the grounds that field commanders would be deprived of the authority on which the discipline and morale of the Army depend. Their arguments had the effect of implying that officers in the legal branch of the Army might be less interested in discipline and morale than the officers in combat units. Congress failed to heed the implication and held to the civilian notion that legal evidence should be weighed by disinterested, legal minds.
Except for the court-martial reforms, which, while of utmost importance, will improve the lot of only those soldiers who get into serious trouble, the bulk of the Army's recent moves to make military life more democratic must be considered superficial. This is said, not to discourage such moves, which are worthy, but in the realization, undoubtedly shared by the Army, that officers must always be in some sense superior to enlisted men if there is to be any discipline. And enlisted men who retain any sense of civilian values will continue to resent that superiority until the Army has a full set of officers that even a hardened top kick can look up to.
What must be appreciated is that the elimination of this or that cause of GI griping is not going to change the basic aspects of military subjugation that make men look around for some target for their spleen. As any veteran must admit, the enlisted man in the U.S. Army is far better off than his counterpart in any major army in the world. And the Army, being American, will probably continue to enhance the position of its noncommissioned men. But that will not stop the griping, because if men do not curse their food or their officers they will curse some other outward manifestation of their fate under a regime that, no matter how benevolently administered, is frankly dictatorial.
In reality it isn't the idea, for example, that officers have their exclusive clubs which irritates enlisted men. As one crusty sergeant remarked before the Doolittle Committee, "Who the hell wants to fraternize with officers, anyway?" What galls non-commissioned Americans is the idea that officers consider themselves in a class above the masses of men who are making at least as many personal sacrifices as the "brass." There are, unfortunately, very few military men who can assume the distinctions of being officers without neglecting General Eisenhower's warning that "these distinctions must never imply nor condone any assumption of human superiority, which is not only un-American and unethical but is ineffective in developing the kind of unit that is necessary to battle success."
The Army is continually up against the problem of getting every man to do the things he does not want to do. It is not too difficult to get men to carry out assignments that flatter their sense of usefulness and self-sacrifice. Few soldiers balk at jobs; that make them look good to themselves. The problem is how to get men to obey orders that appear to them to be senseless, unnecessary, inconsiderate, tyrannical, inane, discriminatory, and not in keeping with their high sense of purpose. And soft soap is not the answer.
The answer, of course, is discipline; discipline as harsh and as undemocratic as is necessary to take care of all eventualities. That discipline, as shown during World War II, is not overirksome to men who are serving under competent officers in work that is obviously contributing directly to the winning of a war or its aftermath. Where the discipline is most resented is among men, particularly those drafted from civilian jobs, who feel that they are wasting their time—in base depots, permanent home stations, and repetitious training courses.
The 1949 draftee will be part of a smaller and better organized draft than that of 1940; his pay and quarters will be better; he will have modern weapons to handle, rather than wooden rifles; he will serve among men who are mainly volunteers, and therefore less likely to be discontented, and he will be commanded by better qualified and more experienced officers. He will also have occupation duty as a possible outlet for his desire to be doing something useful, whereas the 1940 draftee had nothing tangible to train for except mock war games.
Yet there is still room for doubting General Devers's flat statement, "He will like it." Few persons with normal sensitivities like being thrown into a coarse society that of necessity extols aggressiveness as the highest of personal qualities and killing as the finest of arts. Fairly convincing proof of this is the fact that four out of every ten men who were discharged from the Army for medical reasons during World War II were suffering from some nervous or mental disorder, and of these, about 60 per cent were men who never saw combat service but cracked up after a period of trying to adjust to the drastically different way of military life.
When you come right down to it, however, the point is not whether a draftee will like or dislike his twenty-one months of compulsory service. The point is that the legislative representatives of this country have decided that it is the duty of all youths to devote this much time to military training. In view of this, I personally believe that the adjustment to military life could be made easier for youngsters (and vicariously for their parents) if the Army would can its ballyhoo that conscription is "good for our boys" and stand, instead, on the contention that military training, while tough, is good for the country.
There's much to be said for facing facts, even if it means giving up the vote-fetching pretext that the Army is not concerned as much with the development of fighting forces as with the regeneration of the country's democratic, intellectual, and spiritual forces. The latter, after all, could be entrusted to civilian minds, if the Army wants to stick to fighting.