A reader writes:
Palin comments about the glories of the "Greatest Generation" continue the well-worn theme of a nation of self-sacrificing volunteers to duty. The fact is, about two thirds of the soldiers who fought in WW2 were drafted. While there were those who rushed to volunteer after Pearl Harbor, to say "American men enlisted in droves" is to deny the complexity of enlistment and conscription before and during the war.
For one thing, many soldiers had already been drafted before Pearl Harbor in a deeply unpopular (and politically risky) draft put forward by Roosevelt in 1940. The original 12 month term of service was extended in the summer of 1941 in a bill so unpopular it passed in the House by one vote. Angry draftees responded to the extension with threats to desert when they reached their original twelve month service.
Most American men did not volunteer. They registered for the draft (the scope of which broadened by age and category several times during the war) and waited to be called. The US Military even preferred that men wait to be called up as that allowed them to better regulate the flow of troops into training camps. Most men chose to go to college or work as they waited to serve, hoping to mitigate the impact their was service would have on their regular lives.
Millions of American men went to war when they were called and served with honor. But to portray the "Greatest Generation" as a mass of volunteers for the war effort is not accurate.
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