For ten months it has been my lot to serve on a selective service draft board here in a western city. For ten months I have watched, and aided in a tiny way, the workings of that great machine with which the American democracy has sought to galvanize its clumsy, stoop-shouldered self into quick-stepping martial attitude—to pick itself up by the name of its own neck, as it were.
I am one of the army of fifteen thousand men as to whom the Provost-Marshall General at Washington issues occasional encomiums of rather elaborate appreciation—encomiums which almost always sugar-coat a new undertaking of the selective draft, and are as surely followed by polite but none the less severe admonitions against blunder and mistake. But we cherish those bulletins. They are all we have as yet, to paste in the family scrapbook against the day when our grandchildren shall inquire our parts in the great war. Yes, we hug them close, as balm against the sorry wounds we bear from cruel and constant contact with the barbed wire of red tape.
The press takes an occasional careless glance at us, and passes to the more colorful pageants thronging the stage of events. We are merged into the drab back-drop. The lights are all up front, where the finished product of our toil goes marching by to gallant music, marching by to France and to glory and beyond.
The literature of the draft thus far is but a chronicle of creaking machinery, a listing of error and delinquencies, a posting of the rules—and the blessed bulletins from General Crowder. I have no desire to add to that scanty shelf, or to bemoan that printers’ ink has passed us by. I would only tell in passing what we draft men have seen in this huge, new American institution. I would voice—clumsily, no doubt—the fine certitudes that have come to us out of this rich experience. I speak in the plural, for I have seen that which all draft men have seen.
These men hold in a sense the most unique position of history. They have become literally the father confessors of millions of their fellows. The very threads of fate have been intrusted to their keeping. Momentous power is theirs, and terrible responsibilities sit upon them.
Their eyes have beheld, as from the wings of a huge stage, that glorious metamorphosis of a dormant people aroused at last to exaltation. To them has fallen the lot of intimate assistance at the rebirth of a nation. They have become the high priests of that great event, seared in the very flare and heat of the quickening fire that goes surging through the veins of America to-day.
They were the first to be drafted, these men of the draft boards. They themselves constituted the first quota of the National Army. They awaited no call of numbers, no lottery of fate. They were sent to no training-camps. From the first day of their call they saw action—a kind of action which as surely tries men’s mettle, as surely tests men’s souls, I sometimes think, as the red hurricanes of Flanders’ fields.
I recall a gray day in February—a busy afternoon in the draft office of which I am secretary. The overcast sky fitted well our mood. The morning papers had carried the big headlines: ‘American Troopship Sunk; Heavy Loss of Life.’ I searched that sickening news with dread, for I had reason to believe that boys from our board, boys we had sent away a few months before, were on the ship. Later dispatches confirmed the fear. One of our boys—his sunny smiles and freckles are before me now—died there in the black waters.
‘What’s the quickest way to France?’ asked a cool, quiet voice.
I looked up from the litter of papers before me into the level blue eyes of a stocky, self-possessed young man, whose query had cut so incisively through the clatter of typewriters. I felt that the usual explanations were out of order.
‘The —— Infantry, Camp B——,’ I answered, speaking from knowledge that several boys who had been inducted into that particular branch had already gone abroad.
‘That’ll do for me; how soon can I go?’
‘To-morrow?’ I suggested.
‘Why not to-day?’ parried the grim young man.
‘The last train east leaves within an hour. Have you had your physical examination?’
‘Just came from the Medical Advisory Board’; and he shoved across the table his papers, testifying to an entirely normal physique.
He sat down to wait while I unreeled the inevitable red tape. He wore a heavy jacket with sheepskin collar, such as ranchers wear in winter, and his blowsy complexion bespoke the high and wind-swept hills.
Presently he observed, ‘Pretty slick, those Dutchmen, huh? slick like a coyote; I know ‘em.’
Half an hour later he was hurrying to catch the eastern train, hurrying to the great adventure.
Before night six other boys came to the office, and were inducted into the service voluntarily and ahead of their order.
If a chart had been kept of the voluntary inductions through the selective draft on the day following the sinking of the Tuscania, it would have shown an upward trend worth witnessing to Potsdam. Thousands joined the colors that day.
There was no display of pyrotechnics about it, no avowals of revenge. They just joined, their mouths set, their eyes a bit preoccupied. It was a normal reaction to that tragic episode off the coast of Ireland, and it was not unexpected; but to the men who run the selective-draft offices it became a significant, gratifying thing. It marked the end of a period of epochal transition.
One cannot deny that the selective draft began existence under a cloud. It was the thing by which men were made to take up the duty which was theirs, but which their bewildered eyes had not yet recognized. That time is past. To-day the selective draft is the institution through which Americans assume their duty gladly, intelligently, and even eagerly. It has become the forge where men find ready to their hands the weapons best suited to their abilities, the means whereby the patriotic urge is translated into effective action.
Americans know now clearly what they are fighting for. Slogans and shibboleths are needed no longer to serve as torches to faltering feet. The confused and nebulous forces of right and wrong, which, for most of us, hung impalpable over the battlefields in the early days of Armageddon, have shaped themselves unmistakably now. They issue flames across the world, like a pillar of fire by night, pointing the broad and terrible way we must go. No man need ask for light.
This is the thing Democracy has done. This is its dearest victory. It has defined itself and its purposes. It has won to a fine clarity of vision. The days of doubt are gone. America can go on now to the mighty task ahead, secure in her own convictions, largely immune from the danger of propaganda. It is true that the German spy will be with us always, and the power of many lies told over and over will continue to be felt; but the time is past when these things can impair seriously the nation’s morale.
And of the forces that have shaped the purposes of the nation none has been more potent than that of the selective draft. Like a huge lens, it has focused the vision of the nation. We might prate of ideals and of righteous causes without end, but without a concrete translation of our faith, without such a weapon as the sword of the selective draft, welded, we draft men know, with what a heat, liberty might have perished, and the lights have gone out in this poor old world, while yet we talked.
I wonder if the story will ever be told adequately. It defies the attempt. Huge, complex, funny, tragic, sublime, burdened with the fate of a whole people, and, in a sense, of the whole world, it permits of no verbal harnessing.
Like the sparks that fly upward from the forge, struck to a brief moment of incandescence by the force of the blow, are the individuals whose troubles and fates furnish the daily business of a draft office. Poignant faces, anxious eyes, frank and honest expression of the dominating emotions, they pass before us. To each is given what it is possible to give: a brief, sympathetic consideration of the circumstances, a brief, swift decision. These decisions they accept for the most part without murmur, and the men, and those whose fates are intertwined with theirs, pass on to face the formidable paths that lie ahead. Human nature functions before us as in a test-tube. Oh, the fineness of it that we have found!
Pictures of the draft crowd my memory, many of them too fine and intimate to betray in print, some of them laughable, but most of the lump-in-the-throat variety. One I will not forego, for the paint is hardly dry on it and I feel the keen stir of it now as I write.
It concerned the going to war of Joe Lewis. A frail little chap he was, so young and boyish for all his one-and-twenty years. There was that about him which spoke of knickerbockers and romping childhood laid aside but yesterday. I did not know Joe. He had passed through the mill of the draft as one of many; but we met for a brief sixty seconds one fine spring night at the station, just as the train was taking him away; and while memory lives, I shall remember Joe.
He looked down at me from a car-window, and as he said good-bye there was a twinkle in his eye as if he was amused that I did not know him.
‘Say good-bye to Mary Jane for me,’ he called as the train moved out.
‘Who are you?’ I cried, sprinting alongside the moving car.
‘Ha!’ he laughed; ‘I’m the grocer’s boy. Every day I came to your back door. Mary Jane knows me and so does the missus. Say good-bye to both of them for me.’
The train clicked away into the night. I turned back, swallowing a lump. It so befalls that the light of my household is a little two-year-old, and her name is Mary Jane.
O little girl, playing there with your blocks, will you remember Joe, the grocer’s boy—little Joe, grown so suddenly to brave manhood and gone away to fight for you, Mary Jane—gone away to make and keep the world a fair and lovely place for little children to be born in? You must. Your little heart must find a niche for Joe to live in, though he ‘carry on’ beyond the stars, and come never again to our back door.
Were I their master, words would build a monument to Joe and his kind. For do they not, in a sense, typify the times? Careless youngsters, caught upon the great tide! Glorious youth, knowing no call so high that it cannot answer?
Always when they go, light-heartedness and merry words prevail. These boys refuse the cup of grief at parting, and what tears are shed are sweetened with much laughter.
Just the other day we sent away half a hundred of them—grocery boys and bank-clerks, boys from the mountains and the mines, and even a farmer lad whose calloused hands by now probably have strangely missed the plough-handles.
Every man had answered the call, and we had no apparent need for alternates, but we selected one as a matter of form. He took his responsibility lightly, and so was entirely unprepared at the station that night when sudden illness created the breach which he must fill. One fleeting frown of consternation crossed his face, and then he accepted the situation as a great lark. Before the train pulled out, he had borrowed an extra pair of socks from one boy, a shirt from another, a razor from a third. But he was disconsolate over one thing.
‘Just one thing,’ he said to me; ‘and if I had that, I’d be happy.’
‘Maybe I can help,’ I suggested.
‘Well,’ he began, — and his face was all woe-begone but his eyes were dancing, ‘if I just had a chocolate cake. My mother promised to bake me one to take with me, but she didn’t dream I was going to-night, and I just dote on chocolate cake.’
The crowd around the rear end of the train heard him, and before the laughter had died away there came the clink of small change as a hat was passed for subscriptions to a cake fund. The red lamps of that departing trainload of rollicking young men had scarcely lost their identity in the twinkling maze of the switch-lights, before an order was on the wire to have delivered on board that train the biggest chocolate cake that the next town along the route afforded.
And so they go, always with gay whimsicalities upon their lips, these beloved boys who were to us so commonplace in the humdrum days of peace. It is as if their youthful figures stood silhouetted now against the effulgence of the dawn, their common clay struck to glowing radiance. But they were ever thus, I think, guarding in their hearts the seeds of glorious days; and it was we who saw them only with earth-dimmed eyes from which the incrusted scales of many petty years were yet to fall.
A bare ten months have gone since June fifth; so short a time to span so vast a gulf. Until then the war in Europe was not an all-pervasive thing. It ran its course apart from our daily lives. The big guns awakened few echoes here, and the cry of a stricken world sounded only faintly across the wall of our isolation. Particularly was this true of the Far West, with its thousands of miles of distance added to the barrier of the sea. Life ran smoothly, comfortably on.
With the breaking of relations we realized that a great step had been taken, but we were not deeply impressed. America was going in at the finish. We would administer the coup-de-grâce to Imperial Germany, and accept the plaudits of a grateful world. Haig was pounding in Flanders, the French were tearing savagely at the German line, and the curtain had not rung up on the dismal tragedy of Russia. It was as if the menacing pendulum of events had swung far out from us.
Then came the draft, and a tremor passed out over the country. An uneasy shadow settled upon the land. We began to stir, and to see dimly the red glare of a new and terrible dawn. But it was only a shadow.
The weeks of preparation for the drawing of the fateful numbers, the marshaling and organization of the huge crop of information gathered pell-mell on registration day, are vague memories now. We groped blindly then for an adequate system. There were no precedents to build on. From its secure position of to-day the institution of the selective draft can look back upon the road it has come with a complacent pride. Its purposes and the path thereto are now clearly defined; but in the beginning all was confusion and babel and turmoil.
The great lottery at Washington set the machine in motion, and the draft began. Each man had now a number—a key to his fate: a number in lieu of a name! Individualism, the dominant note of the pre-war period in America, here suffered its first eclipse. Men’s lives and fortunes, so grandly free and diverse before, now began to flow along a common and directed channel.
It was with some impatience, some fretting at the bit, that Young America accepted this sudden harnessing of its freedom. This was its first real contact with the grim, primal forces at work in the world. It was strange. Most of the men saw not yet the need of heroic steps, steps that would take them out over the brink of the maelstrom. They were willing enough and courageous enough once they understood; but that clarity of vision so general to-day had not been vouchsafed them then.
Letters such as these were not uncommon in the first days: —
‘Since registering last Tuesday, I have been told by my mother that I was born in 1886 instead of 1887, so please destroy my card and oblige ——.’
Or, ‘My son Harold should not have registered June 5 because he will not be 21 for several weeks yet, and, besides, he has not finished his schooling.’
Little they knew of the labyrinthine process involved in having one’s name stricken from the fateful lists once it was there. The moving fingers of several thousand registrars, having writ, moved on, and much piety, in the shape of family bibles, and many tears, lured them back not at all. ‘My son Harold’ is in the trenches now; and his mother, as she proudly reads his letters to her Red Cross circle, has forgotten the guileless barricade she sought to interpose between her boy and the days of his glory. And his schooling, I fancy, is not being neglected.
Civilization and peace make to a certain degree for artificiality. They clothe and disguise the primal fundamental things, the wild heart of things. War strips the disguise aside, and humanity goes plunging into the great, dizzy business of evolution, under the whip of an implacable force. Men become then but the guinea-pigs of fate, yielding up from their agony the truths to light the future of the race.
God’s in his Heaven, all’s right with the world.
sang the poet, with an unwarranted bit of optimism, I think. I prefer the conception of God in his work-shop, cleaving and moulding and welding, his forge at a white heat, his tools the lightning and the earthquake.
The departure of the first five per cent of the first quota sent to camp is an old story now, but to me it will be always a vivid memory. They were only a handful. Hundreds more have gone from our town, perhaps thousands more will go before the big job is done; but though the streets shall shake to the tread of regiments, it is with these first few that my thoughts abide. Some of them even now are on the plains of Picardy, no doubt. Two, I know, are dead, and we shall see them no more here in our pleasant valley.
At the train that night there was endless confusion and frantic rushing about, as mothers and fathers, wives and sweethearts sought out their loved ones—that bright flare-up of emotions which comes only on such occasions.
In one corner of the station we board members struggled with our mobilization papers, and our little squads of men, men whom we had come to regard with paternal eyes in the days we had dealt with them. One man was missing. His name was Tony Paglusio. In fact, Tony had been permanently and habitually missing. He had appeared for his physical examination weeks before, and, having passed, dropped from sight. The pink slip and the blue slip and all the fearful paraphernalia of paper forms which characterized the first draft-system, had been mailed to him, but never a word or sight did we get of him. An alternate had been selected in his place, and Tony had been reported as a deserter.
Five minutes before train-time a young giant with black, curly hair, brown eyes, and a heavy chin, patently clad in his Sunday best, strode bashfully into the station and set his suitcase down on my toes.
‘I’m Tony Paglusio,’ he announced. ‘What do I do now?’
‘Where in thunder have you been all these weeks?’ I roared at him. ‘Why didn’t you answer the letters and notices we sent you?’
‘I work in da mine,’ he replied. ‘I got ‘em all here in my pocket.’
He thrust a huge hand deep in a grimy hip-pocket, and brought forth a handful of soiled and frayed papers, passing them over with an air of being very, very glad to get rid of them. His manner was completely disarming. It was impossible to scold him. I sent the alternate home in sudden disappointment, and shoved the big Italian into the arms of his squad leader.
A few moments later, as the train pulled away from the platform amid an uproar of farewells, I saw Tony’s eager young face, stretched far out from a car-window, and he was yelling like a wild Indian. There was no one there to wish him godspeed, no warm clasp from the hand of a friend, no last kiss to cherish. For one second I caught his eye and waved my hat to him. He stopped his yelling and—the crazy fellow threw a kiss to me.
Tony had no concern for non-essentials. Red tape was just red tape to him. God bless him! How often I have wished I dared emulate him! I see Tony now, there on the fields of France, a stalwart infantryman, — Tony and thousands of his kind, — Italians, French, Scots, Serbs, Belgians, all the noble breed, — gone back, like bread upon the waters, to fight for the lands that sent them forth in the easy times of peace.
The rest of the first quota went off to camp at intervals, and then came the lull. There was time now for retrospection. We surveyed our work and our system, and found some of its faults. The Provost-Marshal General asked for suggestions. He got them with a vengeance. His mail in those days must have been interesting reading. From his superior standpoint he surveyed the whole situation. We of the draft boards looked out only upon our own domain. Out of the mass of data there came a new system. The system of the questionnaire. The quest of the questionnaire, we called it. That word! How many young Americans have stubbed their pronouncing toes upon it.
In the first draft we had dealt only with a small percentage of our registrants. Now the entire enrollment, with the exception of those already sent to camp, was to pass under our hands. Hearts of draft men quailed at the prospect, but there was no turning back. We realized that it was the best solution of the problem, and that once the huge job was done, the future of the draft would be secure and the work comparatively simple.
The first draft-system was unfair and defective in some respects. That was inevitable. But the saving grace of it has been that the men in charge have never hesitated to make radical changes, most of them for the better. Time and again the whole laborious structure was torn down and begun anew, because of the discovery of defects which stood in the way of ultimate perfection. The machine still has many faults, but they are minor and are being eliminated as rapidly as they become generally apparent. This quick perception of mistakes, and their elimination at any cost, have done more than any other one thing to convince the American people that the draft is fair and that it holds no menace to democratic institutions.
The first batch of questionnaires went forth so clean and neat, the pride of our little red-headed clerk, who had taken no end of pains with them. Days later they began to come back to us, burdened with fearful and wondrous data, soiled and blotted, torn and ragged. Oh, those questionnaires! What stories they tell! I cannot say whether I have cursed over them more than I have laughed over them—laughter that left a hot welling at the eyes. But draft men do not weep. God forbid! It is no weeping matter.
Then began the classification work, the biggest task the selective draft has imposed on its servants; a job which called for all we had of intelligence, of judgment, of understanding, of sympathy and fairness. How well that task was done, it is too early to say. But we did our best. I speak for our own board, but I like to think of it as a small cross-section of the whole system.
Upon the period of classification I look back as upon the deepest experiences of life. This probing into the intimate secrets and affairs of our fellows, many of them friends and acquaintances, weighing and passing judgment on what we found, was awkward to the point of painful embarrassment at times. We buckled on the armor of impersonality. We had to. It was our only defense. Why, I have looked into the eyes of a next-door neighbor and coolly asked him questions, the propounding of which over the back fence in the garden-spading season would elicit from him a prompt and picturesque invitation for me to seek a warmer clime forthwith. They were all so decent about it. I recall few cases of men resenting the prying inquisition of the draft. Frankness and honesty were the rule.
We passed through Solomon-like moments. As for instance, that occasion when we laid aside the book of rules and called in a lovely, gray old mother to decide for herself which of her two sons should go and which should stay. It was a cruel moment. She looked from one to the other and back again. Then, after a long, painful silence, she said, in a low tone, as if the words tore her heart a bit as they came, —
‘I love them both—so take them both. I will get along somehow.’
She held her head very high and smiled proudly through her tears as she went out.
And occasionally we had exasperating moments, which moved my mild-mannered colleague on the board to impious, but delicious remarks; as when a young rascal, with many excuses but no reasons for staying at home, persisted in his pleas beyond the boiling-point. We had denied his claims, but on this morning he came again and sought to beguile us with many high-flown words about conscientious objections to killing his fellow men.
Friend colleague listened absently for a moment and then, —
‘Yes, yes, boy, it’s all very wonderful, but we are awfully busy this morning, and couldn’t you put it in writing and mail it to us—say, from the trenches?’
Presently by dint of unremitting toil, classifications drew to an end, and we crossed the divide of that great mountain of toil which had loomed ahead in December. We had passed the peak load. We felt something as the British must have felt when they carried Messines Ridge and took the dominating positions about Ypres.
Now came the physical examinations of all the men in Class One. Seven hundred of them passed nakedly before us in the next ten days. But the responsibilities of lay members of the board ceased here. It had become someone else’s turn to drudge. We had only to look on, function a bit in a clerical capacity, and take the word of the examining physicians for everything, nodding our approval to their professional findings, like solemn jackasses. I came to enjoy physical-examination days—this looking on at the toiling, perspiring medical men, and amusing ourselves with speculations as to the infinite variety of the human form.
The medical men identified with the draft take their work very seriously and very keenly. They tell me it has been a wonderful opportunity for them, and for the drafted men as well. This thorough examination of the bodies of millions of young men will result in much good for them and for the country whose bulwark they are. Defects in the human mechanism have been found in thousands of cases, which, undetected, might have gone on until the health of the men was undermined. Corrective treatment has been given I many cases by the examining physicians, without cost to the men. More than one man in our jurisdiction is hale and whole to-day who owes his health to the incident of physical examination for the draft and the kindly interest of the examining physician.
We passed from the physical examinations to the final great task of the draft—the card-indexing of all the information that had been gleaned during the busy months of classification. The schoolteachers of the nation assumed this work and have done it well. These cards are the key to the future working of the draft machine. By means of them the army calls to its ranks trained men of every kind. For instance, not long ago General Pershing indicated the immediate need of a number of men qualified as commissary storekeepers for service in France. Our board was requested to furnish three to that quota. The cards revealed at a glance those qualified. They were summoned and sent. No waste motion here, no round pegs in square holes. A rather effective system, even in these days of hyper-efficiency.
Coincident with the period of physical examination, the system of voluntary induction was inaugurated. Draft-board men saw then the proof of the thing they were certain of at heart—that the days of hesitance were gone and that the nation’s fighting spirit was on tip-toe. Since December voluntary enlistments into the army had been closed. Men could enter the service only through the selective draft, and then only by individual competent orders. It was like damming a stream. Men had been classified and examined, and were ready to go. There was no holding them back. Once the bulletins arrived, opening certain branches for voluntary inductions, they overwhelmed us with applications. From then until voluntary inductions were closed late in March, never a day went by that we did not send one or more men to camp. In fact, nearly as many men have gone forward out of their order from our board as were sent under the entire first draft.
Of the fates dispensed by draft boards, the one that the men fear and despise most is to be classified for limited service because of some physical defeat. Those who are found totally unqualified accept their fate philosophically and go on about other business; but the men who are not fit for general service and yet are held for call into non-combatant work become disgusted and rebellious.
One day last March a strapping young fireman from one of the railroads applied for voluntary induction into the infantry. He had been qualified for general service originally, but on an after-thought he had been referred to the medical advisory board. I had forgotten the incident, but he had not; and as he sat across the table watching me make out his papers, he became noticeably nervous, rubbing his hands together and wiping the perspiration from his forehead, although it was a cold, raw day. Desperately he strove for composure. I watched him furtively. He grew pale and distraught as the moment came for his departure.
‘What is it?’ I asked; ‘are you ill?’
‘Naw,’ he protested, ‘feeling fine; just a little excited about getting away.’
I could see the frantic pulsing of the great artery in his neck. I turned for another look at his examination-form, and found there the tell-tale notation, ‘Tachycardia,’ written in by the medical advisory board.
He rose from his chair with a savage oath when I told him that he could not go. To no purpose, I attempted to console him.
‘You fellows are plumb crazy,’ he flung back at me bitterly; ‘I guess if I can shovel coal for the “Limited” over the summit and back three times a week, I can carry a gun for Uncle Sam without any trouble.’
He left in a towering rage.
I think of him and his poor, struggling heart whenever I am tempted to leniency with some whimpering slacker seeking to impress us with the dire import of a trivial ailment.
Our board has a scant half-dozen Africans on its lists, but they have furnished their full share of colorful incident. We had our merriest morning when Oscar William Davis, looking much like a well-groomed milk chocolate, appeared with his imposing wife, Amanda, to claim deferred classification. We were suspicious of Oscar, and we had evidence that the degree in which he supported his wife was in inverse ratio to her own earnings.
Amanda wept convincingly, and argued with the startling verbiage of her race. Life simply would not be worth living for her if he was taken away.
‘But,’ it was put to her, ‘isn’t it true that you work in a maid at one of the hotels?’
‘Yes, suh, ah does occupy myself occasionally with a little lucrative employment, but what ah makes ain’t but just exactly enough to keep me clothed.’
‘And don’t you know that your husband will have to send you fifteen dollars a month of his pay as a solider, and that the government will send another fifteen dollars? Won’t that be sufficient, with your earnings?’
Amanda’s eyes opened wide in unbelief. ‘Do you mean to tell me, suh, that the gov’ment’s gwine a send me thu’ty dollahs a month if dat nigger goes to war?’
Being assured that such was the prospect, she turned slowly to where Mr. Davis had shrunk, fearfully, into a far corner.
‘Shame on you, Oscar!’ she shouted, pointing an accusing finger at him. ‘Youse agwine to swerve you Uncle Sam from dis minute. You go on home and pack youh trunk.’
And in an aside to a dusky friend who had come with her she was heard to say, ‘Why, dat fool man done cost me more ‘n thu’ty dollahs a month.’
Voluntary inductions are closed now, but still the men come seeking entrance to the great game ahead of their turns, impatient of restraint, eager to go.
We have come far from the worrisome days of the beginning. We have tamed the juggernaut. We are no longer priests of Moloch. The draft knows itself now, and is strong with the strength of confidence. Not for trivial things did millions of Americans pass in and out of draft-board doors during the toiling weeks in which the nation sorted its man-power. Not for nothing did they bring to a common scale, for a common judging, all the intimate circumstance of their lives, pooling their precious liberties that all the world might partake.
And this is the strength and the triumph of the draft, that it has in the larger sense outlived the grim necessity that gave it birth; that it has led the young men of America to a realization of the task which confronts the nation and to a conception of their own inevitable duties. It has been a potent instrument of education, a huge university, whose graduates go out upon the paths of war with eyes wide open to the terrible glory of the day.
To the men of the draft boards, too, it will always be the great Alma Mater. We have been deep into the heart of America, and we are chastened, for there we found the gold that will redeem the world. Surely no appreciation is due us, for it has been a high privilege, a sacred trust, to serve.
* * *
This little sketch of the draft is at an end, for it treads close upon the heels of to-day. It began with something about the way to France, and the eagerness with which Young America seeks now that glorious road, in contrast with the first days of doubt. It was to be expected that America would require a little time to adjust itself; but once the spark of understanding began to glow, it developed rapidly and with increasing speed. To-day it burns a bright and steady flame, as all draft men know; and though the war go on and on through many weary years, the stream of America’s man-power will flow steadily and freely, unforced, unurged, to the training-camps of Victory.
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