IF the war veterans are to be saved from public scorn because a few are greedy, is it not the American Legion’s job to save them? I asked that, hopefully, at the end of my last article, but since I posed the question the Legion has answered through its convention. The answer is a simple and direct ‘No.’
In the months from June to October, it appeared to those who did not look below the surface that the powers of the Legion were about to take in hand the abuses of extravagant veteran legislation and work with the President for economy. National Commander Louis A. Johnson made speech after speech through the summer and burst into print in the Hearst newspapers supporting the President and deploring past activities of the Legion in demanding exorbitant benefits from Congress. It was the Legion’s first official admission of guilt. ‘We of the Legion,’ he announced, among other things, ‘do not say for one second that we were altogether without blame in the overburdening of the World War Veterans Act with benefits which made it so topheavy that it was certain to destroy itself sooner or later.’
This statement and others in the same vein deceived even that part of the press which, for a year or more, had heaped condemnation upon the Legion for its greed. Editorials appeared welcoming the ‘change of heart.’ In his speeches and articles, Mr. Johnson explained a ‘new’ programme which, he said, would be brought before the convention in October. It had been approved by the National Executive Committee. It asked for: —
1. A governmental policy of equal treatment for veterans and dependents of all wars.
2. A permanent classification and fixed determination of benefits for all classes of veterans and their dependents of all wars, past and future, upon which both the government and its defenders may rely.
3. A governmental policy of entirely adequate provisions in periods of normal economic conditions for all veterans with war-service-connected disabilities, without regard to their financial status or other means of support.
4. A governmental policy recognizing that all incapacitated veterans who are without means of support are charges and wards of the Federal Government and not of state and local government or of public charity.
This programme, its author proclaimed, would put an end to uncertainty and establish a permanent basis for dealing with all veterans forever. And, truly, to the uninstructed citizen it looked sound and economical. It appeared, at first glance, to leave ‘presumptive disabilities’— that is, diseases which develop after a war but are ‘presumed’ to have been caused by the war — where the President put them. It seemed to make no demands about frankly peace-incurred ailments except for men without means of support. It allowed for reductions in benefits in time of depression. Even the demand for federal rather than local care of the needy sounded like a reasonable plea.
A careful analysis showed, however, that the programme would actually restore many of the ‘benefits’ which the President’s Economy Act removed. If veterans and dependents of all wars were treated alike, as Point No. 1 demanded, then World War veterans could receive Spanish War veteran benefits, which include old-age pensions at sixty-two (fifty-five if partly disabled) and presumptive pensions for all dependents, as well as pensions for widows of veterans dead from any cause. Point No. 4 might bring back almost in toto the absurd allowances for peace disabilities.
Nevertheless, Commander Johnson’s plan was adroitly worded. It deceived many people. ‘Such a programme,’ said the New York Times, apparently without reading it carefully, ‘ would be at once politic and right. Commander Johnson’s words must strike an echoing chord in the hearts of many Legionnaires.’
They struck no chord, however, in the heart of the great, quiet steam roller which in the end decides Legion policy. For at the very moment that Commander Johnson was proclaiming the soundness of his plan the National Rehabilitation Committee was quietly at work upon another which the Legion would actually pass.
The first draft of the Rehabilitation Committee’s programme was simpler and franker, more easily understood by the rank-and-file Legionnaire. It made no grand statements about government policies. It indulged in no generalizations about ‘adequate provisions’ or ‘normal economic conditions.’ It restored most of the old benefits without the slightest attempt at deception. It demanded: —
1. That no war veteran disabled in line of duty shall suffer any reduction in war benefits he received prior to the economy law.
2. That the Federal Government hospitalize veterans who require hospital treatment but are not able to pay for it.
3. That the service-connection rating properly granted veterans under laws before the Economy Law be perpetuated.
4. That benefits for dependents of veterans be not tampered with.
This programme called for no interpretation. It was decided upon at a ‘regional conference’ of the Rehabilitation Committee and passed on quietly to the forty-eight state headquarters to be brought up at state conventions. So, during the summer, while Commander Johnson prepared and issued his ‘battle order’ calling on every Legionnaire to support the President in his efforts for national recovery, the Legion state conventions passed, without a dissenting voice, a schedule of demands which, if passed by Congress, would destroy the President’s first step toward governmental economy.
Commander Johnson’s speeches and writings made such a stir that no one noticed the activities of the Rehabilitation Committee. They were printed, to be sure, in the back pages of the newspapers, but those who read them thought that the papers must be mistaken or that Mr. Johnson’s programme had superseded the other. If this was not precisely what was intended, it might as well have been. For while the Johnson programme was no less extravagant, in fact, than the other, it had a better sound and was subject to several interpretations. Moreover, his constant pronouncements of Legion loyalty to the President and to the N.R.A. led the average citizen to believe that what he asked for must be reasonable.
The American public does not readily grasp a paradox as complete as that presented by Commander Johnson. That a man running for political office may say one thing and intend another is commonly accepted, but that any man will flatly contradict himself in one breath, so to speak, is hard to credit. So the average American, reading or listening over the radio to Commander Johnson’s spectacular utterances of loyalty, and skimming over or not bothering at all with his technical programme, assumed that the programme must be as ‘all right’ as the pledges.
At the same time, in the camps opposed to the veteran lobby, it was generally thought that the Legion might break loose and condemn Commander Johnson for his statements. There was talk of a ‘right wing’ and a ‘left wing’ — the right being Johnson’s — which might come to blows at the convention.
These rumors had no justification. The Legion never breaks loose. It has no wings. What dissension occurs is between individuals or between posts and departments. The Legion is the most perfectly disciplined organization of its kind in the world. It is run, not from the bottom according to its constitution, but from the top. It has not, in fact, a representative government, but a dictatorship.
What the convention will do is decided months in advance by the National Executive Committee working in harmony with the lobby which dictates to Congress and with the Rehabilitation Committee which guides the administration of veteran affairs in Washington. By the time the convention meets, each delegate is ready (often pledged) to vote for the resolutions decided upon by the Executive Committee. In this way it is possible for the business of the convention to be finished quickly, leaving the way clear for the entertainment of distinguished guests, for memorial services, parades, band contests, banquets, and street festivities; for driving imitation French trains down the main thoroughfares of the unhappy city which is acting as host, for drinking, for galloping horses into the lobbies of hotels, for driving automobiles through their corridors, for dropping paper bags full of water on passers-by, and other exercises with which the ex-heroes (average age forty) celebrate their ex-heroism.
While the city is dazzled by these exploits, the committees, locked in private rooms, work hard. The committees on resolutions, finance, Americanization, national defense, foreign relations, legislation, child welfare, get little chance to ‘whoop it up.’ Their work ensures a smooth-running machine on the floor of the convention, and all arguments which have arisen there in the past have been so hooted, booed, and catcalled as delaying progress that nowadays none arise. When a resolution comes out of committee, it is passed by the steam roller according to plans made months before.
A member of the American Veterans Association (opposed to the Legion lobby) recently asked one of the delegates, who he knew was privately against the new programme, why he did not get up on the floor and say so.
‘In the middle of the convention?’ asked the delegate with a shocked expression.
‘But of course! Why not?’
The delegate shrugged. ’It would be useless,’ he said. I should be shouted down. It would only delay things.’
So Legionnaires who dissent from the stand taken by their superiors, unable to be heard, must resign from the Legion unless they are willing to go on paying dues for the purpose of putting through resolutions contrary to their beliefs.
No, there were no wings in the convention which met in Chicago in October. There was no split evident on the floor. Commander Johnson was applauded to the echo. His programme disappeared, as it was seemingly intended to do, and the other programme, which (somewhat amplified) had passed the state conventions, went through without a dissenting vote.
When the American Legion came to Chicago in October, the city was ready for it. Flags, banners, electric signs, hung from every building. Traffic rules were suspended, police were cautioned against molesting the ’boys,’ and timid citizens retired into the suburbs. Schools were closed for the parade, and business offices suspended work.
Two hundred and fifty thousand visitors descended on the city. Of these, some twelve hundred were delegates, allowed to vote in the convention. The others came for the fun. They came from the remotest parts of the country. For a year they had thought about it, planned for it, saved for it. On October 2 they arrived, and railroad men, accustomed for a long time to large influxes of visitors, were hard put to it to take care of the trains and unload their passengers. Their problem was especially complicated because in the midst of all this turmoil a special train was to arrive, heavily guarded, bearing the convention’s most important guest.
A last-minute decision on Sunday, October 1, had sent the President of the United States to Chicago. For weeks he had been urged and cajoled by Commander Johnson and other potentates in the Legion to open the Chicago session. Why this pressure was brought must remain forever obscure. Whether the Commander and his staff hoped that, confronted with the powerful body of the convention, Mr. Roosevelt would become conciliatory, admit the harshness of the Economy Act, and promise the restoration of benefits, or whether these officials wished to show the country that even the President could not dominate them, is a question about which one man’s guess is as good as another’s. Sponsors of the ‘right and left wing’ rumors suggested that Mr. Johnson wanted the steadying influence of the President to prevent a stampede for the bonus.
The President’s closest friends are said to have advised him against accepting the invitation. They seemed to believe that, despite the Commander’s many pledges of loyalty, Mr. Roosevelt would be entering enemy territory. For a time he refused, not, apparently, because of this advice, but because of the pressure of work. Then, on the day before the opening, he accepted. ‘The President s action, said the Chicago Tribune, ‘is regarded as an answer to a challenge. . . . The invitation to attend the convention sent to the President by Legion Commander Louis A. Johnson was supplemented by several other messages . . . some of which put the matter more in the light of a dare.’ Perhaps it was the character of these messages which determined the President’s final acceptance.
At any rate, he arrived in the midst of the excitement with an extra large detachment of secret-service men. While the contents of innumerable waste-paper baskets descended, as a mark of esteem, upon his head, he drove through the streets to the convention hall and met with an ovation from the delegates. He appeared on the platform wearing a Legion cap, was introduced simply, ‘Comrades, the President of the United States,’ and addressed the convention as ‘fellow members of the American Legion.’
A tense silence filled the room as he entered on his half-humorous introduction. Delegates sat in pleasant suspense watching his smile, anticipating a reconciliation which would make their pledges of loyalty sound more plausible. They waited in vain. The President was friendly. He explained patiently the problems of government in economic stringency. He praised the Legion’s attitude toward the administration of National Recovery. But he retracted no word of the principles laid down in the Economy Act. In bold and simple language he reaffirmed them. He was the only Legionnaire present who dared dissent from the prearrangements of the convention.
‘The first principle,’ he said, ‘following inevitably from the obligation of citizens to bear arms is that the government has a responsibility for and toward those who suffered injury or contracted disease while serving in its defense.
’The second principle is that no person, because he wore a uniform, must thereafter be placed in a special class of beneficiaries over and above all other citizens. The fact of wearing a uniform does not mean that he can demand and receive from his government a benefit which no other citizen receives. It does not mean that because a person served in the defense of his country, performed a basic obligation of citizenship, he should receive a pension from his government because of a disability incurred after his service had terminated, and not connected with that service.’
This was clear enough for the ordinary understanding. It was more specific than any of his hearers had expected. But the President was not content to leave it there. ‘There are many veterans of our wars,’ he went on, ‘to whom disability or sickness unconnected with war service has come. ... If the individual affected can afford to pay for his own treatment, he cannot call on any form of government for aid. If he has not the wherewithal to take care of himself, it is first of all the duty of his community to take care of him, and next the duty of his state. Only if under these circumstances his own community and his own state are unable, after reasonable effort, to care for him, then, and then only, should the Federal Government offer him hospitalization and care.’
This statement left no doubt that the President could not sanction either programme of the Legion. It seemed especially directed at the Johnson plan, which advocated that ‘all incapacitated veterans who are without means of support are charges and wards of the Federal Government and not of state and local government.’ Yet no sooner had the President finished speaking than Commander Johnson gave out the following statement: ‘President Roosevelt is not only in step with the Legion on rehabilitation, but in some respects is even ahead of us.’
The President withdrew from the convention amid applause. Renewed pledges of loyalty were offered. Three days later the delegates to the convention unanimously passed a liberalized version of the Rehabilitation Committee’s programme precisely as the Executive Committee had planned. Not a murmur sounded. As far as the convention was concerned, the President of the United States, hailed repeatedly as the Legion’s ‘ Commander-in-chief,’ might never have spoken.
The four-point programme as it finally passed had, as I say, grown in scope. Since a clear understanding of its provisions is essential to any understanding of the pension problem, I will analyze it briefly. It provides: —
1. That no war veteran disabled in line of duty suffer any reduction of those benefits granted such veterans in the World War Veterans Act as in effect prior to March 20, 1933.
This point is intended to restore certain pensions to actual war cases which were reduced through the President’s simplification of the rating schedule. By this simplification, cases of low disability have been reduced, high-rated cases increased. It would also restore the 15 per cent cut in retirement pay to emergency officers, a pension which should never have been allowed at all. It would restore, altogether, about $40,000,000 a year saved by the Economy Act.
2. That hospitalization under Federal Government auspices be afforded all veterans not dishonorably discharged who require hospital treatment and who are not able to reasonably pay for their own treatment.
This means veterans disabled from any cause. The only difference between this demand and the law of 1924 is that it requires evidence of ‘reasonable ’ need. It flatly opposes the President’s principle that men suffering from non-service-connected ailments should be locally cared for. It would restore from $10,000,000 up, depending on how liberally it was interpreted — money saved by the Economy Act.
3. That perpetuation of service connection for all veterans properly granted such service connection under laws in existence prior to March 20, 1933, be recommended as an item of Legion policy.
This means pensions to all presumptive cases and the nullification of decisions on these cases by the special reviewing boards established by the President. It would restore about $40,000,000 a year saved by the Economy Act and subsequent regulations.
4. That the benefits provided for dependents of veterans as established in the World War Veterans Act be resumed and maintained as the government’s policy, and that in no event shall widows and dependent children of deceased World War veterans be without government protection.
This would open the door to pensions for dependents of World War veterans dead from any cause at any time, a new cost of about $100,000,000 a year.
Prominent among the Legionnaires at Chicago was the Honorable Wright Patman, Representative in Congress from the state of Texas. For two years Mr. Patman has sponsored a curious scheme for economic recovery of his own devising. It is to prepay to the veterans of the World War the full value of their adjusted service (bonus) certificates, due in 1945. The recovery aspect of this plan derives from the supposition that to put into immediate circulation some two and a half billion dollars (in fiat money) would end the depression.
Mr. Patman had found it difficult to convince his fellow Congressmen. For many hours they had listened to him, eager to discover reason in his argument, and once, spurred on by a bonus ‘army’ surrounding the Capitol, they had yielded, only to be defeated by a wiser Senate. But many of the veterans had gone on listening. The bonus army had come to Washington largely at his invitation; they had departed on the ruder invitation of President Hoover; but Mr. Patman had remained their hero. It was only in the last six months that his plan seemed to be losing favor with the veterans themselves. In planning this year’s convention, the steam roller of the Legion decided to suppress the demand for prepayment of the bonus.
This was a blow to Legionnaire Patman. But after conferring with the Legislative Committee he decided for the moment to relinquish his scheme, and was even persuaded to write for the American Legion Monthly an article retracting some of his former urgency. After that he was not heard from again until, in Chicago, he met with the Legion’s Committee on Legislation. This committee must not be confused with the National Legislative Committee. The Committee on Legislation is an amateur body. It lays out a general programme for the professional legislative committee (the lobby) to follow. Mr. Patman remained closeted with this committee for a long time.
As a result of their deliberations it appeared that, while there would be no chance of passing a prepayment bill in Congress, — and, in any case, the steam roller had decided to apply the soft pedal to such proposals, — nevertheless the bonus regulations as they stood could be altered to the benefit of four million World War veterans without greatly inconveniencing the government. When the bonus measure first became law, in 1924, holders of certificates were allowed to borrow against them limited sums at current rates of interest. In 1931, the limit was set at 50 per cent of the full value (payable in 1945), and, later, the interest was reduced to 3 1/2 per cent. Mr. Patman’s conferees now proposed to wipe out all interest, at a cost to the government of almost $100,000,000 a year. If Congress should agree to this, the total cost would be about a billion dollars. This arrangement would not materially help the depression as Mr. Patman wished, but it was better than nothing, he thought, and could, he believed, be put through Congress.
The proposal then became a resolution, which was adopted unanimously by the convention.
In addition to the modified bonus demand and the four-point programme, the closing session of the convention passed a number of minor resolutions. For example, it asked for an increase in the army, navy, and militia. It suggested new restrictions against immigration. It went on record as usual against the recognition of Soviet Russia. It resolved against inflation. Having done these things, it adjourned.
In Chicago on the night of October 5 there was no sign of the suffering caused by the war which ended fourteen years ago. Looking at the Legionnaires, no one would have suspected that some three hundred and fifty thousand World War veterans were drawing pensions for various disabilities; that three and a half million veterans of the World War had been so impoverished by it that the government had had to make them a present of more than $500 apiece, with a promise of $500 more payable twelve years hence. All such ugly memories of the war seemed to have vanished.
The songs were not dirges. They were not greatly concerned with shot and shell or deeds of heroism, but seemed rather to centre around cafes, estaminets, vin blanc, and a lady from Armentières. The overseas reminiscences told and retold were largely merry ones. The Legionnaires were robust, healthy, and cheerful — not at all the sort of men one would suspect of wanting to be pampered and coddled. Yet for years the government has coddled them. Will they, eventually, resent it? Will they, sometime, ask to stand on their own feet and earn their own full livings, instead of letting the rest of the people contribute to their support? Will they, finally, take possession of the steam roller which they have never controlled and demand to put their hands on its lever and throw it into reverse before it flattens out the economic structure of the government which they have served ?
These questions naturally occur to the citizen who understands the true values of citizenship. But we must remember that the mass of veterans have acquired a false sense of civic values. Before the war they were never properly instructed at home or in school that it is a citizen’s obligation to bear arms. Since the war they have been told by the leaders of their veteran organizations (who ought to know better), not that military service was an obligation, but that it was a favor which the citizen conferred upon his government. This was an easier and a pleasanter doctrine, and, when rewards followed, it became still easier. The job of the President and of those who understand true citizenship is to undo fourteen years of this intensive false instruction.
In thus misleading veterans of the World War, Legion officials have had a plausible and powerful argument. While the soldiers were training or fighting and being paid thirty dollars a month (exclusive of living expenses), men who stayed at home grew prosperous on huge profits from the manufacture of war machinery. The government, under the pressure of immediate need, paid exorbitant sums to manufacturers of weapons, clothing, and food, to contractors and builders of barracks, depots, and docks. These manufacturers and builders in turn paid fantastic wages. Thus civilian workers were getting as much as twenty times the pay of a private in the army.
At the same time, certain industries — such as the railroads, which were taken over by the government — lost money and were later reimbursed by the government. So, when the bands stopped playing and patriotism faded and the soldiers returned to commercial pursuits, they were more and more impressed by these inequalities. If they did not see them, Legion leaders and Congressmen went to great effort and expense to point them out.
What the Legion does not explain is that only by virtue of such inequalities does patriotism exist; that sacrifice is a primary and inescapable part of patriotism. If a soldier were paid twenty dollars a day (like the civilian worker), could he take credit to himself for fighting for his country? The Legion, to be logical, should instruct its members either that bearing arms is a profitable undertaking like civilian business and labor, or else that it is a patriotic duty to be entered upon without thought of money compensation. These two things cannot be combined. Anyone who says in the same breath that a man is a hero and that he must be highly paid for his heroism makes himself ridiculous.
A third possible course for the Legion (and one which it has actually entered upon faint-heartedly) would be to concentrate all its effort upon writing into our fundamental law a provision for drafting industry and labor in time of national emergency. If the Legion would give up bonuses and pensions and turn its lobby toward such legislation, the chances are that the inequalities of the next war would be greatly reduced.
Abroad, where war is looked upon as a grim necessity, men who fought for four years under conditions which for us lasted only a few months do not dream of asking for large compensation. To do so would be as absurd, they believe, as to ask for remuneration because they did their part in saving or protecting their families from an earthquake. Frenchmen whose children were killed before their eyes, whose homes were burned, whose fields were destroyed, have received only one fortieth per casualty of what our government has paid to its exsoldiers. To them the fact that in the end they saved their nation was compensation enough.
But to go back a moment to the argument about civilian labor. I should like sometime to interrupt some singing group at a Legion convention and ask each veteran: ‘Would you rather have stayed at home and earned twenty dollars a day building barracks?’ The answer from overseas men would, I am sure, be ‘No,’ plus a certain amount of abusive language hurled at me for asking such a question. Some of the cripples would probably be the first to answer.
The question now is, What of the future? When Congress convenes in January, will it destroy the President’s economy programme as applied to veterans?
Certainly the attempt will be made. Congressmen have already approached the lobby with offers of benefits — so true is this, in fact, that the so-called ‘conservative element’ in the Legion has objected publicly. While the Legion was trying, in Chicago, to ‘resell itself to the American people,’ such a public objection was wise.
But, if the Legion programme is to be put through, someone in the House or the Senate must start the ball rolling. Undoubtedly the man who will do this has already been picked, privately, by the lobby; the bill is, as I write, being prepared for him. Unless present plans are changed, the bill will be introduced in the House. It will be a bill amending the Economy Act (Public No. 2) to provide for the new Legion programme. At the same time, very likely, another bill will be introduced repealing Public No. 2. The Legion will either publicly repudiate this bill or ignore it.
The temper of Congress will depend upon the power of the presidential veto, which, in turn, will depend upon the temper of the people. If the popularity of the President is high in January (and this will depend largely on national recovery), the Senate and the House will not dare override his veto. They may not even dare pass a bill which they know he will veto.
The demand for waiving interest on bonus loans will probably receive the approval of both houses. Legislators will believe that this is a convenient way to silence the demand for prepayment. If the President vetoes the bill, they will express pained surprise, and they may override his veto, since no mention of the bonus has been made in the economy programme.
If, on the other hand, the President is unpopular in January, Congress will be eager to win back the power it lost in March. In that event it will, as a matter of principle, demand the repeal of the Economy Act, and it will probably sanction extravagant new benefits for ex-soldiers.
There is a third factor which may enter into the discussion, if not in January, certainly later. With the repeal of prohibition and an upturn in business, prosperity may appear on the horizon. The Economy Act will then be talked of as an emergency measure for which the emergency has passed.
The Legion lobby is ready for any and all of these contingencies. The Chicago convention is regarded by all Legionnaires as a great success. The press called it ‘conservative.’ Commander Johnson’s smoke screen was effective, not only in confusing the general public, but in blinding the Legionnaires themselves to what was actually happening. Legion members believe that, since the Legion is solidly behind the President for the N.R.A., therefore the President will make concessions on the small point of his principles of citizenship. Certain rebellious posts are glad that the convention did not ask for prepayment of the bonus.
So, though the Legion membership is smaller this year, it is more unified, better organized, better disciplined since the convention. It is ready to respond quickly to an order for barrages, and at the first sign of dispute over the new bills Senators and Congressmen will be inundated with telegrams. Whether the Legion wins or loses its battle will depend on how many counter-telegrams the steadfast believers in the President’s economy measures can muster, for telegrams sent to Washington carry great weight. Last March, supporters of the President sent three telegrams to the Legion’s one. In June, the Legion made a considerably better showing than its opponents, and as a result the veterans were granted large concessions. On important issues a Legion barrage will sometimes number a hundred thousand telegrams. The careful organization of the Legion distributes these fairly evenly among the legislators. They are sent to those favorable to the Legion cause as well as those opposed to it, for frequently a favorable Senator or Representative will read his telegrams aloud in the session. In June, just before the passage of the Independent Offices Bill, Senators Hatfield and Cutting took up hours of the Senate’s time and pages of the Congressional Record with quotations from letters and telegrams from the boys back home. So the barrage on the Legion’s own men in both houses is expedient.
If the Legion programme goes through in Congress, a new version of the old Rankin Bill may be expected shortly to follow. The Rankin Bill, it will be recalled, offered pensions to every widow of a World War veteran regardless of the cause of the husband’s death. An interesting speculation on the future of such legislation is opened by the fact that seven widows of the War of 1812 are still drawing pensions. The youngest of these ladies is Mrs. Arminia Anderson, born in 1859. The date of her marriage to Robert Anderson is not stated in the records, but if she was married at sixteen, in 1875, her husband must have been at least seventy-nine, and the war had then been over for sixty-one years. There were some 300,000 veterans of the War of 1812. With 4,000,000 World War veterans, we may therefore expect twelve times as many of these belated love matches in 1979, and perhaps twelve times as many surviving widows drawing pensions in 2037. From the Civil War there are now living 27,000 veterans and 127,000 widows. So we may assume that there will be at least 200,000 World War widows surviving in 1986, and, if a Rankin Bill passes, they will all be drawing pensions.
Perhaps, however, it is not too much to hope that by 1986 there will be a conclusive reform in pension legislation.
The President, I believe, may be counted upon to uphold his principles of citizenship and to oppose the demoralization of the veterans by their government. But no President can be expected to do this alone. It must be the people in the end (led, I hope, by right-thinking veterans) who will change and reform pension legislation. It can be done. It took thirteen years to persuade Congress that the people were against prohibition, and the fight was against a lobby almost as strong as that of the veterans. This fight will be longer and harder, and it cannot be left to the President and a few courageous legislators.
Already progress has been made. It was the sentiment of the people which made possible the Economy Act. It was the sentiment of the people which prevented prepayment of the bonus. Telegrams to Congress need not be confined to organized minorities. They will be sent, in the future, by citizens to whom increased taxation has become intolerable. They will be sent by veterans who do not want their service dishonored at the expense of a new generation.
Unhappily, the public may come in time to denounce the name of veteran. Already, in some communities, men can get jobs more easily, I am told, if they conceal the fact that they once fought for their country.
‘For God and Country,’ says the preamble to the Legion constitution, ‘ we associate ourselves together for the following purposes: To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a onehundred-per-cent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our association in the great war; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state, and nation; to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the master of might; to promote peace and good will on earth; to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom, and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.’
But not by bankrupting the government. Not by opposing the President in a time of national emergency. Not by creating a special class of citizens who receive from the government benefits which no other citizens enjoy. Not by paying doles for patriotism which turn good honest soldiers into coddled mercenaries. Not by persuading good citizens that bearing arms for their country is doing the government a favor.
If the Legion persists in interpreting its preamble in this way, many a veteran will be justified in repeating the question put by Legionnaire Richard H. Gurley in a famous open letter to his commander: ’I, as a veteran and for twelve years a member of the American Legion . . . desire to ask you please to name and describe the “God and country” in whose “service” under these conditions you believe the American Legion to be.’