AMERICANS are facing the probable break of a tradition as old as the nation. Universal military training was commonly viewed here as the mark of the garrison state even before ancestors of many of us began emigrating from their European homelands to escape that system. But experts whose full-time job is to feel the public pulse agree that there has been a sweeping change of sentiment . A majority of Americans, they say, now favor some form of UMT although its opponents continue to be vocal.
Most of our people are unaware that the existing law provides for eight years’ military service. The act which Congress passed in 1951 stipulated that a draftee, after two years’ service, was to undergo training for another six years; a volunteer, after four years in uniform, was to pass another four years in the reserve. However, this law created a special commission to recommend methods for operating UMT. When the commission reported, many lawmakers at the Capitol glanced over their shoulders and fancied they saw the faces of angry and anxious mothers. So Congress shoved the commission’s report into a drawer and there it has reposed, leaving this 1951 legislation dead.
Now President Eisenhower has publicly declared we must build a strong, ready military reserve, He has promised that this will be one of the first items submitted to the Congress next year.
It doesn’t need a military historian to remind us of the evolution of the manpower problem. From the Civil War through the conflict with Spain and the First World War, training was focused on individual physical endurance and on concerted mass action. Today sheer muscle is a minor asset. Skill has become all-important. All the way from the engineer on an atomic-powered submarine to the plain company cook, modern war is pitched on technological refinements. So the plan which the President will ask Congress to enact into law will be designed to provide continuous schooling in many skills that can be mobilized swiftly.
The Eisenhower Administration, like the Truman Administration before it, has decided the feastor-famine approach to the manpower problem must end. The government was yielding to an irresistible demand for demobilization in cutting U.S. armed forces from a 1945 peak of 12,300,000 to an eveof-Korea low of 1,458,000. During the Korean War the total swung back to 3,685,054. Now it’s about 3,300,000 and is due to recede to some 3,037,000 by mid-1955, the bulk of this further cut to be taken by the Army.
Two years are not enough
The facts may be unpalatable, says the Pentagon, but they are clear. The present two years’ selective service has proved inadequate for basic training and education in atomic, radar, and other techniques that now form the backbone of the forces. If volunteers were coming forward in abundance, the problem would be manageable. They aren’t. In the Air Force, for instance, the re-enlistment rate in the past four years fell from 66 to about 30 per cent, and at bases with the poorest fixing conditions it slumped to 6 percent.
The recent Congress partly corrected one cause of the high percentage of men leaving the services — namely, that the government had been making it more alluring to quit the forces than to stay. For example, until lately a man re-enlisting in an Air Force radar unit got $650 maximum bonus. If the same man chose to go to college, get married, and buy a home, he could be entitled to a total exceeding $5000 in government benefits for not re-enlisting. New legislation has somewhat diminished such inequities. But the Department of Defense insists that it is impossible properly to man the armed forces from the product of two years’ selective service and from badly lagging enlistments.
The manpower dilemma is the more serious because in another war we would almost certainly be denied the couple of years and more we had in 1917, and again in 1941, for intensive build-up mobilization. Where are the allies who could hold off the enemy for anything like such a period in the age of atomic and hydrogen warfare? Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson summed it up bluntly some weeks ago when he warned the nation: “If we got into a war right now, our reserve set-up would be a scandal.”
A trained and ready reserve
What does the Eisenhower Administration intend to do about the manpower situation? Last summer the Department of Defense and the Office of Defense Mobilization presented to the National Security Council alternative plans for creating a large reserve of trained, ready troops. Details have not been revealed for the sound reason that some await completion, but the new program’s essentials can be described.
Expiration of the present Selective Service Act next June 30 sets an approximate deadline. Secretary Wilson proposes to place the new reserve forces project before Congress in January or February. He said he is aiming at adoption of this legislation by April 1.
Administration leaders are shunning the label of universal military training. Old controversies and phobias cling to that name. Senior men at the Pentagon in talking with their friends admit, though, that if their plan isn’t UMT, it’s something very similar. Secretary Wilson told a news conference that the proposed law should encompass service by almost all young men in the country.
Robert Stevens, Secretary of the Army, put it like this: “For the first time in our history we are faced by the necessity of maintaining in peacetime comparatively large armed forces ready for immediate action.”He said candidly that this will multiply the problems of all Americans, especially those in their formative years.
The plan foresees continuance of the draft and contemplates a minimum eight-year service gation, part active, part reserve. What is new, above all, is that under the pending scheme men would be drafted for the reserve forces. In contrast to the 1951 project, enforcement this time would not only be included on paper but would be applied.
One idea favored by the Pentagon would make reinduetion into active service the penalty for failure to report for reserve training. With variations the norm would be for reservists to participate in a certain number of weekly drill periods or technical schooling and spend two weeks in a summer camp. Those in rural districts, where weekly drills are less feasible, would have to spend four weeks in camp. The entire program would create total armed forces of roughly 6,100,000, about equally divided between active and reserve men immediately mobilizable.
More mobile divisions
There is another change being seriously considered at the Pentagon: a cut in the standard size of the division. What is envisaged is reduction of the army division from its present 18,000 to somewhere between 14,000 and 15,000. The decision on this rests with General Matthew B. Ridgway, Army Chief of Staff, who has been putting two experimental divisions through tests. At stake here are new structural and tactical methods for fighting a nuclear war. Advantages claimed for the smaller division are greater mobility, lessened attraction as an atomic target, and the opportunity to train more officers in positions of command.
All these developments are the sequel to conclusions which the Joint Chiefs of Staff reached almost a year ago. That was when American military policy ceased working towards a peak year of war danger— 1954 — and set its course for the long pull of ten, twenty, or more years of armed world truce.
Bad guessing in foreign policy
We seem overdue for a correspondingly purposeful reassessment of foreign policy, judging by our glaring miscalculations in that field. On September 30, 1953, Washington announced that besides $400 million which the U.S. was already devoting to the war in Indochina in that single fiscal year, it was allotting a further $385 million to finance the Navarre plan. This was the two-year program mainly to enlarge and equip Vietnamese forces. On the day this new American contribution was made known, a group of newsmen in the nation’s capital were authoritatively informed that the Navarre plan would break the enemy’s backbone in Indochina.
Four months later, despite growing skepticism in many quarters, Defense Secretary Wilson declared at a press conference that our friends’ victory in Indochina was both possible and probable. Around the world, doubts were becoming broader and deeper, but in March, 1954, the chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arthur Radford, proclaimed his belief in the coming defeat of the Communist-led forces in Indochina.
Last spring as Allied disaster edged closer at Dienbienphu, Secretary of State Dulles indicated that this fateful battle was a stroke of good fortune for the French and their comradesin-arms. “Dienbienphu is an outpost where only a very small percentage of the French Union forces are engaged,”Mr. Dulles said, “ but where a very considerable percentage of the forces of the Vietminh is engaged.”
Six weeks before the catastrophic battle was to inflict defeat on the American-supported armies, Mr. Dulles publicly predicted that within a year the war in Indochina would turn decisively in favor of the antiCommunists. He added a postscript on May 11, four days after Dienbienphu’s fall. On that day, with masterful understatement, the Secretary of State told a news conference that recent events had “somewhat shaken the will to carry out the Navarre plan.”
The record in Europe parallels this misjudgment in Asia. Livingston Merchant, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and a man on whom the Administrat ion leaned heavily in shaping transatlantic policy, is on record with the following public pronouncements in spring and summer of this year: —
On April 8 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he forecast outright that France would ratify the European Army treaty. On June 14 he testified in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, confidently describing the chances of French parliamentary approval for EDC as “never better than they are today.” Finally, on July 8, Mr. Merchant conveyed to the House Appropriations Committee the fresh encouragement he drew from Premier Mendés-France’s pledge to see that the French National Assembly would act definitively on the treaty. Brought to a vote in parliament, the treaty would pass, the Assistant Secretary told this Congressional committee. A man of integrity and charm, Mr. Merchant, was expressing the Administration’s sincerely held belief.
The only State Department official known to have questioned both the chances and wisdom of EDC was the Deputy Under Secretary, the Department’s highest-ranking career diplomat, Robert Murphy. This may explain why, after EDC lay in ruins following its defeat in the French parliament, the Administration chose Mr. Murphy to fly to London and to the EDC capitals to help determine the next moves.
An impartial foreign policy balance sheet for 1954 will of course also register gains. Among them are these: creation, under United States auspices, of the Turkish-Pakislani alliance as the hub of a new alignment on the Soviet Union’s southern flank; American finesse in achieving settlement of the oil conflict between Britain and Iran; American assistance in facilitating the Anglo-Egyptian agreement on the Suez Canal Zone.
Apathy toward SEATO
The relative apathy with which the public has received the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization— SEATO — has caused some murmurs of disappointment in the State Department. The theme of much comment was: “SEATO is a positive accomplishment, but —” Its champions saw in it a telling warning to the Communists to keep off the grass beyond their present limits. It would impose fresh restraint on any gambling instinct in Moscow and Peiping, said the treaty’s advocates. A further argument advanced in its favor was that the pact reaffirms the existing obligation of each party to resist aggression and that it does this beyond the reach of the Soviet veto.
Shrewder diplomats abstained from indulging in extravagant, claims for SEATO. Admittedly, it is full of escape clauses. It fell short of the Philippine-Thailand desire for agreement on automatic action against an attacker and committed the signatories only to consult.
Soviet propaganda overplayed its hand by suggesting that SEATO is simply a device for harnessing Asian raw-material supplies to the Uniled States arms industry. More discomforting was Nehru’s charge that the West was Irving to settle Asia s destiny over the heads of the Asians. Some sustenance seemed to be given this thesis by emergence of the final treaty text from an American draft incorporating British amendments.
At one stage of last summer’s secret conversations, the British government and certain American experts thought it would be preferable to omit Pakistan from SEATO unless one or more other nations which are members of Britain’s Colombo Pact (India, Burma, Indonesia, Ceylon) could also be brought in. Inclusion of Pakistan alone, it was feared, would further alienate India from the West and put a new strain on Indian-Pakistani relations. The United States and Britain then decided to risk those disadvantages rather than have the Philippines and Thailand as the only Asians in this otherwise White Man’s Club. Indeed, when delegates of the eight participating countries signed the treaty in Manila, the absence of India, Burma, Indonesia, and Ceylon underscored our weakness in Asia.
If with the passing of time the treaty should succeed in attracting those Southeast and South Asian states which declined to come to Manila, the critics will be stultified. On the other hand, they will be fortified in their criticism if the new alliance and Pakistan’s inclusion in it should cause India to veer from neutralism towards hostility to the United States. The non-Communist world could ill afford to see almost, half a billion, more people of India, Indonesia, and Burma inch closer to Red China.
Mood of the Capital
Whatever flaws may have appeared in our foreign relations in recent months can certainly not be ascribed to military weakness. American armed forces are at a record peacetime high of strength and efficiency. The probable creation of a great military reserve will further buttress this impressive power.