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Susan Green

Out of the Long Ago Comes a Record of
Roosevelt’s Position on Conscription

The Conscript Is Like a Man with a Pistol at His Head

(16 September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 23, 16 September 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Franklin D. Roosevelt has tried to make it appear that his militarism is something created by Hitler’s militarism. Most people have this impression. It is entirely false.

Not only has this self-styled defender of democracy always been the advocate of a huge army and navy, but years ago, when no one else was even thinking about it, he came out in favor of universal military training – that is, PEACE TIME CONSCRIPTION.

If one wants to be amused these days, there is a laugh in the fact that the Sir Galahad of Democracy, Roosevelt, was fired with enthusiasm by the army of the Kaiser in the last war. He thought the German junkers had the right idea: CONSCRIPTION IN PEACE TIME.

Started a Long, Long Time Ago

During the last war Franklin D. Roosevelt began to hammer away to get what he wanted. While the war to end all wars – you remember – was raging in Europe, he wrote the following:

“Is it not time that the people of the United States should adopt definitely the principle of national government service by every man and woman at some time in their lives? ... This means service in times of peace as well as in times of war and means service in the civilian branches as well as in the military branches. The day will soon be at hand when the army and the navy of this great republic will be looked upon by its citizens as a normal part of their government and their own activities.”

The principles of democracy did not bother Mr. Roosevelt then any more than they bother him today. The fact that “this great republic” was built by millions of Europeans who came to these shores to escape the slavery of compulsory military training in their native lands, has not registered in his junker mind.

He Wasn’t Fooled for a Moment

Nor was Mr. Roosevelt’s advocacy of universal military training due to war hysteria on his part. After the war he kept right at it. At a Victory Dinner in 1919 he said:

“While a let-down was bound to follow every great national action, I hope that there will still be some kind of training or universal military service. That is the surest guarantee of safety: I think this ought to follow no matter what the result of the peace negotiations.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt was not fooled, as were the American masses, by the promise that the last war was fought to end all wars. On October 11, 1919, at the New York State Convention of the American Legion, he again proposed universal military training in the army and navy.

In 1940 it is very clever of the simon-pure democrat in the White House to scare the wits out of the American people by picturing Hitler’s dive bombers blasting the streets of New York. By frightening the people he hopes to put over conscription without any resistance, But the record is clear. For more than twenty-five years, Mr. Roosevelt has been awaiting his chance.

He has no regrets about what military conscription does to the human being. As a matter of fact he thinks it is just too grand for words. Back in 1912, soon after he became assistant secretary of the navy, he said:

“We want the country to feel, too, that in maintaining a fighting force of the highest efficiency we are at the same time educating thousands of young men to be better citizens.”

But the Object Is Clear Enough

The kind of citizens that military conscription manufactures was much more truthfully described by General John F. O’Ryan when he advocated conscription before the last war. He said:

The first thing that must be done is to destroy all initiative, and that with the training will fit men to be soldiers ... We have to our men trained so that the influence of fear is overpowered by the peril of an uncompromising military system often backed up by a pistol in the hands of an officer.”

To the idealist In the White House “better citizens” are those without any initiative whose fear of war is overcome by their fear of the pistol in the hands of an officer.

If there are still folks foolish enough to think that this slavery under a military regime is worthwhile to ward off “invasion,” let me again quote Mr. Roosevelt against Mr. Roosevelt.

“Invasion is not what this country has to fear ... Our national defense must extend all over the Western Hemisphere, must go out a thousand miles to sea, must embrace the Philippines wherever our commerce may be ... We must create a navy not only to protect our shores and our possessions but our merchant ships in times of war, no matter where they may go.”

The present occupant of the White House, seeking the support of the masses as candidate of the Democratic Party for another term, has dirty work to do. He must make a nation of conscripts, without initiative and driven by a pistol in their backs, to defend capitalist profits all over the face of the earth,

The other presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie, in a loud voice says “ditto” to the above plans of Mr. Roosevelt.

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Last updated: 16 February 2020