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Jack Wilson

Why Don’t They
Send All the Gl’s Home?

(21 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 3, 21 January 1946, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The GI pressure campaign for immediate return home gathered spectacular worldwide strength during the past week and challenged, in effect if not in intention, the imperialist policies of the Truman Administration.

The fact that protesting Gl’s added a blistering criticism of the whole army structure and policies to their demands for coming home signified how deeply rooted the present army crisis is. The election of permanent soldiers’ committees to direct the campaign and the appeal of some of these committees to the CIO unions to take up their struggle emphasized the gravity of the situation.

Against Caste System

In Paris, 500 GI demonstrators took the unprecedented step of publicly demanding the abolition of all special privileges for officers and a drastic reform of the tyrannical courts- martial system. These demands, embodied in an Enlisted Men’s Magna Carta, struck at the very core of the army caste system, which is based on extra privileges and power for the officer clique.

The boiling point on the caste system came after the War Department announced that officers and the first three grades of non-commissioned officers would be given the privilege of bringing their wives, children and fiancées abroad at government expense. The revival of this old peacetime army rule at this particular time added fuel to the fires of discontent raging among the ranks. For it offered exactly nothing to that strata of the army that does all the hard and dirty work, namely, the lowest four grades.

Everywhere the whole army system, as testified by hundreds of letters in Stars and Stripes, Yank and letters to editors in hometown newspapers, has been operating with deadly effect on the morale of Gl’s. The latter had ideas alien to brass- hat thinking, such as democratic rights, promotions based off merit, etc.

This latest turn in events in the GI protest against occupation duties makes it impossible for Washington politicians and the War Department to dismiss the soldiers as “just a bunch of homesick boys.”

U.S. Foreign Policy

The soldiers’ demonstrations have raised the whole question of American foreign policy. And they have also focused attention on some of the inherent evils in the instrument of that policy, the brass-hat-dominated army.

The disintegration of the GI’s morale was too great to be revived simply by platitudes about “fulfilling international obligations,” whether uttered by Truman, Congress, the War Department, the New York Times or PM.

The GI’s have a simple reply to this propaganda: “What about the obligations to us?”

Therefore the cry of 20,000 GI’s in Manila, “We want to go home,” echoed in every theater of operations. In Frankfurt, Germany, 5,000 angry GI’s ignored provocative incidents like the one where guards with fixed bayonets fenced them away from headquarters. In Guam, 18,000 demonstrated. In India, 5,000; in Korea, several thousand; in China, several thousand. GI’s came from nearby camps to picket the Pentagon Building in Washington.

In Yokohama, a colonel tried to subdue the demonstrations by charging they were “near mutiny” and led by “Communists and Bolsheviks,” but this was so raw that General MacArthur shortly afterward issued a statement testifying to the combat and service record of these soldiers. In Washington, General Eisenhower quickly warned field commanders against punitive measures for the thousands of GI’s.

The crude attempt of one field commander to stifle all criticism appearing in the Daily Pacifican boomeranged when the entire staff protested publicly against “brass-hat pressure.” In India, a sergeant was busted and confined to a psychiatric ward for mimeographing some material for his buddies, but his release was obtained.

Neither General Eisenhower’s policy of “handling with kid gloves” nor his order to all field commanders to ship home immediately all surplus men failed to pacify the resentful GI’s. Permanent committees were set up among the soldiers – and this is significant – some of them wired CIO unions for help. Already the shipyard workers in their annual convention passed a resolution condemning those responsible for the demobilization slowdown. R.J. Thomas, president of the UAW, sent a copy of a wire he received to all senators and congressmen, expressing his sympathy with the soldiers.

This was a startling development for the brass hats. Organized labor is on record against their plan for peacetime conscription. Now it begins to take up the grievances of the GI’s.

Furthermore – and this accounts for the intensified bitterness of the GI’s – the War Department has not yet repudiated its repudiation of the solemn promises of General Marshall, when he was chief of staff, that all men with two years’ service would be eligible for discharge by March 21! In this factor an understanding of the aggravation of the GI’s is to be found.

Arthur Krock in the New York Times pointed out how the Truman stand would run counter both to widespread public sentiment and a section of Congress. In reality, the resistance to the GI’s demands is universal in Congress and in all Washington ruling circles.

The GI’s have raised certain fundamental questions which must be answered, one way or another.

Peacetime Conscription

The Paris GI’s blasted the structure of the army. They made a special point against the courts-martial system. Only recently the House Military Affairs Committee issued a report criticizing courts-martial. What is to be done?

There is another vital angle in this crisis. From Vienna, 362 soldiers cabled a congressman, who read the message to his colleagues, that the army demobilization slowdown was a bid for public support of peacetime conscription. How can such a charge be evaded when so much evidence points that way?

Only last week, when 600 GI’s landed as replacements in Germany, the first question they asked was: “When do we go home?” No one in Washington can satisfy the soldiers’ demands precisely because they believe in keeping them abroad. F.H. LaGuardia, speaking over the radio, urged soldiers to “stand by their posts.” Nice advice to give in comfortable New York, in civilian clothes, and with a $100,000-a-year radio contract!

The appeals of the brass hats, the New York Times and PM to soldiers to “keep American prestige abroad high,” fail to make the slightest dent in the consciousness of the soldiers because that isn’t the question for them at all.

The GI’s want to know why they can’t come home now, when they want to and when the folks back home want them to. They distrust the policies they sec carried out overseas. The Idea grows among them that “Those people want us to sacrifice for THEIR policies. They are playing us for suckers.” It is this new consciousness that worries Washington.

Congressional meetings this week, as well as public hearings with brass hats for speakers, are called for one main reason: how to combat this growing consciousness of the GI’s.

Labor Action and the Workers Party join with organized labor in supporting the GI demands to get back.

Bring all the GI’s home now!

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