Joseph Hansen

Complaints That Draftees Make

General Staff Itself Is Forced to Print Some of Their Letters

(29 November 1941)

Source: From The Militant, Vol. V No. 48, 29 November 1941, p. 7.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2019 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2019. This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

As part of its drive to stifle all opposition to Wall Street’s war plans, the Roosevelt administration is now attempting to brand the well-known facts about low morale in the armed forces as nothing but “Axis propaganda”.

The New York Times for November 12, in its story concerning Armistice Day celebrations at Washington, reports that General George C. Marshall, Chief of the United States Army Staff, in a broadcast on Civilian Week declared that “an Axis propaganda attack has been started to disrupt Army morale, and by clever methods the families of soldiers have been upset, and members of Congress misled.”

But what are the real facts? So great is the dissatisfaction expressed by men drafted into the armed forces of the United States over the quality of training and the type of officers in charge of this training that General Headquarters itself has been forced to give their complaints official cognizance!

This fact is made clear by the appearance of an article entitled, Complaints by Soldiers, printed in the Army and Navy Journal for November 1, 1941, giving a summary of complaints written by men in the service. This summary was made by General Headquarters of the United State’s Army and sent to commanding generals in the field.

Summary of Complaints

The Journal, a reactionary military magazine which lays claim to having been “spokesman of the services since 1863,” makes no editorial comment. However, its excerpts from the summary provides us with proof passed by General Headquarters of the United States Army itself that military training as conducted by the bourgeois Officer caste is incapable of preparing the workers for a real struggle against fascism.

From the official summary, the Journal quotes that the complaints, “typical of many received” deal “in general” with:

“a. Wastage of training time.

“b. Poorly trained exercises.

“c. Inadequately explained maneuvers.

“d. Lack of confidence in officers.

“e. Illiterate and unintelligent non-commissioned officers.

“f. The need of educational instruction in units to build up and maintain patriotic zeal and enthusiasm of soldiers in the Army.

“g. Lack of opportunity to progress.

“h. Assignment to duty not in keeping with technical, professional, or special training.”

“Treated as Machines”

The paragraphs from the following letter are “memorandum of observations and suggestions based on ten weeks’ experience as a Selectee”:

“Regimental maneuvers are not explained before, while, or soon after they take place. Explanations would vastly increase the interest of the men in the rather arduous work of the maneuver.

“Men should be familiarized to some extent with the organization of the Army. No instruction in this has been given in 11 weeks, though it would clearly help men to visualize their place in the scheme of things. They are treated as machines rather than as intelligent Americans.

“Men are ignorant of America’s immediate interest in relation to the current war and explanation of this would increase morale. Men are not too stupid to understand lectures and talks on the present war; explanations of its strategic significance to American defense; and discussion of the possibilities that may be in store for this country.”

The above letter indicates that all the propaganda of the Roosevelt administration about fighting for the “four freedoms” has proved utterly unconvincing. The soldiers want something “additional.” Their desire for “lectures and talks” is but the first manifestation of a deep thirst for the truth about this war.

“Inefficient, Hide-Bound ...”

The next letter, according to the Journal, is to a mother from a soldier “purportedly a non-commissioned officer, who had had no previous military training, who volunteered for service before he was drafted,and who got a ‘big kick’ out of the first weeks of training”:

“Everyone is at this point fed up with the Army – not so much for what we are doing, but for what we are not doing. The general impression grows instead of diminishing that a more inefficient, hidebound organization would be hard to find. This is particularly true since the brigade and division staffs have taken over the direct conduct of affairs. The manifestations are abundant enough – a conflict of orders, an inability to get things done on schedule, a preoccupation with trivial details, with a master plan lacking or incomplete.

“So far as training goes, anyone will tell you that hone of the men have learned little beyond what little basic training they received when they first got here, and even on that they are going stale. More damaging is the fact that men who want to learn are given absolutely no opportunity to do so. While the problem of whipping a mass of green recruits into an army is a terrific one, we have been in six months now and the change seems to be for the worse rather than the better. Things are done only halfway, or in the middle of carrying out an order a new one arrives contradicting the first ...

“We are not being trained and at the present rate of progress will go to seed. The big cry around here is, ‘If you are going co keep us in the Army, at least teach us that we are supposed to do.”

“God Keep Us ...”

From another letter which the Journal says is “typical of many,” we are given a graphic description of the inefficiency of the officer caste:

“After four and one-half months in camp, I have great misgivings as to the way we are going about our defense program.

“Discipline and morale aren’t at all reassuring. There is too much ‘Boy Scouting’ and sloppy planning going on. No industrial concern would tolerate the inefficiency of organizational operation which we are up against. Every man, from general to private should know in detail what he will be up against the next day and knowing should plan for every contingency. As often as not things ‘just happen’ and God keep us if this goes on. Even with an unlimited supply of the finest equipment, no army will amount to a nickel’s worth if the men don’t know definitely that they are doing their job under powerful and demanding leaders, who know what they want accomplished, have a plan in detail and demonstrate their right to faith on the part of the men.”

“Chaos ...”

This impression of the bourgeois officer caste is amplified by extracts from a letter sent to his Congressman by a draftee who is a “university graduate and practicing lawyer”:

“You have asked me to forward you some of my impressions gained of the Army since my induction. I do not look forward to the recounting with enthusiasm, for like many other selectees, whatever original interest I possessed has been dulled by my experiences and observations. I speak not of the physical hardships or discomforts – these I expected. What I did not expect was that stupidity and inefficiency would intensify these difficulties to the extent they have.

“My general impression is this: This Army is as unprepared as one could conceive. There is chaos and a muddling and confusion beyond any expectation in an undertaking of this size. You would expect problems and some errors and omissions, but you would not expect the unintelligent, inflexible and unthinkable approach which is made toward solution. Morale is low ...

“A great many non-commissioned officers are illiterate and unintelligent. When they are in command of men who surpass them in every respect, the result is to permanently injure the interest and ambition of the men under them ...

The thing is nor only that things go wrong, but that it is the rule and not the exception. They go wrong in companies and in divisions – from the higher brackets on down there is confusion which spreads and multiplies as it goes ...”

The effect of the type of training and officers described above is outlined in the final letter quoted by the Journal:

“I am summarizing some significant reactions of about eight selectees with whom I have conversed in the past month. They are all between 26 and 33, with college and, in most instances, graduate school educations.

None of them were exactly enthusiastic about being drafted but all of them went into service gladly and without resentment.... I set forth the principal observations as I recall them: Lack of morale. By this is meant an utter lack of enthusiasm for what they are doing and a lack of understanding as to why they have been drafted, particularly the latter. They have few complaints about their food, living conditions or recreation ... But there is no spirit, no elation, no feeling of service and no will to sacrifice – merely resignation and, sometimes, resentment ... Invariably the men I have talked to speak of the inordinate waste of time, not a waste of their own time in the sense of a year lost, but a waste of the time that could be used for accomplishment in the creation of a veteran army. After some months of training, or what has somehow passed as training, they feel the average selectee has learned little that would equip him to be a fighting soldier ...”

General Headquarters Comment

One may reasonably suppose that General Headquarters did not include the most uncomplimentary or most sensational letters of complaint. Indeed, one may well assume that the deepest resentments about bourgeois officers and bourgeois training methods has not been expressed at all in writing. From the context of the letters it appears clear that GHQ deliberately selected complaints from those draftees who have been loaded to the eyebrows with official patriotism and who have been misled into believing that Wall Street’s war is a genuine war against fascism.

Nevertheless, in conceding even as much as it did to the pressure of draftee opinion, and thus indicating to the officer caste that it would do well to make a better attempt to present itself to the draftees as intelligent, considerate, efficient, well-trained, competent and trustworthy, GHQ was forced to admit in its comment accompanying the summary as reported in the Journal:

“In many cases the letters are undoubtedly the result of an honest effort toward constructive criticism and come from highly educated and conscientious individuals who are striving to improve conditions which they feel need investigation and correction. In other instances the motives may be less constructive.”

The above summary, it must be emphasized, was sent in mimeographed form to generals in the field, according to the Journal. To our knowledge it has not appeared in, any of the great daily newspapers of the nation; nor has it been made available for wide circulation among the drafted men of the Army although they are the ones first concerned.

The summary drawn up by General Headquarters is a fresh proof that the real way to prepare for a fight against fascism is by seeking the establishment of a system of military training where (1) workers are given training at government expense but under the control of the trade unions, (2) officers schools for workers are opened up at government expense but under the control of the trade unions.


Last updated on: 24 March 2019