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Labor Action, 10 January 1944


Kenneth Walsh

‘Look Here, Mr. Striker —’

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 2, 10 January 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On this page we print two articles. The first was written by Kenneth Walsh, a sailor aboard a warship somewhere in the South Pacific. The article was first published a couple of weeks ago in his home town newspaper, the Muncie, Ind., Press. Since then it has been reprinted widely and prominently throughout the country by the capitalist press, especially by the anti-labor Scripps-Howard chain, having been distributed nationally by the NBA Service. We reprint it exactly as it appeared in the daily press, using the same heading and same sub-headings as were used in the original. As the reader will see, it is an article which can be, and has been, exploited to the maximum against labor and the labor movement.

Along with it we print an article by Max Shachtman, addressed to Seaman Walsh, not so much for the sake of this sailor, but for the sake of the ideas he sets forth. They are ideas that are repeated in different forms every day by the enemies of the labor movement, and they merit the reply they receive.The Editor

* * *

I want to show you a bit of hallowed ground – it is the Arlington Cemetery of the South Pacific; it is the Valhalla of American servicemen. I’m going to show you this bit of ground, but it will be done the hard way. Come with me up Sealark Channel at dawn of a day in August: Yes, Mr. Striker, I want you to stand at the rail with these men, nerves drawn as taut as a violin string – mouths dry, eyes strained to the breaking point, breath coming in shorts gasps of fear – that awful feeling of nothingness in the pits of their stomachs. The objective comes into view, the time has come for these men to step out on the stage, and they know full well that death plays the leading role in this theater.

Death Is Their Destiny

There they go over the side of the big transport – Tom Jones, Dick Brown and Harry Smith. Hand-over-hand they crawl down the cargo nets into their small craft that is to take them to a rendezvous with that death. You know it’s death – it is in the destiny of these men.

The first objective is reached – the coconut grove at the water’s edge. Men are down never to rise again, other men move up to take the places of the fallen. The main objective is an air field beyond that fringe of coconut trees, and as though God himself has pulled the

curtain on this brutal stage, their movements become vague and finally obliterated and these movements become lost to you. The uncertainty, the utter feeling of helplessness leaves the element of time suspended in the hellish hot sun of the tropics. Close your eyes, Mr. Railroad Worker, close them tight; it is another day, in another month; your hands are gripping another rail, the inevitable coconut tree rail that separates the living from the dead in these areas of war. You can open your eyes now, Mr. Coal Miner, open them wide. Yes, the seeds that have been planted have grown into bloom; the bloom is the row upon row of white crosses that meet the eye. These men have paid the price in full for just seven small acres of ground, but seven of the most important acres of ground ever owned by Uncle Sam.

Restful, isn’t it, peaceful and quiet – yes, quiet with eternal peace. Read the epitaphs, Mr. Labor Leader, they tell a story in themselves – America, the Land of the Free. There’s a Star of David beside a pair of rosary beads owned by some Irishman. A captain of marines and a colored boy from Georgia sleep side by side – a lieutenant from Indiana, a sailor from North Dakota, an aviator from Ohio, from here, from there, from every star in the flag, a cross in the ground, Tom Jones, Dick Brown, Harry Smith. It’s their home now, some 7,000 miles from home. These men were making $50 a month, Mr. Striker, $50 a month, room and board.

No Strikes Here

When you were a kid, Mr. Striker, you studied about the American heritage of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Well, read it again and then again; study it; delve back into the pages of American history and show me anything in the American creed of living that will justify your wartime strikes.

Come out here with us in these South Pacific waters and stay a while. Eat our chow, sleep in our sacks, watch us work, help us fight these jungle flies, help us kill malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Walk with us through the mud and the slime of the swamps of these jungle islands; walk with us in the sweltering, steamy heat of a noon-day sun.

There isn’t any air conditioning out here, Mr. CIO, and there isn’t any way you can strike for it, either. You haven’t even the time to think about it.

Come with me to the bridge over the jungle river. I want you to see someone who would make you ashamed of that extra fifty cents an hour you get in your pay envelope. Here’s just a seventeen-year-old kid that the brass hats put on duty at this infrequent bridge for the simple reason that he isn’t sure of himself any more. Did I hear you ask what’s wrong with him? He was on a destroyer that took three “fish” amidships and blew up, Mr. Twenty-Dollar-a-Day-Man. His brother was on that ship, too. There were but a few survivors from a crew of 300, and his brother was not among them. He’s plainly shell-shocked. Talk to him a while, watch him; he’ll break your heart, man, if you have one. Did you ask me how much money he makes? It’s $50 a month, Mr. Welder – $50 a month, room and board.

Why He’s Left-Handed

And here’s a guy I want you to meet – a left-handed Marine. What’s so remarkable about that? I should make myself clear. He’s learning to be a left-handed Marine. A Jap slashed off his right hand at the wrist as he was climbing out of a foxhole on Guadalcanal. He is making $50 a month, room and board. Ask him how near-sighted the Jap is reputed to be. He’ll tell you that in a morning check-up no less than twenty-five of his buddies were found dead at their posts, shot through the head, Mr. Slacker. Found 7,000 miles from home in a God-forsaken hole on a God-forsaken bit of land. Not very nice to hear about, is it? But it’s the brutal truth. Think about it the next time you sit over a big steak dinner in your comfortable home.

See that boy sitting over there on that hatch cover, Mr. AFL? He’s only twenty-two – just a boy, maybe the one that lived down the street from you. He looks down in the mouth, doesn’t he? Why shouldn’t he? Some time this week his wife is going to have a baby, but he’s not going to be there when it happens. He has to stay out here for the duration ... “Wonder if it’s a boy or a girl; hope it’s a boy. I wonder if my wife is well. Please, God, she doesn’t die – she can’t die – I’ve got to get home.” Fifty dollars a month, Mr. Steel Worker, fifty dollars a month, room and board.

A ship today is bringing in a cargo of human suffering. Come down to the quay with me and witness the transition of young America.

Welcome to Wounded

The men on the wharf become tense, the music has a sound to it that is of the infinity as all eyes are strained toward the slowly descending gangway. The first man of these thousands of battered troops tortuously feels his way to the ground, the band strikes up The Star-Spangled Banner as soldier after soldier follows in his wake.

But what is this? What is wrong? These men have to be led! They aren’t sure of themselves as they stumble and fumble their way to solid ground. John L. Lewis; look into the eyes that are open, but see not. Watch lips that move, but say nothing. Look at the stumps dangling from their bodies that once were arms and legs. Look into the souls of these shell-shocked, fear-ridden, malaria-sick men that are not men, but sacks of skin and bones. Nerves gone, minds temporarily deranged, bodies numb from being stretched on the searing rack of war.

Fifty Dollars a Month

But stay a while, Mr. Striker, don’t leave me now! Do you hear the bugle in the far distance blowing taps? It has an unearthly sound and it is for the unearthly that it is being played. The big boom on the hospital ship swings downward and picks up the last of her cargo – the wicker baskets of the dead.

Look around you, man. Those are tears you see in the eyes of these hard-bitten veterans as they watch the baskets being lowered to the dock and draped with the flag for. which the dead have given their, lives.

Yes, Mr. War Plant Striker, these men were getting fifty dollars a month – fifty dollars a month, room and board.

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