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George Breitman

Army Releases Two Reports Calculated to Whitewash
Criticism of Cost System

Doolittle Board Advocates Policy
of Limited Reforms

(8 June 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 23, 8 June 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Recommendations of the Army’s GI gripe board for narrowing the gap between officers and enlisted men were applauded by GIs here today but many said the plan would never be put into effect – the brass would kill it.” That reaction, recorded in a May 28 AP dispatch from Tokyo, was undoubtedly shared by millions of veterans and servicemen all over the world.

These men, who know from their own unpleasant experiences what an undemocratic institution the Army is, agree with many of the specific recommendations of the War Department’s Doolittle Board, especially those calling for greater equality between officers and enlisted men in pay, living accommodations, food rations, travel allowances, treatment in military trials, privilege to accumulate furlough time and terminal leave pay, etc. They naturally agree with them because all through the war, whenever they had any freedom of expression, they themselves called for these and similar reforms.

Cause of Suspicion

But the veterans of World War II also know how little they can rely on the War Department and the General staff to make any real reforms in the caste-system of the Army.

When they were in the Army, they had a long experience with “eyewash” – Army measures and policies which look good on paper, which draw favorable comment from the generally uninformed public, but which are not observed in practice. That is why they are suspicious and cynical.

And they have every right to be. When the contents of the Doolittle Board report were made public, the press related that “there were guarded indications that the War Department was not upset by the findings,” and even that the report on the whole was “well received” by the high brass. There were three chief reasons for this:

  1. The War Department and the general staff were treated with kid gloves in a report which was supposed to summarize the soldiers’ complaints against the Army. On the whole, the Board said, the Army “did a truly magnificent job,” and the blame lay with “undeniably poor leadership on the part of a small percentage of those in positions of responsibility.” Under present conditions, when so many veterans are free to tell the truth about the Army, what general could ask for anything more in the way of a whitewash job?

No Commitments

  1. The report, well-larded with high-sounding generalities about “full recognition of the dignity of man,” did not commit the War Department to anything. Secretary of War Patterson promised only that the report would be studied further and that “additional steps will be taken as may be indicated and possible.” Even the most insignificant recommendation that officers and enlisted men wear the same uniform – which was decided on by the War Department months ago, will not go into effect until the middle of 1948.
  2. At the same time and at no cost to itself the War Department has received a lot of favorable publicity implying that it is seriously interested in improving conditions of the enlisted men. This is the most important consideration – and the main reason for the establishment of the Doolittle Board – because it will help Army recruitment and at the same time soften some of the opposition to peacetime conscription.

Support Reforms

Veterans, veteran organizations and the labor movement should support most of the Doolittle Board’s recommendations, no matter why they were made. And the more hesitant the War Department shows itself, the more vigorously they should demand their immediate adoption. But at the same time they must be aware of the extremely limited, inadequate and therefore unsatisfactory nature of these recommendations.

For while these recommendations will help reduce some of the more glaring differences between the living conditions of officers and enlisted men, they will by no means eliminate the caste system itself. And the adoption of every one of these recommendations will not change the fundamentally undemocratic structure of the army in any respect.

When we say that the Army is undemocratic, it is not only because officers enjoy privileges denied to enlisted men. it is above all because the enlisted man, when he is given a uniform, is simultaneously deprived of the democratic rights which are recognized as his in civilian life. Deprived of the protection of these rights, he is as much at the mercy of the military hierarchy as a German worker was under Hitler (or is today under the occupation authorities). And this is true, no matter how much the officers get paid or what kind of uniform they wear.

Democratic Rights

Among the most elementary of the rights taken away from the soldiers are the right of free speech and free press, the right of petition and assembly, the right to serve on military juries, the right to elect committees to present grievances. Under present regulations, for example, a soldier cannot – without specific authorization from the War Department – even write his Congressman to urge his support of legislation incorporating the recommendations of the Doolittle Board!

Without these rights, you cannot even speak of a democratic army. And since the servicemen are muzzled, it is up to the veterans and the labor movement to take the initiative in an aggressive fight to revise the military code for the. purpose of really democratizing the armed forces.

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