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John F. Petrone

Potential Fellow-Draftees!

(28 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 9, 28 February 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Bill Mauldin anticipated my complaint with one of the cartoons included at the end of his latest book, Back Home. It shows a feeble, evil-eyed old man, sitting in a well-padded easy chair at his club, brandishing his cane and quavering in his loudest tones: “I say it’s war, Throckmorton, and I say let’s fight.” It’s one of my favorite Mauldin cartoons, but it never draws a chuckle out of me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to substitute an old-age theory of war for the tried and tested Marxist analysis of the capitalist causes of war. And I am not proposing a panacea that would abolish war without abolishing its capitalist causes. All I am doing is calling attention to a certain relationship that gripes me to the point of fury.

My blood began to boil faster when I read in the Feb. 19 N.Y. Times of a hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on further Marshall Plan appropriations. Charles A. Eaton, Republican congressman from New Jersey, was quoted as saying: “Why don’t we send our soldiers into Greece and clean up the guerrillas?” He was also quoted as saying that “we might save ourselves some money” if American troops accompanied dollars to Greece, and that “sooner or later we’re going to have to do something there.”

It didn’t make me feel any better to learn from the same story that the administration spokesman to whom these remarks were directed evaded giving a straight answer, and that after the hearing Eaton told reporters “his question was not meant to be an outright recommendation that American troops take the field against the guerrillas. He contended, however, that it was a question that should undergo debate, and that he had posed it for that reason.”

Running to the nearest Who’s Who, I soon found my worst suspicions confirmed. Eaton, it disclosed, was born Mar. 29, 1868 – less than three years after the end of the Civil War. During the Spanish-American War, when he was 30, he didn’t get a taste of that well-known character-building Army life because he was employed as a Baptist minister. When the First World War came, he was 49 and still earning his keep by preaching. Some ministers went into the Army as chaplains, but Eaton did his bit in New York as head of the national service section of the U.S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation from Nov. 1917–1919. This experience must have broadened his horizons because he gave up preaching and became head of the “industrial relations department” of National Lamp Works, General Electric, and describes himself in Who’s Who as an “expert in industrial relations,” among other things. In 1925 he was rewarded with a seat in Congress, was present at the age of 73 to vote “aye” on U.S. entry into the Second World War, and today, on the eve of his 83rd birthday, hopes to be around to do the same on World War III.

I respect old age as much as the next man and I don’t want to pit one age group against another, but it seems to me incidents of this kind ought to infuriate other young men as much as it does me. Potential fellow-draftees! I say that sooner or later we’re going to have to do something here so that we won’t have to “save ourselves some money” by a trip to Greece. Unfortunately, I have not yet worked out a suitable plan. At first I thought of forming a League to Counteract Belligerent Dotards, except that Attorney General Clark would quickly stick it on his “subversive” list. Does anybody else have a plan?

And please don’t tell me that young capitalist politicians also preach war and follow policies designed to bring it about – I know it as well as you do. But with them I at least have the small satisfaction of hoping a few may not be able to escape the draft and a taste of their own medicine. While the worst that can happen to the Eatons, if they live long enough to see what they so fervently desire, is a quick end from an atomic bomb. And I say that’s too good for them.

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