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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

(17 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 51, 17 December 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Chicken Every Day

I suppose that there is hardly an infantryman who has not said at one time or another during his army career when the going was rough or the chicken was especially deep, “I sure wish now that I had enlisted in the navy. It’s a lot better deal.”

Of course, even while saying that, we had a sneaking suspicion that the West Point riff-raff, ex-numbers’ racket salesmen, professional bootlickers, former college fraternity boys, pool room habitués, bond salesmen, policemen, and the reactionary and ignorant samples of the flower of southern chivalry who composed our officers, had their counterparts in the navy.

Life magazine recently printed some interviews with navy men that shows our suspicions to have been only too well founded.

“They dislike the Navy,” says the article, “for its traditional belief that an enlisted man can’t think for himself; for its tendency to make him a ‘prisoner of the ship’ while the officers are allowed to go ashore; and for its habit of paying less attention to its men’s all-around intelligence than any other branch of the service ...
“The veterans have seen a wealth of Navy supplies and man-hours of labor lavished on officers’ clubs in Hawaii, Bermuda, Noumea, Espiritu Santo, Manus, Ulithi, Guam, Leyte, Samar, and Saipan. They have carried officers’ gear and baggage. They have toted provisions, beer and liquor to officers’ clubs from freighters and supply ships.
“Some have been on smaller craft where the ship’s movies were always held in the officers’ wardroom, with standing room only for the men, instead of in the general mess where all officers and men could have been seated. They have been on ships where most of the welfare fund, or very disproportionate parts of the fund were spent on such items as golf clubs, tennis rackets and football tickets, which only benefited the officers.
“A radioman, now on the Seattle, part of the receiving station at Pier 92 in New York, recalls seeing gangs of Seabees and Filipinos work for weeks at Manila to prepare the flower beds and lawns of one of the Pacific’s largest villas for the occupancy of a vice admiral.”

What About the Army?

It is not surprising to find that some of the men feel that the contemptible treatment is peculiar to the navy and that things are better in the army. One navy man “suggested that the admirals study the human-relations set-up in the 1st Marine Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, the Rangers or any of General Patton’s armored divisions. ‘In those outfits the men always come first. They’re fed first. They get to wash first, if there’s a chance. They’re bivouacked first and they’re dug in first. And if it’s a matter of recreation, the officers start for their own only after they’ve fixed it up for the troops to get theirs’.”

The writer of this column cannot speak for most of the outfits mentioned, but I can speak of conditions within the First Division, of which I was a member for fifteen months. And I am sorry to report to our navy friend that life in “The Fighting First” was not only not as he imagines, but directly the opposite. In short, it was much like life in the navy.

As a matter of fact, the life of the enlisted man in all the armies and navies of the world is much the same, except that the life of the enlisted men in foreign armies is infinitely worse. Anyone who had the slightest contact with foreign soldiers knows the miserable conditions under which they exist.

The British and the French

The redeployment situation in the English army, for instance, is worse than ours, especially when it is considered that many English soldiers have been fighting for six years and are still forced to fight against colonial liberation movements all over the Far East. From one rubber plant in England, 4,000 men were inducted into the army. To date, only twelve have been returned through redeployment, and six of them have been re-inducted into the army.

The French enlisted man is no better off. The French economy is so decrepit that it can hardly sustain an army. A private’s pay is 180 francs a month—or less than what an American soldier can get on the French black market for two packages of cigarettes. Since the army cannot furnish the French soldier a complete uniform, he is forced to buy it on the black market (at 800 francs for a pair of o.d. pants and a shirt) or make a deal with an American soldier. Discipline is even more petty and intense than in the American army. In generals like de Lattre, who personally inspects his men’s teeth and underwear, and has palatial headquarters built for him by the enlisted men, France has a general who can give even a human zero like Patton a few lessons.

The discipline in the German and Japanese armies was notorious in its brutality.

It is useless to try to attempt to explain this condition by imagining that it is caused by simple ignorance on the part of certain officers, that it flows from bad precedents established by the Royal Navy, or that it is simply “the Army.”

As long as capitalism with its class society exists there will also exist a capitalist army with an aristocratic minority riding upon the backs of the majority, who possess almost no rights.

Since very few people in their right senses will join a capitalist army voluntarily under “normal” circumstances, and since capitalist propaganda has great difficulty in hiding the fact that the war is solely for the benefit of capitalist profits, the army has to be created and held together by force.

This force is wielded by the officer caste, that privileged minority which is bribed by capitalism through better pay, the best cuts of meat, a jeep and driver, a softer bed roll, access to nurses for social purposes, liquor rations, dog-robbers, terminal leave, salutes, separate entrances to buildings, private latrines, and better burials.

It’s as simple as that.

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