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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Look Who’s Talking!

(4 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 9, 4 March 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Brigadier General H.C. Holdridge, after a comfortable army career of twenty-seven years, during which, so far as we know, he manifested no great alarm over the army system, recently groped his way out of retirement to say some very nasty things about the institution which sheltered him so well from the storms of a very chancy civilian life.

Speaking against compulsory military training before the House Military Affairs Committee he said that the army’s “most prominent characteristic is its medieval caste system which sets up unsurmountable barriers between the officer aristocracy and the enlisted man.”

As former commandant of the adjutant general’s school at Fort Washington, and thereby uniquely qualified to speak upon the infamous court martial system of which he was a not unimportant part, he said of the Army’s judicial system that “it is not a system of justice at all, but a system of military discipline and punishment carried over from the days of Gustavus Adolphus by way of the British Army.”

“The Army leadership,” he continued, really getting into his stride, “is class-conscious, ultra-conservative, absolutist,” and the Army itself offers “an excellent breeding ground for totalitarianism.”

Unriddling the Riddle

This is mighty strong language, especially when it is recognized that it comes from one of the officer aristocracy” and not from one of us anonymous army serial numbers, who, as is well known, were always complaining.

Many GI’s, while agreeing with Holdridge’s statement, must have wondered what provoked it. Passing over the subordinate personal reasons involved, which we are not in a position to know, and which are, in any event, geared more appropriately to the intellectual level obtaining in officers’ bars, the secret of Holdridge’s hair-raising statement is contained in one of the criticisms he made.

Speaking of the Army, regime, he said: “It promotes class consciousness and class cleavages.”

What distinguishes Holdridge from some of the vicious brutes like Patton is not only the possession of a few brains but a modest awareness of the political and social reality. He recognizes that United States capitalism in the ensuing period is going to be saddled with political commitments all over the globe which will ultimately have to be backed up by armed force.

He also recognizes that an army raised by compulsory methods and subjected to such a regime as now exists in the armed forces will, prove a very unreliable one for the carrying-out of United States capitalism’s plans for world political (and hence, military) domination. “It promotes class consciousness and class cleavages.”

The recent GI demonstrations all over the world, the similar activities in the British Army and the mutiny in the Indian Navy serve as storm signals for persons such as Holdridge.

Hence his proposal for reform of the Army, so as to make it a more reliable instrument of United States imperialism.

What Others Are Thinking

There are unquestionably other officers who, starting from the same recognition of the necessity of a large, stable United States Army, are drawing authoritarian conclusions. They desire a less democratic army and a less democratic government.

Both, however, support capitalism, its armies, and its wars.

Only socialism, which will destroy the economic roots of war, roots which are imbedded in the soil of capitalism itself, can bring peace.

Seen from that point of view, Holdridge’s remarks, however well-intentioned, however “radical,” are only a more sophisticated method for preserving United States capitalism with all its iniquities, in a difficult time for world capitalism.

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