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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Democratizing the Armed Forces

(6 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 18, 6 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

A great deal of attention has recently been focused upon conditions within the armed forces. Even Hanson W. Baldwin, the New York Times military expert, confesses that “the scope and intensity of the present feeling are unprecedented.”

When Baldwin says, however, that “thousands of ex-enlisted men – and many ex-officers – hate (and the word is used advisedly) the systems which they served with a furious rancor” he is guilty of misrepresentation. It is not thousands of enlisted men who hate the military routine but millions.

That the capitalist class is aware of this feeling and is very concerned about it is evident. It is this awareness which causes articles such as Baldwin’s GI Gripes – Causes and Cures to be written, it is this which induces the War and Navy departments to set up investigating commissions, it is this which causes the chatter in Congress about raising soldiers’ pay, changing the cut of GI uniforms, and otherwise bettering the lot of the enlisted man.

Behind the Reforms

It is not compassion which is the compelling motive behind the interest of the capitalist class in the welfare of the enlisted man. It is an interest based upon the bed rock of economic and political realities.

The most far-seeing of the leadership of the capitalist class understand that, unlike after the last war, our huge standing army will not be demobilized. It is no longer sufficient that United States domination of the world be maintained solely by economic power – armed might is needed also. And since the area which the United States intends to police includes virtually the whole world with the exception of Russia, the army and navy must be large.

Unfortunately for the capitalists, whose golden torrent of profits tapered off at the war’s end, the overwhelming majority of the enlisted men in the army and navy are fed up with that dangerous, boring, and brutal slave’s life.

Hence the guilty haste to make the military life look like the Earthly Paradise.

United States capital recognizes that eventually there must be war with Russia for the right to control and exploit the entire globe. The war-weariness of the American people, and the similar war-weariness of the people of Europe and Asia plus a variety of other factors, dictate the necessity of delaying this catastrophe for a while. Russia, in her turn, recognizes the condition the U.S. finds herself in, and bulldozes from the world economic, political, and military bases in preparation for World War III, which is inevitable, unless socialism intervenes.

It is, therefore, from the longer term perspective of a Third World War that the talk of army reforms must be viewed.

That the brass hats will fail in their attempt to make the armed forces popular institutions is a foregone conclusion. Even when it is animated with socialist convictions, as was the Red Army under Lenin and Trotsky, the military life is hardly a pleasant one. But under conditions of modern warfare, in any army which is caste-ridden, filled with inequalities, and is fighting for obscure or invisible aims, life becomes almost unbearable.

The fight for a democratic army is synonymous with the fight for socialism, which alone can bring peace, and make military science a lost craft, and war a subject exclusively for history books and weapons exhibited in museums.

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