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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

What the Veteran Is Thinking

(13 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 2, 13 January 1947, pp. 4 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The last five years have witnessed what has been called the Europeanization of the United States. One of the aspects of this process has been the increasing role which the armed forces are playing in the domestic and foreign life of the nation. The number of congressional investigations conducted, the space devoted to the subject in the press, and the studies being made of the soldier and the veteran amply demonstrate the interest which the capitalist class has in the problem.

It studies carefully the attitudes of the 17,000,000 veterans of World War II and the current army personnel, for it knows well that it is for the possession of the globe itself that the next war will be fought. Fortune magazine, one of the more popular house organs of big business, recently conducted a poll among male veterans. The questions asked were not of a superficial character but bore upon serious aspects of class relations in the United States.

The results deserve the same serious attention from all progressive trade unionists and socialists as is unquestionably given by the capitalists for whose information the data was compiled.br />  

Veterans Are Not Homogeneous

The poll reveals that in general veterans do not think homogeneously. Their attitudes are basically determined by the class of which they are a member. For instance: 70.9 per cent of the group labeled “prosperous” thought that a privately owned and operated plant rather than one owned and operated by the government “would be likely to give the best value to the taxpayer in making airplanes for the Army and Navy,” but only 22.2 per cent of the group labeled “poor” thought so.

Similarly, 39 per cent of the “prosperous” felt that one of the prime talks before Congress was the more strict regulation of unions, though only 20.6 per cent of the veterans as a whole thought so. Of the “poor” 33 per cent want more jobs made available, as against 16.1 per cent of the veterans as a whole.

The poll also clearly showed the arrested political development shared by the veteran with the working class and the middle class of the country generally. The recent swing to the Republicans was clearly revealed.

In certain matters such as housing, however, it is probable that the interest of the veteran is more acute than among the population in general. The poll likewise showed that where the veteran did not have direct experience with the issue involved, as in estimating labor’s contribution to the war effort, the anti-labor propaganda was not without effect. But where the veteran was or is directly involved, as in matters of housing, attitude toward officers, or the German people the propaganda proved relatively ineffective.

The most popular presidential candidates among the veterans were Dewey, Stassen, Truman, Wallace, and Taft, in the order named – a sequence which shows that the veteran here reflects the trend of the country as a whole.

What is of more than passing interest, however, is the decisive rejection of the army big brass as presidential material. The average veteran, it would seem, had more than enough of the authoritarian bark and arrogance in the services to want it in the White House. Only 16.1 per cent wanted to see MacArthur, of the Manila penthouse crowd, as a presidential candidate. (Destiny, alas, has paused, raised her hand above his shoulder ... and passed on.) Even Eisenhower, whose prestige has been carefully nurtured, could muster only 30.6 per cent support among the veterans. An interesting fact, worthy of speculating upon, is that on this question officers were even more opposed to a soldier for president than enlisted men were.br />  

The Domestic Issues

The following table was derived in answer to the question: “Which two things on the list would you pick as the most important to make an immediate start on?”:


Per Cent

Make better housing available


Prevent inflation


Arrange for international control of atomic bomb


Regulate labor unions more strictly


Pay a cash bonus to veterans


Make more jobs available


Reduce taxes


That the housing problem should head the list is hardly surprising in view of the calamitous failure to provide adequate housing for the people of this country, a condition which bears down upon the veteran with especial severity.

Nor is it surprising that inflation should be considered the second basic problem, in view of the fact that the cost of living is now higher in the United States than it has ever been before. The desire to curb inflation was particularly strong in the upper and lower middle class groups, where the percentage was 49 per cent and 46 per cent respectively. Only 25 per cent of the group labeled “poor” attached primary importance to the inflation problem, a fact that provoked speculation by Fortune magazine which pointed out that the poor had most to lose by inflation. This discrepancy is easily accounted for when it is understood that 33 per cent of the “poor” made a more basic approach to the problem in voicing their desire for more (and better) jobs. That only 16.1 per cent of the veterans regarded the creation of more jobs as a primary problem, while 43.7 per cent regarded the question of inflation as basic, show’s that while there is more or less satisfaction with jobs and wage scales, except among Negro veterans, there is a general opinion that something should be done about prices.

The importance given to housing and inflation should be of interest to readers of Labor Action in giving statistical confirmation to the emphasis laid upon these problems in our agitation.

That only around 20 per cent of the veterans give first importance to the issues of the atomic bomb (foreign affairs), the regulation of unions, and the bonus testifies not only to the urgency of the issues of housing and inflation but, at this moment, to a comparative lack of immediacy in the other questions. The same holds true of the job issue. The problem of unemployment, the key issue during the depression, is not at all an acute one now.

Of these veterans classified as “poor,” however, 33 per cent want more jobs made available, and 46 per cent want a cash bonus. This gives an indication as to when the job and bonus question will become live issues – during the next depression. It shows why, also, veterans’ organizations such as the AVC have remained primarily middle class in membership up to the present. A real influx of worker members will occur when the unemployment crisis becomes actual.

The effect of capitalist propaganda can be seen in the reaction to the question asking the veteran to rate the war effort of “business corporations” and labor unions. The contribution of the corporation was rated as excellent or good by 62.5 per cent of the veterans, but that of unions as only 35.4 per cent. It is probable that the poor showing in this respect can be ascribed to the heavy propaganda during the war, envy on the part of the men overseas of those at home, and lack of first hand experience with the issue in question, such as the veteran possesses on other issues. Even Fortune cautions its readers not to rub their hands gleefully over the apparent antagonism, pointing out that the previous month’s survey had shown veterans to be more sympathetic to organized labor than the public as a whole.

This is confirmed by the reaction to wartime salaries and wages. The salaries of business executives were thought to have been too high by 50.5 per cent of the veterans. Labor’s wartime wages, however, were thought too high by fewer veterans – 45 per cent. Some 29.5 per cent thought executives’ wages were about right, but 45 per cent – 15.5 per cent more than in the case of executives – thought labor’s wages were just. These totals very clearly reveal that the’ veteran thinks that both the salaries of executives and the wages of workers were too high – in relation to the the images that the veteran was getting for the work he was doing. But the bias in favor of labor is very evident.

The thinking of the veteran is further revealed by a question which posed the nationalization of war industry. Government ownership was supported by the sizable total of 36.9 per cent, with 50.5 per cent supporting private ownership. The response to this particular question very neatly revealed the class structure of the army: 72 per cent of the officers supported private ownership, but only 48 per cent of the enlisted men did so.

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