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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

W.Va.U., ROTC, UMT, USA, USSR, etc.

(19 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 20, 19 May 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Thank God for existence! Look at it as you will, it’s difficult to think of a reasonable substitute for it. For inevitably, whenever the “still, sad music of humanity” begins to depress a man, life, with its immense fecundity, soon restores the flagging spirit.

An instance of this recently occurred at West Virginia University. West Virginia University! – where the opening gambit in the conversation of two apparently virile male students can be: “Say, what did you think of the new preacher Sunday?”; where Negroes are excluded from the undergraduate school; where the rustics of the English department dismiss the naturalistic novel by saying: “After all, is it something you would want to read out loud to your mother?”; where totalitarians on the faculty flourish happily and the mildest of liberals jump at their shadow; where professors of philosophy harangue their classes on the. evil effects of nicotine upon the sperm cells; where the economics department should be stuffed, mounted and placed in a museum along with the Folsom man, the spinet, the yellow dog contract, and other mementoes of the past; where a school which owes its existence to the exertions of generations of coal, miners has a daily paper which, when it is not juvenile, is snobbishly anti-labor; where the AVC has difficulty in even finding a sponsor (“I’d really like, to, but ...”) ; where ... where ... where ...

That under such conditions even a few rare spirits manage to maintain the semblance of a critical faculty should be encouraging to all professional disturbers of the intellectual peace ... Montani semper liberi!

The Blot on the ’Scutcheon

A couple of weeks ago the campus ROTC unit held an inspection. It resulted, said the Daily Athenaeum, which humorously refers to itself as “The Student Newspaper of West Virginia University,” “in a display of some of the most discourteous, distasteful, and base mannerisms ever observed on this campus. The cat-calling, hooting and general attitude of the students observing the inspection was uncalled for ...”

This referred to the vocal footnotes added to the inspection by the veterans who were watching it. It began with a tense voice from the sidelines crying: “This is it, men! This is what you were trained for!” As the mounting triumph of successive rifle snatchings rolled forward the ovations and running commentary commensurately increased. The curtain was rung down by a stentorian voice from the wings sounding off with the classic paternalism of the field grade officer: “GOD DAMMIT, MAJOR! LET’S GET THOSE MEN OUT OF THE HOT SUN!” The local ROTC colonel was frantic. He ran around trying to shush the boys up, cursing, no doubt, the day the war ended.

It is heart-warming to know that, however intent the average veteran may be on squeezing out an education, however confused about the world of labor and international politics, and however unpoliticalized, when he is brought face to face with the military life his stomach turns.

Capital’s Little Problem

Though this anti-militarism is latent, confused and, where manifested, is often dispersive, its presence among the veterans and in the general population is obvious to Congress. Because of it, Congress has had to impose restraints upon the extent and character of the current war preparations against Russia. From some points of view, a war of United States capitalism against Russia Could most advantageously be prosecuted now, before Russia has acquired a stockpile of atomic weapons. Under conditions of atomic warfare, the United States, despite its tremendous industrial superiority, cannot afford to permit another Pearl Harbor for the propaganda advantage which might accrue.

This contradiction between what is necessary and what is possible is most clearly seen in the wrigglings of the war department in their efforts to create a mass army. The draft act having been allowed to lapse, attempts are being made to find reasonably acceptable substitutes.

The plan which is currently being worked over is UMT – universal military training. Under the plan as it is commonly proposed youths of eighteen would be given six months military training with some of the more obnoxious features eliminated. (We’re laughing, too.) In lieu of a further six months of training the recruits would be permitted to join the regular army, enlist in the national guard, attend school, etc. Such persons would not serve outside the United States.

Opposition to UMT – and Opposition to UMT

This plan has met opposition from elements of the military for whom Hanson W. Baldwin is the spokesman. His objections, of course, are motivated not out of humanitarian considerations but out of a belief in the plan’s military ineffectiveness. His main point is that UMT would give a false sense of security and thereby divert attention and money from the development of what constitutes our unique and chief advantage over Russia – our military-industrial potential.

The war department, of course, prefers half a loaf to none, and is anxious to establish the fact of compulsory military training as a national mind-set, believing thereby that future steps in the militarization of the country will be facilitated. It therefore is pushing the UMT program.

How far and how fast this militarization proceeds will depend in good part upon how quickly heckling by the veterans takes on a political – which is to say, a socialist – character.

While it is true that a good proportion of army officers and their owners are so stupid that they couldn’t track a herd of elephants in four feet of snow, it is also true that they mean business.

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