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Jack Wilson

From Our West Coast Correspondent

What’s for the Army Officer
Ain’t for the Buck Private

(February 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 7, 17 February 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If life in the Army camps consisted only of learning the science of military training, there would be much to say for it. But it can not be divorced from the politics behind the present compulsory military training laws. Creating cannon-fodder for Wall Street’s wars is the aim of these laws.

Since it is primarily the youth of America who will be the backbone of the U.S. Army and Navy, profound changes are occurring in the country, above all, among the younger generation. He who has the youth has the future! A profound truth. Emphasized by the facts of today.

Liddel Hart is correct in stating that it takes only three months to train a soldier properly for modern combat. But conscription lasts one year, at least. War will prolong this service indefinitely. It is important to understand what the U.S. Army has in mind for the other nine months.

A good soldier is one who obeys automatically, acts automatically, and lights automatically. This concept is called discipline. The ideal of the U.S. Army is the Nazi military machine. The young Nazis who fought like devils, laughed at death, and stormed the strongest positions, they are the ideal soldiers – by military standards.

Inculcating their fanaticism is the primary aim of the one year training period in the U.S. Army now. You toughen up the recruits by exercise and drill. You teach them discipline in the process. But mechanical knowledge of the use of arms is not sufficient. It’s the spirit that counts. The Army might march on its stomach, but it fights with its heart and mind! Morale is the question of the day.

Fight? – For Whom?

Revolutionists and Wall Street agree on one thing: The youth should know how to fight. The whole question is; For Whom? For What! The revolutionary movement is unable to give this training directly to the youth in vast numbers. Its own forces are too small. The U.S. Army is going to do that job. But the Army wants to accomplish another task at the same time: convince the youth to stay on its side as the main prop of capitalism.

In its multifarious athletic activities, its citizenship classes, its movies, its drill, its dress parades, and it discipline, the Army tries to mold the youth into an “ideal” soldier. Into a soldier ready to die willingly for the preservation of Wall Street’s system of plunder. Since all the propaganda agencies, the whole force of the government and the “weight” of public opinion presses on the youth, superficial observers conclude that the Army will succeed. We think otherwise. Facts are stubborn things. They determine our ideas. That is why we think otherwise.

The scandal of Winthrop Rockefeller’s enlistment, his sudden removal from the hard life of Ft. Dix to quarters more suitable for a gentleman and sportsman does more to offset the whole army training program than a thousand soap-box speeches.

“I wanna be a Captain like Roosevelt,” is replaced by “I wanna be a Buck Private like Rockefeller.”

We’re sure the California Army camps are no different in this respect than others. At least we judge so from reading various reports. The first lesson one learns at Army camp is that men are not created free and equal. There are two classes, the officers and the men. And the officers live in a different world. After the first few exciting days at the camp the contrast is emphasized by the difference in quarters. Even the formerly unemployed, happy at first at the thought of three squares a day, begin to realize that the officers’ mess is something different, and better.

Food, clothing and shelter. In these fundamentals of existence, the Army teaches by the bitter school of experience that there are two classes and always will be as long as the present army lasts.

The brief period of adjustment to army life ends anywhere from a month to three, depending on the assimilatability and quickness of the conscriptee. Then comes another painful shock. Restless in their spare time, the conscriptees seek a social life, above all the company of women.

Walking past the officers’ quarters on the way lo a nearby town, the buck private sees the nice looking company of the officers, hears the music of an orchestra and the tinkle of cocktail glasses. This is not for him.

He walks into a town like Monterey, looking for a good time. These towns near army camps have experienced a fantastic boom. Prices are sky-high everywhere. A glass of beer for two bits, sandwiches upped 100%. Everywhere, like bloodsuckers, small merchants squeeze the pennies from under-paid soldiers.

In a series of five articles in the Los Angeles News, all, the details of this tragic story of cheating, and swindling, and double-crossing, and kicking around the rank and file was unfolded. This was true at every army camp in California. It must be shocking if it gets into the press, because the army has exerted much pressure for “discretion in reporting,” i.e., in clamping down a censorship.

Here is a typical story of “social life” of the conscriptees, taken from the News investigation.

“A large number of soldiers find their way to ‘Cannery Row,’ Monterey’s brothel center. Here in a stinking ramshackle building between two malodorous fish packing plants they purchase sex relations.

“They do it with a feeling of security because the rumor persists, ‘It’s safe, because these girls are inspected every week by army doctors. A girl’s card must be in order or she’ll be kicked out.’

“In the first place, if this were the case, the medical officer would be violating orders direct from the War Department.

“However, one hears persistent rumors of army medical officers examining girls throughout the country. If this is the case they are only instilling a feeling of false confidence in their enlisted men. For example:

“Recently on a soldiers’ pay day Monterey’s three houses took care of a vast throng of young men. Each house had about ten girls and each girl entertained 50 or more men throughout the night.

“Now if one of the first men to visit a girl had been infected, you may see how readily the disease could spread like wildfire even if a girl had had a thousand examinations the very day before the rush.”

Nice world of today and tomorrow the army life has to offer a young man. Not to mention the fate of the girls caught in an economic trap that sends them into the oldest profession whose last outpost is white slavery near an army camp.

Rather they will become much worse. Bitter experience, aided by careful political education conducted by the movement, will swing the youth into OUR camp.

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