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Jack Wilson

American Legion

What Does It Offer the Enlisted Man?

(10 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 50, 10 December 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Bill Mauldin gave one overwhelming impression of the American Legion convention in his report appearing in the current issue of Life magazine.

An enlisted man would have felt about as much at home there as he would in an officers’ club.

“During the big banquet the last evening of the convention, the speakers table looked like a page out of Who’s Who. Among those present were Generals Doolittle, Vandegrift and Bradley, the president of the American Bankers Association and some governors. World War II’s only spokesmen were its brass hats.”

Mauldin knows, of course, that the American Legion was organized originally by the Brass Hats precisely so the War Department could keep a grip on the veterans, and speak in their name. This has not changed today.

The Legion and Demobilization

Take something as vital to the soldier of this last war as demobilization. A pretty fair test of any veteran’s organization is the question: “Where did it stand on getting the boys home and out quickly?” Naturally, the American Legion did not back the enlisted men in their demand to speed up demobilization, and also to cut out the horrible favoritism which has appeared. It is a stooge of the War Department on those matters.

Take another problem. In Mail Call in Yank magazine, we used to read always that most of the soldiers wanted an organization “of the veterans, by the veterans and for the veterans.” The American Legion failed to meet this test too.

“Only two World War II vets were elected to a high national post (vice-commander) and if one of them wasn’t also a veteran of World War I he was old enough to be one,” Mauldin reported. Where are the enlisted men? Has an enlisted man ever held the post of national commander? Not many of them have. Why not?

The American Legion is a powerful business and political institution, with a treasury of at least $15,000,000. (It claims a wealth in property of $200,000,000.) Its backbone has been local, state and national politicians who have wormed their way into lucrative government jobs as “veterans”, and by the club of the “veterans vote.”

In order to keep this bureaucratic privilege, the political clique that dominates the Legion needs more power, that is, more “veterans’ votes.” That is why it puts on such a tremendous campaign for recruiting veterans of this war.

But perpetuation of the American Legion is more than a matter of keeping the gravy jobs for certain individuals. It is, above all, a way of controlling the political power of an important segment of the American people, the veterans. Every GI knows this fact.

No Posts for the Enlisted Man

The Legion leadership tries to conceal this fact by a pompous claim: “You can take the Legion over and run it.” So said retired Commander Edward N. Scheiberling, big-shot lawyer. But how were the 650,000 vets of this war, which the Legion claims, treated? They didn’t get a peek into the powerful committees and posts at this convention. They have only token representation, as Mauldin pointed out – like one of those officer-enlisted man joint committees in the Army: one colonel, two majors, a few junior officers and a couple of enlisted men (who, if they had any savvy, kept their mouths shut).

Take another angle. The biggest immediate headache of most veterans is a place to live. It is just TS on that in most cities. What did the American Legion do about that acute problem?

Decent jobs at good pay? The president of the American Bankers Association wasn’t worried about that at the convention. Nor was ex-Governor John Stelle of Illinois, newly-elected national commander.

These questions are all connected with who runs the Legion. Mauldin said a mouthful on that, too. “Too many of them seem to feel that our numbers will add a lot of weight to their outfit and a great deal of prestige, and they will be glad to have us take over eventually – but first they seem to want to ride herd a little bit, to make sure we don’t get any funny ideas.” The funny ideas of such things as good housing, decent jobs and high pay.

The American Legion, of course, took its place alongside the War Department on the unification of the armed forces, on compulsory military training, on keeping the atomic bomb a secret and in just about everything else the brass hats wanted.

The GI’s took enough from the brass hats during the war so that they would be fools to join a brass hat organization to support their ideas, and perpetuate their power and their clique in politics. It is a tragedy that the labor movement hasn’t organized or assisted in the organization of a real vet outfit. Meanwhile the Legion welcomes labor veterans as a nice “left cover.” To be sure, it means the Legion has to be a little more subtle in its anti-union propaganda, but there is a price to everything.

We don’t have to make a point of the fact that Mauldin didn’t join the Legion, after studying the convention.

Troops Stranded While Ships Load Munitions Against Java

One reason our troops are not being shipped home as fast as promised is that between 400 and 600 American vessels are being used to deliver arms and munitions to the anti-democratic forces in Java. Some 350 GI’s aboard the A.B. Hammond en route home to the states were “bumped off” in New Guinea and munitions loaded on instead. Thirty-nine of the forty-one crew members, supported by crews of three other ships in the Batavia (Java) harbor have sent a petition to a number of Congressmen. What angers these seamen still more is that Admiral Emory S. Land, War Shipping Administrator, recently sent a message to all U.S. merchant ships asking crews to stick to their jobs during the great task of getting Yanks home.

Admiral Land, who revealed HIS understanding of democracy by proposing some years ago that all union organizers be shot, knows what’s happening to American shipping in the Dutch East Indies. And he knows that he isn’t running guns to the Dutch and British on his own. The Truman Administration is responsible for this sabotaging of the homeward transportation of American troops and sabotaging the Javanese people’s fight for independence.

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