A sermon by Dr. G. S. Nichols Given at the Collegiate Methodist Church on January 18, 1948
The Ames Ministerial Association has asked the ministers to present to the people of Ames the attitude of the church toward Universal Military Training. As most of you know, practically every church in America, as well as the farm organizations—the American Farm Bureau, the National Grange, the National Farmers Union—both big labor organizations, many educational associations, the Parent Teachers Association, and numerous other organizations have gone on the record in opposition to UMT. The War Department has released the information that “the chief opponents are parents, church groups, educators, subversive groups, and a large section of the public which does not think.”
Some have asked why the church should concern itself with an issue that is purely political. We do not concede that this is a purely political issue—if indeed there is any such thing. A purely political issue must be mostly oratory and dust in the air. A vital political issue is a vital because it affects the welfare of the people. And that is exactly what the church is concerned with—the welfare of the people. Any issue that affects the weal or woe of men, women, and children is to us a moral and religious issue. The great purpose of the church is to bring fullness of life to all people. That means economic wellbeing, political wellbeing, who moral and spiritual health, happiness, “peace on earth, goodwill to man,” educational opportunities, freedom from oppression and fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, opportunities to develop the best there is in us, opportunities to live Christ-like and God-like lives. That is what we mean by fullness of life. If you have any political issues that lie outside of this field, we will stay away from them. Now, of course, the church shouldn’t go into politics as such; it shouldn’t be partisan, but it must be concerned with every issue that impinges on the lives of God’s children.
Let me say that the outset that I think those who oppose this bill [in March 1948, President Truman proposed a program of Universal Military Training to provide military training for all draft-age American males as part of a growing Cold War and fear of Communism] and those who support it want the same thing security and peace on earth.We differ only as to method.
With that in mind, let me state my reasons for opposing Universal Military Training. The reasons are not mine; I have picked them up for the most part from the pronouncements of various church bodies.
I.We are opposed to Universal Military Training because we think it is un-American. 1.It violates the great American tradition of freedom from militarism and regimentation. Many of our forefathers left Europe and came to America to escape this very thing.During World War II the Allied Leaders assured us that one of the primary purposes of the war was to destroy militarism in the enemy countries. President Roosevelt said in one of his speeches that we were determined to root out the last vestige of militarism in Germany and Japan. Why root it out of those countries and transplant it to America? As one bit of evidence of the growing militarism in America, let me quote from the United States News (February 28, 1947): “One Army officer is being paid now for each seven enlisted men—colonels now in service are six times the proportion of wartime.” And these are the boys that are beating the drums for this bill. These are the fellows that have been using the taxpayers money lavishly and illegally to propagandize for Universal Military Training all over America. Each seven men that we conscript will make room for one more officer, with his prestige and political power. If you want further evidence of the Militarization of America read Hansen W. Baldwins recent article in Harper's entitled, “The Military Move In,” [access this article through Harper'sonline archive for subscribers] or Oswald Garrison Villard's pamphlet entitled, “How America Has Become Militarized.”
2.Again, we think Universal Military Training is un-American because it would subject all our young men to training that is, and must necessarily be, undemocratic. Any talk of democracy in the Army, as Robert Blakely said the other night, is simply hogwash. “No army is going to take a Gallup poll to decide whether an attempt should be made to take Hill 45,” he declared. If you are in the army you’re under a dictatorship. And if you are taking military training that is at all realistic you are taking that kind of training. The Junior ROTC Manual says that the end of military discipline is “intelligent, willing and cheerful obedience to the will of the leader. It creates and the individual a desire and a determination to undertake and accomplish any mission assigned by the leader.” The Army demands “immediate and unquestioned obedience to authority.”
One young man was telling me that he had no right to question any order that came to him from a superior officer. I wondered how far he would carry that. I asked, “If we were at war with Canada, and you knew that Canada was wholly in the right and we were wholly in the wrong, and still you were ordered to Quebec off the map, would you hesitate to obey that order?” He answered, “No, an order is an order.” I pushed him a little further. I said, “If you knew that your parents and your brothers and sisters, your grandmother and your grandfather and all the rest of your relatives were to be in Quebec that night, would you still obey that order?” He flinched, but finally answered, “Yes, an order is an order.” Immediate and unquestioned obedience to authority; it had really taken on this young man, hadn’t it? I ask you, is that the training we need for assuming our responsibilities in a democracy—unquestioned obedience?
During World War I, I attempted to explain to an officer some blunder of mine.I said, “I thought, Sir ….” He cut me off with, “Think, hell! You aren’t supposed to think in this man’s Army; you’re supposed to obey. I’ll do the thinking.” I knew, of course, how far his thinking went—just up to the next rank. If democracy is to survive, we must insist on our right to think. We must be trained to think. Unquestioned obedience is the way to totalitarianism in anybody’s country. What amazes me is that some men who have fought Federal aid to education on the grounds that it might lead to regimentation are now supporting this bill which would regiment all our young men under military discipline and training. Democracy can be destroyed from within as well as from without.Totalitarianism was not imposed on Germany from without, nor on Italy, nor on Russia, nor on Japan. It was homegrown totalitarianism. If it is the preservation of democracy that we are primarily interested in, we had better be careful what goes into the mind of our youth. We are opposed to this measure because we think it is un-American and will undermine democracy.
II.In the second place, we oppose Universal Military Training because we are tremendously interested in the moral and spiritual welfare of our youth. We think it is bad to take 17- and 18-year-old boys and throw them into the environment of an Army training center — all the propaganda about UMT at Ft. Knox to the contrary notwithstanding. I read the other day that officers at Ft. Knox do not swear, drink, or gamble. I told that to one group and a GI called out, “Where did they find them?” That Ft. Knox program sounds to me like a hypocritical propaganda stunt to put over Universal Military Training. If the Army is sincere, why doesn’t it try to bring the other Army camps all over the world up to this level? A former Army officer told me of having visited a U.S. Army camp at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, last summer. There was no chaplain, no recreational facilities, no place for the boys to go when off duty except to an old saloon in the village.During World War II the churches tried to keep liquor out of the training camps and keep gambling and prostitution a safe distance from the camps. They got no response from the Army and Navy. In the Congressional Record for November 20, 1945, there was a detailed account of the Navy operating a house of prostitution and boys lined up four abreast for a block supervised by military police. I have in my files a report from the United State Public Health Service indicating that the percentage of syphilis in the Navy in 1939 was 17 times as great as in the general population. When I went up to enlist during World War I to help make the world safe for democracy, A big Plug-Ugly who was helping the doctor with the medical examination asked me, “How many times if you had venereal disease?” I answered, a bit shocked, that I had never had venereal disease. He laughed a loud “Ha, Ha,” that sounded through the hall and called, “Come here, fellers, com and look him over; we have finally found one that hasn’t had it!” That was the kind of humor that we had in our outfit, and that is about where our conversation leveled off much of the time. When we returned from shore leave we were expected to report as to whether we had had sexual intercourse. When we reported “No” someone almost invariably laughed in our face and asked why we went. I am not saying that are off it was typical. I am just reporting my experience. Many of you were in the Army and Navy during World War II and you came back clean. But you were in all likelihood subjected to temptations to which 17- and 18-year-olds should not generally be subjected. If our chief concern is character, as we Christians claim, and if we concede that a democracy is only as strong as the character of the people who compose it, we had better evaluate this legislation in the light of these convictions.
III.Then we are opposed to Universal Military Training because we think it will not promote peace and prevent war as its proponents claim. It may give us a false sense of security and thus prevent our doing the thing we should do to secure real security. 1.First let us appeal to history. Have the nations that have had peacetime conscription state of war?France was the first modern nation to adopt peacetime conscription, in 1798. Has France had any wars since that time? That conscription law made Napoleon's attempted conquest of the world possible. In the Treaties of Tilsitin 1807, Napoleon forced Prussiato limit her army to 42,000 men. To evade that provision the Prussians passed a conscription law which enabled them to train 42,000 men each year. That was the beginning of the Prussian militarism. Has Germany had any wars since that date?Has 140 years of Prussian militarism benefited Germany or Europe or the world? Japan adopted Universal Military Training and 1873. Has Japan had any war since that date? It seems to me that those who argue that Universal Military Training will prevent war must not read, or they must misread history.
2.Another reason why we think Universal Military Training will take us in the direction of war is that the military teaches or implies the inevitability of war. I have a large book in my library by Colonel Richard Stockton entitled Inevitable War. It is an autographed, complimentary copy —a book of 112 chapters, 873 pages, 51 charts, maps, and illustrations— all to prove that wars have always been, always will be, and all this talk about permanent peace is tommyrot and nonsense. Dangerous nonsense, too, he says, for it may prevent our being adequately prepared for the inevitable war. Don’t you catch that idea in all the arguments that are being presented in favor of this bill—maybe not quite as explicit as that, but it is there. If we indoctrinate all our young men with the idea that war is inevitable and that talk of permanent peace is nonsense, what the effort will be made to build a strong United Nations and a peaceful world? 3.Auxiliary to that argument is the argument that a brute force is always decisive in human affairs, and one secures his security only by showing superior force and bluffing his potential enemies. So everybody shakes his fist under everybody’s nose because everybody believes that this is the only language that anybody understands. That idea is both implicit and explicit in every argument that is being presented in favor of this bill. If all our young men are to be indoctrinated with that idea and if that mind prevails, what chance do we have to promote good will and understanding that are so essential to permanent peace?
IV.Finally, we are opposed to Universal Military Training because we think it is a delusion. It offers a false sense of security. A million young men for 5 million men doing squads-right and squads-left in perfect precision will provide little protection when atomic bombs and bacterial bombs start falling. The only protection is to prevent them from falling.
Has it gotten into our thinking what kind of world we are living in and what terrible instruments of destruction are in our hands? The destruction of all life on our planet is now a stark possibility. Have you read the report of the United States Commission that was sent to investigate the effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? They described heat of one million degrees Fahrenheit at the center of the blast—so hot that trees a mile and a half away were instantly set on fire. The patterns of women’s dresses were burned into their skins. The impact of the explosion crushed the organs of people’s bodies and tens of thousands of these crushed and broken bodies were hurled through the flaming rubble-filled air at 1,000 mph. One professor of genetics has recently declared that his research convinces him that the survivors of Hiroshima may produce physically deformed offspring for a thousand years. A recent dispatch in the New York Times tells of our experiments with radioactive clouds they could spread over vast areas and destroy everything. Dr. Marcus Oliphant, the British atomic scientist, says that we can now produce an atomic gas which, if used with the atomic bomb, would destroy all life within 1,000 miles. Three such bombs would finish us off. An atomic scientist at Chicago University says that our potential enemies may be able to drop enough atomic bombs off our shores to render the whole continent radioactive and on uninhabitable. Of course, I am not an atomic scientist. I can’t evaluate the statements; I can only pass on to you the warnings that are continually coming from seemingly responsible sources.
But our bacterial scientists are now turning up their noses at the atomic scientists. They say that they can produce, at much less expense, instruments of destruction more deadly than the atomic bomb.
Major General George C. Kenney, Chief of Strategic Air Command, speaking to the Air Force Association recently, declared that our potential enemies can now bring to our shores “known weapons of mass destruction much more deadly and far cheaper than the atomic bomb.” Doctor Gerald Wendt, in an address to the General Electric Science Forum, mentioned a deadly poison which has been developed, one ounce of which could kill every inhabitant in the United States and Canada.
“If World War III comes,” says Dr. Wendt, “it will be a war in which most people may die from silent, insidious, antihuman weapons and make no sound, gave no warning, destroyed no forts or ships or cities, but can wipe out human beings by the million. These weapons can be easily and cheaply prepared by any belligerent who has as much as a brewery and the skill to operate it.
Rear Admiral Ellis M. Zacharias, in the November United Nations World says, “If every atomic bomb and facilities for its manufacture were destroyed tomorrow there would still be available weapons that could wipe out the last vestige of human, animal, and vegetable life from the face of the earth. This is not a prediction of horrors to come,” continues the Admiral, “these weapons exist. They are being manufactured right now. Several nations are known to have them.” He speaks of a “highly infectious psittocosisvirus, one-fifth of teaspoonful of which could kill 20 million men…. This virus can be produced cheaply in bulk by a small laboratory anywhere in the world,” he declares.
In the face of this, some people seem to think that we should feel quite secure if we had all of our 17- and 18-year-old boys out doing bayonet practice and squads-right and squads-left. It is a false security has been promised us—a dangerous delusion.
We are living in a new world. We must do some new thinking and new living. We must rise to greatness. We must combat fear and hate and all forms of exploitation and aggression. We must dedicate our fortunes and our lives to peace as we have in the past decade of our fortunes and our lives to war. We must do something impressively sincere, and sweepingly imaginative, something that will bring a rebirth of hope, humility, and friendship to the peoples of the earth.
We must stop undercutting the United Nations and build it into a world government with power to govern. As Winston Churchill recently said, “Unless some effective world government for the purpose of preventing war can be set up, the prospects for peace and human progress are dark indeed.”
The time is short, the task is imperative, our responsibility is inescapable. We must rise to greatness or perish.
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