Shall We Have Universal Military Training?
Postwar American Military Problems
No one would deny that a nation's military potential can be assembled more speedily and efficiently if the men called to the colors have had a carefully planned program of basic training at some previous time. Therefore, if the United States is likely to need a mass army of millions of men in another major war in the foreseeable future, the purely military aspects of the situation would weigh heavily in favor of universal training. The question is: Will the United States probably need such a mass army or can we safely rely on some other type of army for our permanent establishment?
In the recent past our guesses have been wrong. We have thought of the Navy as our primary military weapon and have heavily discounted the idea that large numbers of American land troops would ever again need to fight on foreign soil. The fact remains, though, that in the first World War and the present war we have had to train vast numbers of men for ground action in the most distant parts of the world.
This situation is not hard to explain. As a people we are peace-loving and we have no ambition to acquire territory belonging to other nations. Consequently, we tend to think of military preparations primarily in terms of the defense of the United States against attack from abroad. As we do not fear such an attack from either Canada or Mexico, our traditional attitude has been that we should have a strong navy in order to defend the shores of the United States from a sea-borne invasion. In other words, we have thought of a large navy as embodying the principle of defense, while a large army has seemed to embody the principle of offense and aggression.
This overly simple view of a proper military policy for the United States invariably breaks down as soon as we become engaged in a war of any consequence. It is far better to grapple with an enemy on his own or on some other distant territory than to leave the initiative in his hands and limit our effort to repelling his attempts to seize our territory. Americans have not always recognized this truth in time of peace, but whenever war has come, many of the citizens who shouted most loudly against preparing to send soldiers to fight on foreign territory have been among the first to demand that the fighting be kept away from American soil. This is human nature. Also, in this and the preceding war, we have had to think of aiding and supplying our Allies, and in the Pacific we have had the problem of defending our outlying possessions.
In other words, both general and special considerations point to the wisdom of a defense policy based on the principle of carrying a war to the territory of our enemy and of sparing American soil, if possible, from the destruction of combat operations. It seems likely that we will have learned this lesson as a result of our last two wars, and that we will not again make the mistake of identifying an alert military policy with aggressive intentions.
The modern mobility of mechanized warfare, which enables a belligerent to strike quickly and with great force at a point far distant from his bases, has outmoded our old ways of thinking about the proper methods of national defense. Since an enemy can strike at us in this way, we, too, must be prepared to deal with him in the same manner. Does this mean that we will need a large army in the future, or can we rely primarily on a powerful navy and air force, supported by a moderately large standing professional army?
Not even a military expert—much less the ordinary civilian—can answer this question with finality. In making our decision as to the need for military service, however, a few aspects of the situation may give us some clues to help guide our thinking. The decision will not be made in a vacuum.
First of all, what is the over-all international situation likely to be after the end of the war? Victory will mean that the United States, the British Commonwealth, and the Soviet Union will be the only great military powers in the world. By the Moscow Declaration these powers have pledged their postwar collaboration for "the organization and maintenance of peace and security." All three, as indicated by this decision, are determined to avoid the appalling prospect of conflict among themselves.
This same collaboration is promised, again by the Moscow Declaration, for all measures relating to the surrender and disarmament of our present enemies. Should this somehow fail, and should Germany and Japan be allowed to regain formidable military power, these three principal United Nations would need to have great armies in being, and this would probably influence the national policy in the matter of military training. If, on the other hand, the measures adopted after this war are really effective, there is no prospective concentration of military power in central and western Europe, and still less in Asia, which could challenge the military strength of the three.