Published Date

February 23, 2002

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series

From Constructing a Postwar World: Background and Context


The Future Becomes the Present

The pamphlets finally began appearing in the fall of 1944. In early September, the War Department announced the publication of the G.I. Roundtable series, noting that they would begin to replace earlier discussion kits comprised of government- and privately produced materials.61 The information in the release and related information in news reports makes it clear that these were intended as part of a larger effort to deal with domestic concerns about postwar readjustment of servicemen.62 The New York Times Magazine devoted five pages to the pamphlets, including a two-page spread showing the covers of all the completed pamphlets. The series received similar coverage from other media outlets nationwide.63 As Spaulding and Osborn had expected, the AHA’s role in the series provided exceptional cover for the Army, as the media coverage generally extolled the pamphlets’ objectivity in sum and detail.

Curiously, despite the growing sense of alarm about postwar concerns in the War Department and the media, the Army’s initial testing of opinion on the pamphlets focused on the pamphlet that was probably the most backward looking—a pamphlet on war marriages, which addressed a problem of the first year of the war that had waned sharply as the initial surge of inductions decreased. However, given Osborn’s interest in eugenics and population control, and his close oversight of the program, the priority given to this pamphlet makes a bit more sense. Certainly his prewar obsessions about careful thought about marriage and reproduction are reflected in the analyses that returned from the field.

The Information and Education Division sent out five teams of researchers, with questionnaires and analysis prepared by the Research Branch, to test the response of servicemen and women to the series. The reports generally de-emphasize the quality of the discussion, and highlight the degree to which the participants found the pamphlet either “helpful” or “disturbing.”64 The measure of “helpful” is the degree to which unmarried recruits developed a deeper awareness of the issues involved in marriage. One interviewer observed that “If it causes him to think or helps him to make a wise decision or avoid difficulties, his morale, and Army Morale in general, is expedited.”65 That a number of married servicemen and women were disturbed into thinking about their own—implicitly recent—nuptials likely elicited a measure of satisfaction from Osborn. The results were viewed as so satisfactory that another 100,000 copies were ordered, and the print runs for all subsequent pamphlets were set at 200,000.

Figure 3

However, some of the latent misogyny in the pamphlets did not pass by unnoticed. The Christian Science Monitor mocked the pamphlet Do You Want Your Wife to Work after the War? suggesting satirically that “its real purpose may be determined by revealing that one section of this subversive pamphlet actually deals with the need for assisting wives to wash and dry dishes. Can you imagine the effect on the boys overseas just as they are beginning to dream of returning home? Is the War Department trying to slow down demobilization?”66 The New York Herald and Boston Post offered similar critiques over the coming days. Nevertheless, the rest of the media coverage was exceptionally positive, and the shared insensitivity to the portrayal of women is reflected in the prevalent use of the demeaning up-skirt picture from the War Marriages pamphlet to illustrate stories about the series (Figure 3).

In addition to the generally positive response from service people and the media, the news coverage of their release elicited fairly heavy public interest in the series. The archives of the IED contain hundreds of requests for copies of the pamphlets from civilians and service people around the country. And a survey of the messages failed to turn up any expressions of criticism or concern along the lines expressed in the Christian Science Monitor. The boxes contain letters from a population diverse in geography, status, and gender. The files include requests for copies from enlisted men in Florida, Wyoming, and France, as well as requests from and the secretaries of war and state. The files include inquiries from congressman, senators, and corporate leaders, academics at universities from Stanford to Princeton, and civilian women and men from around the country.67 However, citing the shortage of paper, limited print runs, and a prohibition on using items purchased for a purpose other than that for which funds were appropriated, the division refused to provide copies to the general public, even after a direct request from Secretary of State Edward Stettinius on behalf of the Foreign Policy Association.68

Curiously, despite the close focus on their value after the war, the force and energy behind their distribution quickly dissolved at the conclusion of hostilities. The records of the IED indicate that a significant amount of disarray and bureaucratic jockeying in implementing the plans developed during the war, with Osborn and Spaulding struggling just to insure that copies of their materials would be given room in the supply ships going overseas.69

The Army continued to distribute the pamphlets in the quantities of 200,000 through 1946, and made additional copies available to civilians through the Government Printing Office. However, the intended uses of the series to guide and shape the thought of servicemen and women seemed to dissolve, even as the concerns about discontent among servicemen overseas quickly came to pass, as the Research Branch had predicted.70 Rather ironically, Osborn’s warnings about a sudden and dramatic exodus of personnel proved particularly true among the officers in his own division. The officers who had overseen the G.I. Roundtable project, from Osborn down to AHA liaison Major Goodrich, had departed for other positions within three months. This merely reflected the predicted agitation of servicemen overseas, who began to ask for a quick return.71

Apparently in a last-ditch effort to revitalize the program, the lowly captain who had been left in charge of the program conducted another series of surveys of military bases on the West Coast to observe discussion groups of 20 to 100 people, and discuss the continuing use of the program. He found fairly extensive interest and readership for the pamphlets, but this often seemed to be as a relief of boredom, rather than a concerted programmatic effort to use them. The officers at the eight bases visited all said the pamphlets were being widely distributed aboard troopships returning from overseas and in the redistribution centers to which they were returning. The surveys demonstrated that they were popular as reading material, particularly those treating more controversial subjects. But the waning of the ideals that served to produce the pamphlets is evident in the workmanlike report that the captain produced. The language of guiding and shaping the men’s thoughts are completely absent from his lengthy report, noting that they will only “play a valuable role in keeping Army personnel well informed and personally interested in important current problems involving the nation’s best interests.”72

Next section: Conclusion

  1. War Department, Bureau of Public Relations, Press Branch, Press Release, “Army’s New Roundtable Booklets to Aid G.I. Discussion Groups,” 10 September 1944, Box 384, AHA Papers. []
  2. My review of the periodical literature in late 1943 and 1944 indicates a rising level of concern about how military men were “changed” by the war, and the social effects of reincorporating them into the society. The perspectives range from sad concern in John Hersey, “Joe is Home Now,” Life, 3 July 1944, 68 and F.M. Reck, “Will He Be Changed,” Better Homes and Gardens 23 (December 1944): 15 to a tone of belligerence toward servicemen who felt they deserved special privileges in C.G. Paulding, “Soldiers’ Return,” Commonweal, 5 May 1944, 53, and a certain fear about family health, Betty Smith, “When They Come Home,” New York Times Magazine, 1 October 1944, 20 and C.B. Palmer, “Back from the Front—and Wondering ,” New York Times Magazine, 29 October 1944, 14. []
  3. New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1944, 12; St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, 10 September 1944, 1; and Christian Science Monitor, 14 September 1944, 1. []
  4. Francis T. Spaulding, unpublished memo to the deputy director of production, IED regarding pamphlet “Can War Marriages Be Made to Work,: 26 October 1944, Box 389, IED Files. Interviewers’ reports attached. []
  5. Maj. Henry J. Coolidge, “Experimental Discussions at Fort Devens, Mass.” September 23, 1944, attached to Spaulding, unpublished memo to the deputy director. []
  6. “Help Wanted!” Christian Science Monitor, 18 September 1944, 1; “Incredible Temerity,” New York Herald Tribune, 13 September 1944, 24. The AHA Papers includes a notation by Guy Stanton Ford of a similar critique in Boston Post, 15 September 1944. []
  7. Copies of requests from general public in boxes 380, 381, 382, and 390, IED Files, as well as Box 382, AHA Papers. []
  8. Francis T. Spaulding to Dorothy Dodge Anthony, 26 September 1944; and F.H. Osborn to Harvey N. Bundy, Special Assistant to the Secretary, War Department, 12 September 1944, Box 388, IED Files. []
  9. F.H. Osborn to Commanding General Army Service Force, 13 August 1945, Box 374, IED Files. []
  10. Mark Grandstaff, “Making the Military American: Advertising, Reform, and the Demise of the Antistanding Military Tradition, 1945–55,” Journal of American History, 60 (April 1996), 300-2. []
  11. F.H. Osborn to Director of Information, Pentagon, unpublished memo “Fraternization in Germany,” 9 October 1945; and F.H. Osborn to Director of Personnel ASF, unpublished memo “Proposal from Senator Edwin C. Johnson Concerning a Demilitarization Course for Veterans, as a Means of Preparing Them for the Duties and Responsibilities of Good Citizenship,” 11 September 1945, Box 374, IED Files. []
  12. H.D. Crawford, unpublished memo, “Visit to Ninth Service Command Regarding Voluntary Off-Duty Discussion Program,” 5 January 1946, p. 28, Box 388, IED Files. []
Robert B. Townsend
Robert B. Townsend

American Academy of Arts & Sciences