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When the Soldiers Come Back

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

About ten million Americans, if we split Brigadier General Hershey’s high and low induction figures, will be coming back after this war. They will have finished what Vice-President Wallace termed “a fight between a slave world and a free world.” Hanging up their uniforms, they will join veterans of other wars in exercising the rights and performing the duties of citizenship. With the largest veteran population in its history, the nation will hear much about issues far more significant than a soldier bonus.

And why not? The soldier offers himself, or is selected, as a blood sacrifice on the altar of freedom. Many of his comrades already have given their lives; innumerable others are yet to bleed and die. Whether he returns maimed or whole, the soldier, used for much, may rightly demand much —as a citizen still fighting for a better world, not as a mercenary in the pay of Mars.

He may never have heard of the “Blood Bridge of the Caucasus,” whose arch, built of mortar that was mixed, not with water but with the superior binding agency of human blood, stands firm after 1600 years. Blood of slaves it was, a point he might remember. Whether the “bridge” which he and his comrades are helping to build, or lengthen, is to be a democratic structure or a Fascist arch—whether they are to be free men or slaves—will be decided not wholly by their military victory, but inescapably by what they do, or are led to do, after their demobilization. For, certainly, they with their relatives will be a most decisive balance of power.

Whatever the veteran may demand or various elements may want him to demand, it is well to anticipate some of the changes that may be wrought in his thinking by first-hand contacts with his foreign neighbors. The influence of World War II on the soldier will be much greater than was that of World War I—in which, if we judge by song and joke, he made principally a lipstick acquaintance with French culture. This time he is farther-flung, among more nationalities. From Canadians, Britons, Australians, Free French, Russians, Chinese, Egyptians, South Americans, and others, including those whose lands he will occupy, he will learn much in a sort of cultural give and take. In his mind will be dissolved many a false conception nurtured by nationalism, especially about the “inferiority” of this foreign country or that. If he was a narrow patriot who hated every land but his own, he will be one no more. Perhaps he will find that while we have most of the world’s gadgets for living, we do not have a priority on the satisfactions of life.

He will learn, in fact, that the East and West, by meeting in war, will swap much that will influence each other’s culture. It has happened in wars before, and it will happen most assuredly in this global war. In the Orient, the soldier may renew his interest in Alexander, whose conquests of plunder and death incidentally carried with them something of the Western way of life to the East; and this can impress him with what is happening to the world today. He may be influenced abroad as were the Crusaders. Though despising the religions of the East, they brought back much Eastern culture to Europe, as was inevitable when their astonished eyes beheld Grecian glories, Byzantine splendors, and all that centuries of civilization had developed in architecture, art, music, and science. Our veteran will conclude that all peoples have more or less identical needs, and that world brotherhood is not a sentimental abstraction. Unless misled by special groups organized to take him in tow, he will not be disposed to isolate America and ignore the peace table.

Will the veteran demand a better world in accordance with the general principles stated by Messrs. Roosevelt, Churchill, Wallace, Hull, Welles, Willkie, and others? Unquestionably he will be in accord with the general aims. Already the Atlantic Charter, with its guarantee of freedom everywhere, and President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, it is safe to say, have had his approval in the main, if he reads at all. These things surely will receive his support in the post-war world of political and economic adjustment. But will the veteran be so confused by the woods that he can not pick out his trees? Will he be politically literate enough to choose between movements that would break the Four Freedoms down into particular programs, and movements led or inspired by home-grown Fascists? Therein lie both danger and hope.

Does he know what has happened before when warriors came home? The veteran of wars has always been used by some group or other to p’dl chestnuts after he has gone through the fires of battle. Too often he has become the political tool of those who financially profited most from the war he fought. Does our soldier know that Mussolini, once a Socialist and therefore knowing the Italian capitalists better than they knew themselves, sacrificed his socialism for opportunism when he capitalized on the disillusionments, resentments, and political illiteracy of the Italian veterans by lining them up in his Black Shirts? The blood of their dead comrades made mortar for a bridge which they haven’t the power themselves to make over—a bridge across which Nazis as well as Fascists tread.

Immediately after the first World War, the American Legion, dedicated to “God and Country,” was organized to enroll the ex-service man. Perhaps most of its rank and file members have been wage-earners, but the Legion almost consistently has taken sides against union labor in disputes with employers. Commander Roane Waring recently was quoted as having declared that strikers in war production should be shot as traitors, no matter what their grievances. It has not been observed that he has pasted the traitor label on any industrialists who have withheld synthetic rubber processes from the Government or retarded the construction of badly needed oil lines. Lately the Legion has opened its ranks to the “new veteran.” It is to be hoped that its leadership will face the future and not the past when it starts out with its millions of new members.

The soldier, if he reads up on developments at home, must shake his head at times, especially when he reads that those who would clear the ground for a freer world after he finishes his present job are howled down by reactionaries who in one breath, shout, “Let’s first win the war!” and in another breath declare post-war aims of their own. In a far-off USO hut he must rub his eyes in bewilderment or indignation at the “designs for peace” that are coming off the propaganda assembly line of Patriots for Profit who would return the country to various brands of normalcy. Back to free enterprise. Back to a pre-New Deal peace. Back to some dreamy, governmental hands-off era when there was an open field of freedom in which lion and lambs, unrestrained, had “equal opportunity!” Back to Hooverism, in short. This Back To-ism ignores the lessons of a dozen years or more.

Yes, there’s a show going on, for us at home if not for the soldiers. And, just as coming attractions cast their previews before them, the miniature models of a post-war economy are being paraded. Lately exhibited was a model of Mr. Hoover’s “Fifth Freedom.” Plainly not satisfied with Mr. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, the Hoover gentry would guarantee “freedom of economic enterprise,” meaning unregulated capitalism. As if unregulation did not cause most of the troubles that brought on regulation! The soldier may have noticed that The National City Bank, in its official “Bulletin,” supports the Hoover plan as elaborated by Dr. Charles M. A. Stine, a DuPont vice-president. Dr. Stine demanded that “the fifth freedom be mandatory in victory.” By freedom of economic enterprise is meant the repeal of such laws as the National Labor Relations Act, which labor calls it Magna Charta, and the Securities Act requiring publication of the truth about new stock issues. Such a guarantee, with no protection for workers and investors, would permit combines and monopolies to stifle democracy.

The soldier will blink and wonder at other such post-war planning in his absence. There is Peter F. Drucker, who, in hailing the business man’s emergence from the doghouse, declares that “bureaucratic power must be overcome if we are to have a free country after the war.” Mr. Drucker sees a system of “industrial self-government” following a “loss of power by both labor unionism and the corporation.” He can’t be meaning a corporate state, can he?

The man in the armed services may have read how the brilliant and articulate Mr. Eric A. Johnston, President of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, tours the nation in war to speak on the “Challenge of Peace.” Mr. Johnston is more socially aware and therefore more shrewd than are most of his Chambered Nostalgians. He acknowledges many changes that they do not or will not see. And he knows that when the war is over business must “provide employment for a majority of the workers”—millions of them veterans—”of this nation of nearly 140 million Americans, or the government will do it.” To use the vast stores of machine power and manpower created by the war, there must be a “new order.” There must be “co-operation between government, management, labor and agriculture,” with no toleration for “continued imposition of extreme government controls and restrictions.” Question: If the government is to be only an umpire, will there be no class with a grip on the government? Will the end of the war not find big business triumphantly in the saddle? What would the soldier do about such an eventuality?

Unless he is most discriminating, our soldier will be puzzled or misled by a recent editorial, “Neo-Liberal Illusion: That Collectivism is Liberty,” which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. If he knows a thing or two, he will recognize this editorial as an atavistic yawp for a plunge back into the economic jungle. Back to liberty which only the powerful could enjoy. Away from government of, by, and for the people. Characterizing the editorial as a “new charter of reaction,” Kenneth G. Crawford, PM’s Washington correspondent, said: “Unless the government creates work for returning soldiers when the new army is demobilized, there will be economic and social chaos in the U. S. A.” As if in answer to both Mr. Crawford and Mr. Johnston, Quincy Howe says in Harper’s that “when the fighting ends we’ll have such a tremendous productive capacity that our strong central government—itself a product of the war—will not let the capacity lie idle.” Again, for the soldier’s ear, much will depend on who controls the central government, the self-styled Free Enterprisers or a Free People.

If the warrior comes back prepared to play an important role in the “new world” as envisaged in outline by President I Roosevelt and others, two things must be done. First, our I domestic and foreign policies must jibe; America must see that a common political front is established to insure Allied military victory, and she must prove her sincerity by preserving at home the freedom she advocates abroad. The other thing is: Politicalization of the man on the fighting front,

Civilians and soldiers alike are heartened by the fact that American and British industrialists (with the hard work of production soldiers) are busy in a herculean epic to defeat Hitler. But is it understood generally that some of these industrialists have plenty of reservations about the peace? Therein is grave danger, inasmuch as what they want in the peace is a negation of the Atlantic Charter, and that might cost us our allies or defeat their aspirations.

The soldier may find himself out on a limb if the political front is not formed—and held. Disintegration could begin and demoralization spread, notwithstanding any current Allied military successes. Mr. Willkie began warning of the dangers while he was still in Russia and China. “This is a war for men’s minds,” he told Chinese university students. Back home, he reported that there exists a gigantic reservoir of good-will toward the American people. “But we are punching holes in our reservoir of good-will every day,” he said, “by failing to define clearly our war aims.” Obviously our war aims must be clearly defined, and reiterated, if a common political front is to be formed. We of the home front owe it to our comrades on world battlelines to clarify our own intentions in order that they may not fight meaninglessly.

Our man in uniform might ask: If our domestic and foreign programs must dovetail, whose responsibility is it to make them do so, if not that of the National Administration and Congress? It is the duty of the Administration and Congress to back up the promise of Mr. Roosevelt, our chief spokesman, that social gains here will not be dumped, as in France, to insure the co-operation of Tories in our war effort. We must mean the Four Freedoms for ourselves as well as for our neighbors. But the trend of the recent election must have worried some of them, what with many ap-peasers, obstructionists, defeatists, and potential fascists riding into Congress with Willkie Republicans. The effect on our domestic policies and the war program remains to be seen.

Moreover, the soldier, fighting a war that the world might have been spared had the other peace not been lost, may wonder if he reads aright an article, “Whose War Aims?” by Gerald Johnson in Life. “The only war aims that will count in the long run,” Mr. Johnson writes, “are the war aims, not of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but of a hundred and thirty million Americans.” The people will, or should, have the final say as to whether we participate in the next peace. But does Mr. Johnson mean that the people’s minds are never made up unaided? If so, why should the President, or anybody at all, ever presume to influence them by stating or clarifying policies ? Why write articles on public questions, as Mr. Johnson does often and with distinction, if not to influence the public? If the American people ignored Wood-row Wilson and were “responsible for the collapse of the other peace,” were they not influenced by the Senator Lodges of the day and by the isolationist press? Apparently sure that the people will follow through this time, Mr. Johnson concludes: “Once the American decides that it is his duty to support law and order throughout the world, he will do just that.” If our soldier is fighting to put an end to lawlessness and disorder throughout the world, in an age when isolation for America is impossible, he should have better assurance than that a capricious people may or may not make up their minds to fix the guarantees of victory in the peace!

As to politicalizing the man on the military front, there would be many different opinions, most of them adverse at first, because all too many people naively think politics and war are entirely separate spheres. Tell that to Hitler 1

Those who have been poking holes in the Four Freedoms, or trying to tie a “fifth freedom” joker to the four, would oppose the idea. They would say, “Pass the ammunition along to the boys—theirs not to reason why.” Those who criticize Mr. Wallace’s speech as “lacking in constructive suggestion for post-war reconstruction,” as did the editor of a religious magazine, probably would recommend more Bibles and chaplains. Others, thinking of politics in the ward-heeler sense, would hoot at the very idea and say, “Send the boys smokes and knitting.” Probably only the liberals, in whatever party, would favor sending political as well as religious commissars to indoctrinate the man who, we hope and pray, will live rather than die for what i Vs fighting for.

Once having clearly and unreservedly stated our war aims, making them as official as our declaration of war and our military orders, the Government should see to it that the soldier receives political vitamins as well as food, guns, and ammunition. It would be good for his morale, and for that of our allies. The Nazis and Japs don’t fail to sustain their lighters with doses of ideology.

We indoctrinate our man in uniform over the world in other ways. Wherever he goes, the Christian Herald tells us, he will “find Christian Endeavor to welcome him.” Christian Endeavor is international, with units in more than fifty countries—Australia, China, India, and every European country save Denmark. If it seemed inconvenient for the man in camp to read about the war’s underlying political realities, we might note another quotation from the Christian Herald: “First at Bataan and later on Corregidor, there was a young lieutenant of the Marines who as a Christian Endeavor took his faith with him into battle. He invited the men of his command to join him for a quiet moment with The Book and God before the day’s horrors began. . . . What fascinates most about this is the tremendous influence it will have on the Church and the world when the fighting is done.” Influence on the world after the war, when the soldier comes back—that’s what we are mainly discussing here.

In similar fashion, why not see to it that the secular doctrine of freedom and democracy be sent to the soldier in a “war and peace aims” kit?

It may be true, or largely a publisher’s blurb, that millions of copies of Elbert Hubbard’s “The Message to Garcia” were bought by both nations in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and distributed to their opposing armies to inspire loyalty and morale. Profitable it was for the sagacious Fra Elbertus that he could thus inspire soldiers of both aggressor and defender! Why could not our Government pack millions of kits with inspirational Freedom literature, breaking it down in terms of everyday blessings, and send the packs to the soldiers on all fronts? It would be a kind of inspiration which the Axis could not afford for its armies to absorb.

The soldier’s “culture kit” might include a specially prepared Primer of American Democracy at Work. Yes, and put in Mr. Wallace’s speech, “The Price of Free World Victory,” filled as it is with homely, inspiring Sermon-on-the-Mount philosophy. Mr. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, and other statements of what the soldier is fighting for, together with our Constitution and Bill of Rights, a collection of choice sayings of Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, and other true democrats, should go into the bag. And, of course, some of the best oratory on freedom and brotherhood from the other nations on our side. Our allies should follow our example by doing as much for their fighters. This is without question a “war for men’s minds.” If one side does not propagandize them, the other will. And we must be reminded that as a propagandist and psychologist, Hitler has been no slouch and doubtless still has a few tricks. To prepare the soldier against further Axis offensives upon his mind, as well as against those at home who would confuse and mislead him when he returns, we should go all out to indoctrinate our fighting man with our own good ism. It would help in war and, certainly, in the peace, for he’s going to be a bloc of potent force in our whole economy.

Political awareness is not, of course, an end in itself, but a means of providing and using economic and social opportunity. Mr. Wallace had this in mind recently when he outlined a program to guarantee the democracy of the Bill of Rights, economic, ethnic and educational freedom, and equality in the treatment of the sexes. The same thing inspired the National Resources Planning Board to urge “a new bill of rights” to cure ills “which our forefathers did not face.” If our soldier is fighting primarily for economic freedom, we should politicalize him before he drops the rifle to pick up the ballot.

The moment he becomes a civilian again he will find himself largely on his own responsibility, after having become somewhat inured to regimentation. Some of his comrades probably will have found that it is easier, more comfortable, to be led and assured of security, at whatever cost to our liberty; they may accept the offer of the first demagogue that meets them at the wharf. Most of them, young men with ambition, will strike out on their own.

The veteran will probably begin by looking for his old job. In many cases it will be filled. An older man, or a woman, will have it. He will have to compete with millions newly trained for other types of employment. Will he become resentful of this situation? Will anti-labor elements play him off against the fellow worker who has his job? The soldier and the worker, because of their common basic interests, might be expected to stick together in comradely solidarity. Their ideas should be similar; if they become fighting competitors for jobs, it will be because organized foes succeed in playing up differences that are not fundamental. Will some indigenous Mussolini prepare a catch-basin for the soldier to keep him from joining his comrades of the home front?

Certainly, there will be dislocations which may bewilder him, and most of us, when we turn from war to peace. He will be confronted with new problems of unemployment resulting from an acceleration of mechanical processes during the war. He will see that, having done most to win the victory, his North America will try to dominate world commerce—hence new phases of imperialism for us, with probable shifting of elements of our population to other areas to relieve social pressures.

In all the veteran will play a vital role. Will he do it with his eyes open and opportunity to see and know, or as the dupe of diabolical powers?


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