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THE ANTI-MILITARIST TRADITION: Robert A. Taft, 1940 - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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THE ANTI-MILITARIST TRADITION:
Until his death in 1953, Robert A. Taft was an enlightened spokesman for liberal ideas in financial affairs, in foreign policy, and in military policies. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1938, 1944, and 1950, and was the ideal Republican candidate for President in 1952. His speech in opposition to the Burke-Wadsworth bill, which proposed peacetime conscription in America for the first time in history, is a classic and we reprint it here with only a few changes.1
WE FACE TODAY NOT one emergency but two. The first is from abroad; the second is from ourselves. While I do not agree with those who think that Hitler is about to attack the United States, nevertheless we must all recognize that for the next ten years we face a new kind of world. The development of the totalitarian nations, their effective war machines, and their complete lack of regard for international morals have created this new condition. We cannot rely on the sanctity of any treaty or any promise which may be made by the German Government and perhaps by the other governments. I believe that the same condition will exist whether the German attack on England succeeds or fails. England can hardly hope to overwhelm Germany for years to come. There will always be the possibility of the breaking up of the British Empire. We must provide for that possibility. I have voted for all the various appropriations increasing the size of the Navy and of the air forces. We are agreed that we must have a navy able to defend both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. But surely it is the duty of Congress to consider as respects each measure brought before it the character and extent of the emergency. . . .
For we face another kind of emergency at home. We have steadily drifted toward centralized government. We have given it power to regulate everything and everybody. There is a bill pending in Congress to give the President power to take property of any kind; to fix all prices, to assign every man to a designated position. There is a bill pending providing for a capital levy, taking a large proportion of every man’s property in exchange for one per cent government bonds. In short, proposals made by responsible men, if added together, would create exactly the kind of government in this country which exists today in Germany. There are many who urge with the proponents of the Burke-Wadsworth bill that the emergency requires a complete recasting of American life, a dedication of our entire energies to defense alone, and subordination of every principle on which the American Republic is based.
It is said that in time of war we have not hesitated to establish a dictatorship. I am afraid we would do so again, whether it is necessary or not. But that is a very different thing from establishing a dictatorship in time of peace on the ground that an emergency exists. In wartime it is frankly done for war purposes, and when the war is over the people know it is time to resume their powers. While the power is exercised, most of those exercising it are intensely inspired by patriotic motives, and politics is largely adjourned. But no one knows when a peace emergency is over. We have been enjoying a continuous emergency for the last seven years. The present emergency may well last for ten years without war reaching our shores. Arbitrary powers granted today may never be resumed.
It is just as dangerous to exaggerate the emergency as it is to underestimate the emergency. When an emergency exists it is all the more important that we retain our respect for the principles of constitutional American government, and that we go no further in modifying them than is absolutely essential.
. . . It is not necessary that we set aside the right of free debate, and a free press, and free speech. It is not necessary, to avoid regimentation by Hitler, that we forget all the Bill of Rights and the protection of minorities and authorize some Executive to conscript men and conscript property.
I am convinced that it can be worked out, retaining the principles of individual liberty for which it was founded, if we try. I am convinced that to meet the threat of a totalitarian nation we need not make ourselves totalitarian. I shudder when I hear the words “total defense.” I do not know what “total defense” means, unless it means the subjugation of every other principle of our life to the one subject—military defense. If the words mean anything, they mean that the energies of every individual shall be devoted to defense, and that we shall wipe out from our minds every other goal. That is not true today; I hope it may never be true. At a time like this it is peculiarly necessary that with every measure we take we see that the principles of American freedom are guarded well. Never has the American way of life been in such danger—danger as much from within as from without.
IT IS SAID THAT A compulsory draft is a democratic system. I deny that it has anything to do with democracy. It is far more typical of totalitarian nations than of democratic nations. It is absolutely opposed to the principles of individual liberty, which have always been considered a part of American democracy. Many people came to this country for the single purpose of avoiding the requirements of military service in Europe. This country has always been opposed to a large standing army, and it has been opposed to the use of the draft in time of peace I shrink from the very setting up of thousands of draft boards, with clerks and employees and endless paper work and red tape; from the registration of 12,000,000 men and the prying into every feature of their lives, their physical condition, their religious convictions, their financial status, and even their hobbies.
The draft is said to be democratic because it hits the rich as well as the poor. Since the rich are about 2 per cent of the total, it is still true that 98 per cent of those drafted are going to be the boys without means. It doesn’t make much difference to the poor boy whether the other 2 per cent go or not. To be snatched out of his life work may be a tragedy for a poor boy, but the rich boy will have no trouble finding another job if he is any good at all. As a matter of fact under the volunteer system you would probably get a greater percentage of wealthy boys than under the draft. This is because the wealthier boys all go to college, and the percentage of enlistment from the colleges has always been higher. The need for the defense of this country against nations thousands of miles distant is brought home to those in the colleges more forcibly than it is to the boy who is employed locally, to whom international affairs are a long distance off. Under a volunteer system the poor boys who already had good jobs would not have to go.
It is said that under the draft the slacker will stay at home and leave the burden on the patriots. But in the first place, the number of real slackers is negligible in the whole picture, and under the bill any real slacker has an easy “out.” All he has to do is marry a lady who has no other means of support. The number of marriages in recent weeks has increased by thousands.
THE PRINCIPLE OF A compulsory draft is basically wrong. If we must use compulsion to get an army, why not use compulsion to get men for other essential tasks? We must have men to manufacture munitions, implements of war, and war vessels. Why not draft labor for those occupations at wages lower than the standard? There are many other industries absolutely essential to defense, like the utilities, the railroads, the coal-mining industry. Why not draft men for those industries, also at $21 a month? If we draft soldiers, why not draft policemen and firemen for city and state service? The logical advocates of the draft admit this necessary conclusion. Senator Pepper, of Florida, has said that he believes the President should have power to draft men for munitions plants. Mr. Walter Lippmann says that if the conscription bill is to serve its real purpose it must not be regarded as a mere device for putting one man out of twenty-five into uniform but must be regarded as a method of mobilizing the men of the country for the much larger and more complicated task of industrial preparedness. In short, the logic behind the bill requires a complete regimentation of most labor and the assignment of jobs to every man able to work. This is actually done today in the Communist and Fascist states, which we are now apparently seeking to emulate.
There has been, very properly, a great outcry against the action of the Senate in authorizing the Secretaries of War and Navy to seize any industrial plant needed for the manufacture of munitions. I voted against that amendment because I do not see the necessity for that any more than for the drafting of men and because it gives uncontrolled discretion to the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy. But at least the owners of such plants are to be fully compensated for their property, while men who are drafted may be forced to give up jobs paying $50 a week to receive a soldier’s pay, at most equivalent to $15 a week. Their time is conscripted without compensation.
The argument in favor of conscription proves too much. If the emergency is as great as alleged, then we should adopt a completely socialized state and place ourselves and our property at the disposal of the government. That is fascism. It could only be justified if it were the only possible alternative to the subjugation of the United States by fascism from without.
Is it really necessary to take this long step toward a system in which the state is everything and the individual is nothing? What kind of an army do we want? The developments of the present war have shown that great numbers of men in the trenches are no longer the prime requisite for success. France had universal conscription, but it did them no good against a highly organized, modern, mechanized army. According to all the best military advice, what we need today is an army of experts We have all kinds of estimates of the number needed in the United States, but the best opinion is that an expert army of not more than 750.000 men would serve every purpose of defense. In January the President only requested funds for an army of 227,000 men Even on May 31, after the Germans had broken through in France and France was collapsing, the President was satisfied with an army of 280,000 men, and General Marshall himself estimated on June 4 that an army of 400,000 would avoid the necessity of mobilizing the National Guard and give a reasonable liberty of action up to January. Now the “ante has been boosted” to 1,200,000 men. This bill has put the cart before the horse. It is trying to provide a method of raising men before anyone has decided how many men should be raised. Up to this time the Army has had no authority to recruit men, in excess of 375,000 plus the National Guard of 225,000; has had no authority to invite boys into training camps for military training.
As far as the Regular Army is concerned, conscription is the poorest possible method of getting it. Men are chosen at random from all kinds of occupations, mostly unrelated to the Army. After one year they naturally return to the jobs which they were forced to give up. Someone else equally unwilling and equally inexperienced has to be given a year of partial training. There is only one way to get the kind of Army we need today—that is to make the Army an occupation sufficiently attractive so that men will go to it as a matter of choice. Why should we expect men to accept pay equivalent to approximately $15 a week? Privates in the Army get board, lodging, and clothes, equivalent perhaps to $40 a month, plus $21 in cash, a total of $61 a month. They should certainly get the equivalent of $100 a month. The Army does not want a lot of men who leave at the end of one year or even of three years; they want men who are sufficiently satisfied to stay indefinitely.
It is said that the voluntary-enlistment plan has broken down. Of course that is utterly untrue. In spite of inadequate pay and in spite of three-year enlistments, from which a man cannot escape if a better job is offered, it has been accomplishing everything which had been asked of it. Men are enlisting today at a rapid rate—40,000 enlisted in the month of August. Yet there has been no really serious effort to enlist men, and no call by the President for volunteers. In fact, he has publicly discouraged college boys from enlisting.
Men are looking for jobs with reasonable pay. In New York City this year it was necessary to fill a position as sanitation man at $1,800 a year, which, considering the cost of living in New York City, is not very much more than Army pay plus support. There were 84,000 applications from New York City alone.
Of course the men who enlist in the Army, like the men who get jobs in any industry, are those who at the time are out of work. There are more than 5,000,000 men out of work today, looking for jobs. There are over 1,700,000 on W.P.A. and over 200,000 in the C.C.C. camps. The government is paying these men in a way which makes W.P.A. and C.C.C. more attractive than the Army. We have not the right to require these men, as a condition of government aid, to accept employment in the Army; but surely, if we make the Army only reasonably attractive, many of them will prefer the Army to W.P.A. or C.C.C.
How utterly ridiculous it is to make 700,000 men give up good jobs at a time of life when they are first making real progress, while many millions of men out of work, and 1,200,000 boys coming of age every year, are looking for jobs. The idea that the Army is the most unpleasant occupation in the world, into which men must be forced against their will, is archaic and fallacious. In time of war Army service is dangerous, but if we prepare adequately, we should not be at war, and the Army for the most part is a peacetime, highly specialized occupation with only a chance of danger. Experience shows that men do not avoid an occupation because there is a chance of danger. There are dangerous civilian occupations—work with high-tension wires, work in tunnel construction, work in coal mines; and there is never any difficulty in finding men interested in those occupations.
The Air Corps is the most dangerous part of the Army, but more men want to enlist than can be accepted. The Army has many advantages, a clean and regular life without great responsibility, an attraction in the very discipline and order which appeals to some men and offends others very greatly. The Navy always has a waiting list because they pay their men more adequately to try to make their service attractive. The Army should be just as attractive today. We already have 650,000 men available under existing law. We will have no difficulty in getting 750,000 or 950,000 or 1,200,000 under the volunteer system, if the Army is made as attractive to the average man as many other jobs furnished by industry.
As for the Reserve, we have never tried getting men for military training camps. No such camps are in existence except for Reserve officers. Of the 1,200,000 boys who graduate from high school or college every year, a large proportion could be persuaded to take a year in the military training camps at the government’s expense before starting on their life work. Within a very few years we would build up all the Reserve we could possibly need. An attempt to raise whatever Army is necessary by a volunteer appeal will unquestionably meet with success if that attempt has the wholehearted cooperation of the Administration and of the Army; that it will furnish 400,000 men if that many are needed, before the complicated draft is working.
There are some who have felt that the emergency is so immediate that only the draft will meet it. Obviously that is not today the official view. The President has just transferred fifty destroyers to England in exchange for bases which will not be ready for a year. If Hitler were about to overwhelm England and attack the United States, the President obviously could not weaken our Navy by depriving it of fifty destroyers now in active service. The alleged need immediately for a huge Army is based on the theory that our Navy is inadequate. The President has just determined that the Navy is completely adequate and can even afford to surrender fifty of its fighting craft. What has happened to the emergency supposed to justify this drafting of men, so complete a departure from American tradition and so long a step toward dictatorship? No; we obviously have a reasonable time before Mr. Hitler can possibly organize an attack on the United States. It is no easy task to transport an army across 3,000 miles of water while our Navy is in existence. We have time to do our job in the right way. We have time to get the kind of voluntary expert mechanized Army we really need. We have time to do the job without upsetting and perhaps wrecking hundreds of thousands of lives. We can do it without excitement and hysteria, without breaking down the fundamental principles of the American Republic. We can do it without over-estimating the emergency, and sinking all the principles we love in the slough of total defense.
Free men, free enterprise, free speech are the cornerstones of the American Republic. If the Burke-Wadsworth bill should become law, we will have to accept that limitation of freedom. But we should be all the more vigilant to oppose the further limitations on freedom. The more we yield to the demand for arbitrary power, the more power will be demanded, until freedom will be as nonexistent in America as it is in Germany today. In fact we may even be turning over these destroyers to Germany to be used against us, for the British may have to surrender their fleet, according to the William Allen White Committee. Of course, in case of British defeat any pledge of the present British Government would be worthless, for the Government would not be there. Obviously the President must consider our fleet more than adequate for defense.
[1 ] This text is taken from the Congressional Record, Appendix, September 6, 1940, pp. 5490-92. The article was originally presented as a radio address by Senator Taft on September 5, 1940.