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THE ANTI-MILITARIST TRADITION: Oswald Garrison Villard, 1916 - 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:
Oswald Garrison Villard was a genuine liberal and pacifist throughout most of his life. He was the grandson of William Lloyd Garrison, the great abolitionist and founder of the Liberator. Villard inherited the New York Evening Post from his father, Henry Villard, and edited that until he sold it in 1918. He was editor of the Nation for many years until its sale in 1932, serving thereafter as a contributor until 1940—when the Nation opted both for an interventionist foreign policy and domestic statism (after 1929, even Villard did not escape these latter influences). In 1940 he severed all connections with the journal. We reprint here his editorial from the Nation1as a brisk rebuttal to the widespread notions that conscription and universal military training are democratic and beneficial to society. It is worth noting that this and other of his best statements on conscription appeared during a period in his life when he was most laissez faire in his opinions and furtherest away from socialism.
IN THE YEARS to come none of the many amazing phenomena of 1916 will, we are sure, cause greater wonderment than our recent discovery that universal military service is the cure-all for every one of our American ills. Do we wish to defend our country? We have but to adopt the system of training every boy to be a soldier, and the problem is solved. Do we wish to become industrially efficient? Then let us forget all about vocational training, but give every American a year under arms, and presto! we shall outdo Germany in scientific efficiency and management. Is our youth lawless and undisciplined? Universal compulsory service will end that once and for all. Is our democracy halting? It is the tonic of a democratic army that we need, in which all men shall pay for the privileges of citizenship by a year of preparation for poisonous gas and of learning how to shoot. Our melting-pot is a failure? Then let us pour into it the iron metal of militarism, and it will fuse every element at once. Finally, if we need an American soul—and the war has suddenly taught us that this glorious country lacks a soul—it is the remedy of universal military service that is to supply our spiritual needs and give us the ability to feel as one, to think as one, to steer towards our destiny as of one mind.
It is all so alluring and so entrancingly easy, the wonder is that we have never thought of it before. We saw it going on in France and Germany and Russia, but it seemed altogether repulsive in its forms. Americans to be conscripted? Heaven forbid. There rose before us the unutterable cruelties of non-commissioned officers and some of the officers—visions of the men who have come to our shores with hands mutilated to avoid the barracks, with their open immoralities, their bitter hardships, the loss of three years of so many working lives. The “Red Rosa,” Rosa Luxembourg, with her 10,000 authenticated instances of cruelties to German soldiers, inflicted by their own countrymen behind the screen of official authority, explained to us why so many young Germans emigrated before coming of military age. We saw in universal Russian service a complete reason for the failure of the Russian revolution , for the survival of the corrupt bureaucratic government. We knew of men of noble spirit in every land crushed by the whole system. We saw in the development of the Prussian military clique not merely the fine flower of militarism, but the true fruits of universal service. We recalled, too, James Madison’s belief that “large armies and heavy taxes are the best-known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.”
But it now seems that we were mistaken in all this; that our failure to progress financially, economically, and spiritually as rapidly as we should have done has been due solely to our failure to grasp at the panacea that lay so easily within our reach. Take the education of our boys. The other day at a joint meeting of two schoolmasters’ associations there were divided views on some issues, but none apparently as to the utter lawlessness of our American youth and the complete failure of our private schools to reduce them to subordination by means of mental and moral discipline. And so there were many who grasped with joy at the idea of the universal-military-drill to retrieve for them the ground lost by their own failure to do the fundamental thing they pledged themselves to accomplish. Of course, they knew little or nothing about universal service; perhaps it was the unexplored mystery of it that appealed Many Americans are quite sure that the latest untried remedy, be it some law, or the initiative and referendum, or the recall of judicial decisions, or some other panacea, is, by reason of its very newness, just the medicine for a given ill they have been looking for. So with these school-teachers. Ignoring the fact that our private military schools have been anything but popular, and only in exceptional cases of high standing, they turn to military drill as to a last straw. One can admire their courage while marvelling at their judgment. Fortunately, those particular teachers heard the European system of a nation in arms denounced by one of their number, who had served in Austria both as private and as officer.
WHAT THEY DO not see any more than the Stanwood Menkens who, never having borne arms, yet know that universal service is what we need to make patriots by the million, is that the spirit of compulsory service makes directly against the American ideal, for it inculcates blind obedience to the will of others, subordination to those who are masters not necessarily because of superior wisdom or fitness, but largely because of accident. It often means cringing before men who abuse their powers, particularly over men of finer instincts and antecedents—just as the late Karl Bitter was driven to desert from the Austrian service by intolerable persecutions. It is not without significance that there is a suicide a day among the private soldiers in Germany in time of peace—no record being kept of unsuccessful attempts at self-destruction. Again, as Major-Gen O’Ryan, of the New York National Guard, has put it, the primary thing that military service teaches is that the soldier shall stop thinking and become an automaton—to do only what his officers tell him. And usually there is a steadily widening cleft between him and those officers.
Once we valued American self-assertiveness, independence of thought and action, mental alertness, yes, even the happy-go-lucky Yankee initiative and individuality, as some of our best characteristics. Now we are to prefer men cast in one mold, drilled in one way of thinking, and into obedience to their rulers. Formerly, we deemed it most worth while that all men should have their own opinions, express them freely, and differ with their rulers as they saw fit—since their rulers were but their servants. As for making patriots, universal military service makes Socialists and deserters. There is nothing whatsoever democratic about it, save that it applies to all men alike. Where universal service is most efficient, there is every kind of distinction as to regiments and individuals. The peasant serves three years, the “gentleman” one. The favors shown to the Guard regiments in Germany have led to more than one bitter debate in the Reichstag. What can there be democratic about an army? Its whole fundamental principle is that of a hierarchy in which everybody responds automatically and blindly to the will of a commander-in-chief. What system could be more directly opposed to the democratic theory?
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[1 ] This text is taken from the Nation, CII (May 11, 1916), 510-11. Although published as an unsigned editorial, authorship has been verified with copies of the Nation in the possession of the publishers bearing Villard’s notes.