Breaking ranks : veterans' opposition to universal military training, 1943-1948

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Seelinger, Matthew J.
Glen, John M., 1953-
Issue Date
Thesis (M.A.)
Department of History
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From the colonial period to the present, Americans have debated the role of the military and its place in American society. One important part of this debate is the issue of compulsory military service and whether it is consistent with the ideals of a democratic state. Although Americans have generally accepted compulsory service in times of national emergency, they have often expressed great reservations to it in times of peace. In their view, compulsory military service raises fundamental questions about the responsibilities of citizens to the state.Following World War II, proponents of compulsory military service campaigned for implementation of Universal Military Training (UMT) as a method of insuring manpower for a potential national emergency. By stressing the universal aspect of the program, supporters hoped to demonstrate the democratic qualities of UMT and its compatibility with traditional American ideals. Ultimately, however, they were unable to convince Congress and the general public of the program's merits. Some opposed the program because of its questionable military value in the atomic age. Many others voiced their disapproval of UMT largely because of a longstanding American sentiment against peacetime compulsory service. As a result, UMT was never implemented.This thesis will explore a neglected aspect of the UMT debate and examine the opposition of veterans to UMT. Veterans generally, and veterans organizations in particular, have traditionally advocated military preparedness. Not surprisingly, the American Legion was the primary nongovernmental organization to spearhead the effort to adopt UMT. Yet significant opposition to UMT existed even within the Legion's ranks. Similarly, the American Veterans Committee (AVC), a newly formed organization comprised of World War II veterans, announced its opposition to military training. With uncertain support from a segment of American society that would normally be expected to back preparedness programs, the government's plan for military training had little chance for adoption. With the resumption of selective service in 1948, the importance of UMT to U.S. military policy greatly diminished, and UMT virtually disappeared from the political forefront.Through the use of archival sources at the American Legion National Headquarters, the records of the American Veterans Committee, congressional testimony by representatives of both organizations, and various secondary sources, this thesis demonstrates that some veterans, like many Americans, viewed peacetime compulsory military service with great ambivalence and not an obligation of citizenship in a democratic state.