October 11, 2006
By Robert B. Townsend
For anyone interested in World War II era history, we have just posted up a pamphlet on the question Shall We Have Universal Military Training. This is a late addition to the series of pamphlets the AHA prepared for the U.S. Army during the war years, and posted online in 2002 as part of the web site Constructing a Postwar World: The G.I. Roundtable Series in Context. The 200,000 Shall We Have Universal Military Training pamphlets originally printed by the War Department were censored and ultimately destroyed before publication. The copy posted online had to be reconstructed from a final galley proof found among the AHA’s papers at the Library of Congress.
The pamphlet was originally written in early 1944 by Grayson L. Kirk, a government professor at Columbia University, at a time when members of the Franklin Roosevelt’s administration were actively promoting the idea of peacetime conscription to maintain a standing army after the war. The pamphlet itself tries to address both sides of the issue, and worked its way through a number of layers of review in the War Department before 200,000 copies were finally printed and prepared for distribution.
At the last minute, however, members of George C. Marshall’s staff feared this pamphlet was too political and would bring the wrath of a Republican congress down on the Roosevelt administration. In a memo of his conversation with Francis T. Spaulding the head of the education program, Theodore Belgen (head of the project for the AHA) reports the pamphlet was censored due to “an absolute unwillingness on the part of the War Department to raise any question in an official publication as to the possibility that the commitments made in the Tehran conference by the Allied leaders would not be carried out. [Spaulding] said even if we acceded to the request of the War Department that the final section of the pamphlet be dropped out the department probably would still not go ahead with publication until after the election because of the Soldier Vote Law and because a universal military training bill is under consideration by Congress.”
And so the War Department bureaucracy swung into action to eliminate any possibility that these pamphlets could come to public (and congressional) attention. In a memo among the War Department’s papers in the National Archives, sent from the head of the Fiscal Branch to the head of the Publication Division ordered all copies withheld from distribution, because “This Division has received orders from the Chief of Staff that no copies of the above mentioned manual shall be distributed until further notice.” Other memoranda document efforts to track down every last copy that had been distributed within the War Department (the AHA never received a copy). There is no record of the final disposition of the printed copies, but as best I can tell they were all thrown away during the demobilization after the war.
Since all of the published copies were destroyed, we lacked the material to include Shall We Have Universal Military Training among the other pamphlets when the Constructing a Postwar World: The G.I. Roundtable Series in Context site was first posted online. Nevertheless, this pamphlet has lingered as a subject of great curiosity for me, and so while working in the Association’s papers over the summer, I was happy to discover a final galley copy of the pamphlet filed away. Based on the correspondence in the file, it appears no further changes were made between the galley and the printer, so I feel comfortable about presenting this as an accurate representation of the final publication.
The pamphlet itself adds little to what we knew from the other pamphlets, but it does add further insight into the way Americans were already looking past the immediate battles to future wars to come. This pamphlet is also intriguing because it reflects a perspective shaped by Pearl Harbor and the Minutemen, and not yet colored by Hiroshima and the atom bomb. In that respect, there is an interesting contrast between this pamphlet and one that appeared just after the war on Building a Workable Peace.
We hope this will prove to be a useful resource for teachers, students, and researchers who might be interested in the period.