Militarism: The New Slavery - John T. Flynn

Universal Military Training

The people of the United States are now confronted by a movement to introduce into this country the project of Universal Military Training—UMT, as it is called—as a permanent institution. The ostensible purpose is to create a great reservoir of manpower to fight whatever global or other wars in which we may be involved. The assumption, of course, is that we live in a world upon which Communist Russia has launched with appalling success a monstrous plan to conquer it all for communism.

Before we go farther, let me warn you to be on guard against the supposition that UMT is essentially a military institution. There is a great deal more to it than national defense and soldiering. There is nothing new about it. It has been used in every important country of Western Europe—except Britain, to her eternal credit And it has brought every country that used it to bankruptcy and war.

As long as I can recall there have been groups here devoted to UMT, chiefly because they thought it offered excellent discipline for our youth. But its sponsors got nowhere with that argument in free America.

It is being urged now by the President and a powerful group in Congress who insist we must be ready on a moment's notice to defend ourselves against Russia. Now let me repeat the warning that we will go far afield if we think of UMT as a military institution. The idea takes numerous forms in various proposals to get it started or put it into effect either piecemeal or all at once. However, I am not discussing here any special measures or particular legislation. I am referring to permanent UMT as a national policy —whatever form it may take. It is, in general, a plan to conscript all young men into the armed services for from six months to two years, after which they will be discharged into a reserve, subject to annual training for years. But thus plan would not get very far if it were proposed as a purely military measure, particularly in this day of aerial and atomic warfare when even many military authorities question the need for mass armies. There are other highly complicated elements in it—purely political and economic. Until these are examined and understood no intelligent opinion of it is possible.

No one who opposes UMT does so because he wants to keep America defenseless. Of course America must be prepared to resist assaults on us by a foreign power. But we must never forget that there is an infinitely more dangerous enemy within our gates than Russia. It apparently has not occurred to our citizens that the institution of militarism can be a far more formidable enemy within our gates than Communist Russia 5000 miles away. We must know how to defend ourselves not only against Communist Russia in Europe and Asia, but also against Communist agents within our own gates and against a strange collection of other interests here in America. If America is ever conquered by communism, it will not be by the armies of Communist Russia, but by a curious alliance of ordinarily loyal elements within our country. We have Communists, socialists, various editions of collectivists, One Worlders, plus a variety of economic and sectional groups interested for political or business reasons in measures that will break down and finally destroy our free society.

Fortunately UMT has been tried in many countries. We will do well, therefore, to keep an open mind until we see clearly the various interests behind this dangerous institution. We can see this in all its aspects in the experience of Germany and Italy.


As we survey the institution of Universal Military Training in Germany, we will go very far wrong if we think of it in terms of a purely military organization. It did make a powerful appeal to those in Germany who loved military might and display. But there would have been no UMT in Germany had there not been in that country far more formidable reasons for it. Actually it had originated in France. And it found little favor at first with the old Junker elements in Prussia. The old army had been a prized professional institution as a proper activity for young nobles. They found in the officers' corps a vocation suited to their social level. When Germany turned to Universal Military Training there were not enough young nobles qualified to provide the military with the great swarm of officers needed. The immense number of non—noble applicants who crowded into the army tended to debase the "social standing" of the officers' corps. Hence the nobility of Prussia in particular looked on the experiment of UMT with grave misgivings. We must look to other elements of the population for the rise of militarism in Germany. Foremost were the politicians, the business men and the imperialists, who looked with growing envy on the imperialist adventures of Britain, France and Italy and who nursed dreams of colonial expansion.

As a matter of fact, at the root of the movement in Prussia was the politician. And the urge for it was to be found in the rising tide of socialism in the German states. Bismarck, one of the first German leaders to be alerted to the socialist threat, was a pragmatic statesman. Socialism had had its origin in Germany, the birthplace of Marx and Engels. In their assault on the capitalist society the socialists held out the vision of "jobs for all and security for all." There can be no doubt this gaudy promise had a potent impact on the minds of the German workers. Lassalle, then the socialist leader in Germany, made so great an impression on Bismarck's mind that he cultivated the socialist leader. He began by adopting a few socialist welfare measures. But he came around after a while to launching a full—scale competition in socialist projects with the socialists.

The great German Chancellor decided, after some experimenting, that he could give the German people all that the socialists promised without setting up socialism—a tragic blunder which politicians in America who have not read history seem not to have comprehended to this day.

As early as 1887 various German leaders were talking about capitalism suffering from a "lack of planning." Von Moltke and other German military leaders, following their great victories, were rewarded by the German people with seats in the Parliament. Under the influence of this type of leadership "the people became inclined to believe in a superior kind of planning," as one commentator put it, "which the crisis—beset capitalism did not know how to provide, but which was inherent in successful military institutions and enterprises."

Bismarck was not proposing a socialist Germany. Like many a naive American politician, he recognized that Germany was troubled by grave economic dislocations and that the government was being urged to do something about it. He shied away from the word "socialism," just as our own bedeviled politicians do, and he took refuge in the word "planning."

Many Americans do not realize that around 1937 the Socialist Party in America ceased to exist as a real force. The word "socialism" was a poor brand label. A new and slicker school of socialist revolutionaries adopted the term Planned Economy. And that is the brand name under which authentic socialism is now being offered to the American people. Bismarck adopted the term in Germany and proceeded to set in motion a chain of welfare and other socialist proposals for the purpose of creating jobs. He sought to take socialism away from the socialists. He proposed in his ignorance of the explosive nature of this idea, that he could defend capitalism by adopting many of the root ideas of socialism — and to this he added the glamorous job—making boondoggle of militarism.

In one social area he established old—age pensions, unemployment insurance and public works to absorb as many unemployed as possible. He encouraged the several German states to take over railroads, electric power plants, water works, municipal transport, telegraphs, forests, mines and industrial enterprises. His avowed purpose was to operate these enterprises at a profit to lighten the burden of taxation on the people. This has been called State Capitalism.

But all these adventures were not sufficient to make the Planned Society work—a society that would provide jobs and security for all and take the wind out of the sails of the socialist revolutionaries.

None of this was enough. And it was no very broad jump for the Junker rulers of Germany to recognize the possibilities in Universal Military Training. While they were aware of its military value to a Germany then straining at the leash for imperialistic adventures, they were also aware of its job—making possibilities. These were derived from two sources:

1. Conscription takes into the armed forces great numbers of young men on coming of age who would otherwise be seeking jobs in private industry.

2. Not only were these registrants removed from the labor market, but they were provided with barracks, clothing, food, medical care at the expense of the taxpayers

But this program involved still another and enormously important department. These huge levies of men had to be armed. This brought into existence Germany's vast armament industry, which became her greatest industry. It involved not only the manufacture of weapons and munitions, but it drew upon the raw material industries for steel copper, wood products, chemicals—the garment industry for making uniforms; the shoe industry; the farmers for the immense herds of horses for the cavalry and the feed for horses and men. To which must be added the pay of the drafted men which, however small, made a substantial addition to the purchasing power of the nation.

The immensity of this huge military industry in Germany by 1907 may be seen from some figures. There were 600,000 men in the Army and 33,000 in the Navy. There were 1,800,000 employed in the materials industries such as mining and metals and forestry and commerce and trade, entirely dependent on government military orders. Actually militarism became a huge PWA (Public Works Administration) that provided jobs for vast military and industrial armies.

When critics complained of the oppressive taxes and borrowings to support this enterprise, the reply, to quote one cabinet official referring to the military industry, was that "The national economy, with its thousand wheels, through which millions find a living, cannot stand still for long." Another German statesman, at the Peace Conference in 1898, declared that "the armies are not impoverishing the people and the military service was not a burden." And he declared that "Germany owed her prosperity to military service."

Of course, there was the inevitable professor to assure the people that:

"In spite of the fact that millions in taxes were required to maintain this rapidly increasing naval power, the public in general was pleased with the new navalism."

In fact the Herr Doctor declared:

"People associated prosperity and good times with monarchy and its militaristic props, and they seemed to be convinced that this prosperity would continue if the fighting forces of the nation were continually modernized."

This is not an interpretation put on these policies after the event. The German leaders knew quite well what they were doing and why. An English writer in 1942 called attention to this gaudy boondoggle in our own time. He wrote:

"The special features of the demand for armaments which has enabled it to be used as a solution of the unemployment problem are two. In the first place, the demand, being unlimited, imposes a system not merely of planned production but of planned consumption. Secondly, the plan of consumption is not determined by considerations of price and profit"

Of course the same result can be obtained from peace—time projects, but there is always a resistance to spending on peace—time projects. But on armies and armaments it is possible to break down the resistance by promoting fears of external danger, threats of war, or invasion. There is another reason. Where money was spent on war goods those who benefited were highly organized—as the huge armament industries in Germany which maintained powerful lobbies and could also keep alive endless war scares. Indeed it became a policy with the armament industries to employ retired army officers who enjoyed easy access and influence over the policy and purchasing bureaus of the government.

However, this policy confronted Bismarck's Germany with one dangerous problem. It was never possible to collect enough taxes to pay the bills. In 1870 Germany defeated France and created the unification of the German states into the German Empire. Bismarck wrung from France an indemnity of 4,467,000,000 marks—a huge sum in the values of that day. But despite this great bankroll to start with, the new empire began immediately to go into debt. Here are the figures on the rise of Germany's national debt following the Franco—Prussian war, due chiefly to military enterprises:

1871 0
1885 410,000,000
1897 2,317,000,000
1909 4,233,000,000
1913 4,897,000,000

In addition to this huge debt of nearly five billion marks of the central government, all the states and local governments were piling up huge deficits. The total of federal, state and local debts in 1913 was:

Federal government 4,897,000,000
States 14,262,000,000
Local governments 5,295,000,000
Total 24,454 ,000,000

These totals may not seem extravagant to the youth of our day who think in terms of war—inflated money. But it was a staggering burden to Germany in the money values of that period, prior to two world wars. In 1913, on the eve of World War I, the Finance Minister of Germany declared that "the vital question of Germany's finances must be solved NOW." He said the "stability of the empire is exposed to risk."

In the hope of surmounting the difficulty, the cities and states began buying up private enterprises, hoping to operate them at a profit to overcome the immense burden of social welfare and military services. They never succeeded. Germany approached national bankruptcy.

There remained only the ancient escape of bedeviled nations—WAR. As usual the war was fought on vast taxes and huge credits. From 1914 to 1918 Germany spent 164,299,000,000 marks. Of this amount she borrowed 60 percent. This huge deficit, piled on the vast pre—war deficits of fifty years, brought her politicians to those desperate experiments that culminated in the grotesque inflation of 1923—24. Thus the debt of 4,685,000,000 marks in 1922 became in two years nearly seven trillion marks (6,955,000,000,000). One result was that money lost its value and the bondholders lost their bonds. The debt was wiped out by inflation, including the savings and insurance policies of everybody in Germany. It became necessary to stop the printing presses grinding out trillions of worthless marks and to introduce a new money unit—the Rentenmark. One Rentenmark was worth one trillion old marks.

This is what militarism and welfare and boondoggling did to Germany. The imperial government fell and the new revolutionary republican government proceeded to repeat this crazy experience all over. Between 1926 and 1931 it built up a new national debt of nearly seven billion Rentenmarks. Adding the debts of the state governments, Germany had a new debt of 21 billion Rentenmarks. The appalling finale of all this was Hitler, who did what the Kaiser did in 1914—he turned to war as an escape—war, the supreme project of obfuscated politicians trapped in impossible promises, in overpowering taxes and crushing debt.

These facts will illustrate what I meant by describing militarism as something more than a mere military enterprise. It was all mixed up with the efforts of the German government to resist the socialist advance by outdoing the socialists in welfare and economic promises. At the outset I cautioned that we must recognize that the subject of militarism, of which Universal Military Training is the base, could not be understood merely in terms of military policy. It was made possible in Germany by the decision of the German Junkers to go into competition with the socialists and their promise of jobs for all. Welfare did not put people to work, and government—owned and operated railroads, street—car lines, electric power plants and other industries merely added to the deficits. The supreme project, which fascinated the minds of military zealots, pan—Germans, imperialists and industrialists, provided the perfect answer. It took huge numbers of men out of the labor supply into the armies and even many more into the armament industries, all paid for out of taxes and crushing public debt. The capitalist sector of the national economy had to pay its own bills and undertake, by paying taxes, a huge part of the losses on the governments socialist industries. Even this was not enough. It had to support a mountainous debt that ultimately crushed Germany twice—once under the Republic and once again under Hitler.


The story of militarism in Germany ought to suffice. But its use in Italy will enable us to see the whole tragic experiment on a different stage. In the Italy of the late 19th Century the general methods of parliamentary government were in practice. It was a constitutional monarchy and instruments of production and distribution were owned by private enterprise. The central government was endowed with more authority than in Germany, which encouraged politicians to use it. It fell into the habit of erecting bureaus like our numerous WPA's and AAA's and NRA's. Depretis, a conservative, was premier. Like Bismarck, he went in heavily for social welfare measures, but was never able to collect enough taxes to pay the bills. Like Germany, Italy was bedeviled by socialist agitators who promised jobs and handouts for all if they would only junk capitalism.

This made a powerful appeal to the masses who had been used to short rations for years. Here again, as in Germany, the politicians of the Right supposed they could silence the demand for socialist institutions by actually giving the people a heavy dose of socialism. It was, of course, never possible to provide sufficient jobs in government—operated industries and bureaus to supplement the heavily taxed and regulated private ones. Depretis tried building roads, financing cooperatives, providing unemployment insurance, health insurance and handouts of all kinds to various minority groups.

More radical leaders were demanding more radical measures such as dividing the land among the peasants. And, of course, and inevitably, Italy turned to militarism. Youth were conscripted into the armies, and the armaments industry was set off into violent energy providing weapons and munitions for the army and navy—which meant, as in Germany, as many jobs as in the armed forces themselves. In short, the conscript armies and the immense industry necessary to house, feed, clothe and arm these forces became the greatest job—making enterprise in Italy. The government was spending on the armed services five times as much as on all other forms of government job—making such as public works. The cost of the armed services consumed 63 per cent of the whole cost of government. Health insurance, unemployment insurance, funds for cooperatives, old—age pensions, subsidies for farmers and other government plans to spend money were adopted.

After World War I the experiment was continued, with the inevitable rise of deficits, as follows:

1919—20 11,494,000,000
1920—21 20,955,000,000
1921—22 17,169,000,000

In the single year 1920—21 the deficit was five billion lira greater than the accumulated deficits of pre—war Italy for fifty years. By 1922 the national debt was 92,643,000,000 lira.

The government built 162,000 dwellings, 346 town halls, 255 hospitals, 1156 schools, 1000 churches, along with roads, railways, drainage projects, irrigation works. This enabled the politicians to provide a great number of jobs. One may ask—what was wrong about this? Were not these desirable contributions to Italy's well—being, to say nothing of the impact on unemployment? The answer, of course, is obvious. These adventures in job—making by the government were made possible only by heavy taxation and endless borrowing. The debt soared. Italy's resources were exhausted. The workers, their appetites stimulated by these measures, continued to demand more and more. This spending of borrowed money, largely borrowed from the banks, produces an inflation. The inflation forces prices up. The rising prices lead to demands for wage increases. The increased costs force ever heavier borrowing until the economic system approaches a crisis. One industry after another falls into idleness. Workers are laid off and the experiment—in reverse—proceeds to devour itself. Six hundred thousand workers in Italy were on strike in six hundred plants. Italy was bankrupt. The Communists ran amuck, took over many of the plants and hoisted the Red flag.

The climax of this gaudy and tragic folly was Mussolini and his Fasci di Combattimento. Of course Mussolini proceeded to give the deluded Italian people more of the same. He demanded a new constitution, nationalization of arms and munition plants, national control of factories, railroads, public services to be controlled by workers' councils, confiscation of war profits, social insurance, heavy inheritance taxes and (with a gleam of satire) "no form of dictatorship." He proceeded to do precisely what the old parties did—to which he added militarism on an even greater scale. It is interesting to recall that many Americans visited Italy and commented on the skill with which Mussolini solved Italy's economic problems with his vast military adventures. Militarism on a grander scale became the base of Italy's economic system. No thoughtful man can escape the historic fact that in Germany and Italy—and other European countries —both conservatives and radicals turned to immense military establishments to solve a problem of unemployment—and to get the funds for this purpose from oppressive taxation and fantastic borrowing.

There are, of course, great numbers who love military institutions for their own sake—the external expression of national might; the display of power and glory in the marching legions, the flying flags, the martial music. But there would have been no militarism but for the desperate search by frustrated politicians promising jobs for all and abundance for all. The promise is redeemed by vast armies, an equally vast military industry, handouts for numerous groups, heavy taxation and endless borrowing. It is never possible to pay these exhausting bills out of mere taxes. Always and everywhere these promise—making dictators and demagogues and military heroes turn to the ultimate destructive weapon — government borrowing—endless debt, until the whole tragi-comedy sinks into the arms of bankruptcy and war—war, which affords a brief refuge and ends the whole ghastly tragedy.

The United States

What we have seen in Germany and Italy was duplicated in Austria, France, Russia and other European countries and in Japan. It of course produced a spurious prosperity by creating millions of jobs in the armed services and the war industries. But this evil institution had a more iniquitous effect. After all, it was a form of servitude—slavery—enforced labor. The government asserted the right to take the mind and body of every young man, put him in military encampments and subject him to a process of indoctrination designed to create an electorate subdued to these principles. To escape this form of servitude millions of men left Germany, France, Italy, Austria and other European countries to breathe in America the air of freedom. And what is more, it was the inevitable road to war. The system so crushed the nation under the burden of taxes and debt that in the end befuddled ministers of state sought escape from its consequences in war.

Now this evil thing rears its head in our America. It was promoted by General Eisenhower—a confirmed militarist—before he became President, and a powerful group in both parties insist that is necessary on the theory that we must defend ourselves against Communist Russia.

You can't have militarism without a reasonably prospective enemy—and Russia provides our militarist politicians with that essential, although no man in his senses believes that Russia, which has been handed and is in possession of three—fourths of Europe and Asia, has the slightest intention of risking the losses of these vast areas to engage in a military war against the United States But the President declares we must undertake the defense of something he calls the "Free World." He told Congress in 1948:

"Universal Military Training is a necessity. . . it should be enacted as soon as possible, in the interest of national security and to let the world know that America's championing of free peoples was here to stay."

But he believes militarism is a good thing in itself. In 1949 he declared that everybody ought to he trained and that, as reported by the New York Times, "in future war the women will have to be drafted as well as the men." As a job—making boondoggle, we must set up as the policeman of the world. The general idea of UMT is for a year of training followed by six or more years in the reserve subject to annual training periods. The President has gone so far as to say that six months of this should be served in Europe. This, of course, would be outside and in addition to the regular armed forces.

It is obvious this adventure would get nowhere but for certain results it produces that have no connection with the business of soldiering. We will not understand this until we recapture a clear picture of events in America since 1929 when the Great Depression reared its head. I make no apology for that disaster. It took its roots in the folly and avarice of over-adventurous businessmen encouraged by certain economists. The faith of a large part of the business world in those pre-depression fairyland economics was in full bloom until a few days before the crash of 1929. It brought President Franklin D. Roosevelt into the White House in 1933 at which time the whole flimsy structure crashed around our heads.

It was at this point, though few realized it, that the climate was created for Universal Military Training in this country. President Roosevelt launched a rapid and sensational succession of plans to create employment and coax prosperity back to the nation. He also inaugurated some social and economic reforms, some of which were useful, but almost all of which were mere to spend money created by government borrowing at the banks. However well—intentioned these efforts were, they did not bring prosperity back to the American people.

When Mr. Roosevelt took office there was an immense number of workers out of employment. But six years later, in 1939, when the war broke in Europe, there were still 11,369,000 people unemployed. When he was inaugurated there were 5,176,000 households on relief. Seven years later there were still 4,912,000 households on relief comprising 19,000,000 people. Mr. Roosevelt as a candidate denounced President Hoover for borrowing money for relief. When in office, he borrowed on an enormous scale. The depression persisted. And then in 1939 came the war in Europe.

I have noted these facts because I hope to make the reader—particularly young readers—realize how frustrated politicians in America of both parties finally turned to militarism as an escape from their dilemma. It is a fact that none of the numerous relief agencies ended the depression. It was the war which ended it. When the war broke in Europe we had 335,000 men in our armed forces. In 1941, as our entry into the war approached, we had 1,801,000. In 1945 we had 12,123,000 in the armed forces. The number of persons employed in the civilian service of the government on war duties and the number of men and women employed in the war industries, producing guns and planes and tanks and munitions of all sorts, including uniforms, foods, medicines and other necessities for the fighting men, was far in excess of another 12 million.

The immense sums paid to these people flooded into the markets and farms of the nation, creating other millions of employment. All this was paid for out of taxes and government loans in fantastic sums. In 1939, the year the war started in Europe, our government costs—including welfare, boondoggling, farm subsidies, make-work adventures of all sorts—were $8,700,000,000. Now compare these expenditures with the following:

1940 $8,998,000,000
1942 $32,396,000,000
1943 $78,178,000,000
1944 $93,743,000,000
1945 $100,404,000,000

These vast floods of billions flowed over the United States—to pay the armed forces, the great army of civilians in government war bureaus; to pay the cost of manufacturing guns, endless floods of planes, munitions, uniforms, food, medicines, naval vessels and all the necessary material of war. Factories worked night and day. And the workers flooded into all the shops of the land with their rising wages.

Now, on a somewhat smaller scale, these fantastic expenditures continue to the present time. There is no war. Even the Korean "police action" has been over for two years. But the war boom continues. Russia as an enemy has become almost a necessity to our government. It is the bugaboo used to frighten our people into fantastic spending of taxes and borrowed money. Ten years after the end of World War II our government in a single year, 1955, spent SIXTY—THREE BILLON DOLLARS. Of this over FIFTY—TWO BILLION was spent on militarism and related subjects:

Armed forces and munitions $40,644,000,000
International Affairs. $1,200,000,000
Veterans Services. $4,408,000,000
Interest on the war debt $6,475,000,000
Total $52,727,000,000

This means the expenditure of over 52 billion dollars on war and military adventures—ten years after the war ended in Europe and Asia. These vast billions, taken from us in taxes and in borrowings, make their way into the hands of government workers, workers in the war industries, to banks and private persons as interest on the war bonds, in payments for food, clothing, medicines and weapons for our "noble allies", and the support of 3,400,000 still in the armed services. Of course these funds flow on to all the departments of private industry where they are finally spent by those who receive them from the government.

But it must be obvious this cannot be kept up forever. At some point the war racket will just wear out. Business prospers while this experiment lasts. Great numbers accept it as something desirable without understanding the dangerous means by which this prosperity is generated. And while many others do not like it, they live in fear of the time when it will come to an end. But this must be obvious to any mind acquainted with the structure and dynamics of our system of private enterprise—namely that it will come to an end, as it has in every country that has used this evil thing called militarism to generate prosperity. The creation of millions of jobs in the armed forces and the munitions plants can be defended only when the nation is confronted with the danger of war. Now, every man who studies this subject knows that there is no way we can get into war now without actually launching one ourselves. But this could never be defended before the American people. Hence some other excuse must be found to continue the policy.

The champions of this system have now proposed that the United States set herself up as the policeman of the world. This gaudy boondoggle is composed of two parts. One is the principle of One World—a world in which all the nations will sink their sovereignty into one great overall sovereignty that will undertake to govern the world. We will keep in existence an army of a million or two men (and maybe women too), ready to send troops to join the troops of our noble allies to suppress any attempt to break the peace. In addition to that we will have Universal Military Training, which will keep, in addition to the draft army, a million or more young men in barracks where they will study the arts of war, carry out the discipline, indoctrination and life of the soldier and then pass into a reserve which can be called each year for maneuvers and be ready to go to any part of the world where hostilities are threatened.

Of course our militarists insist that the life of the barracks and the submission to the slavery of conscription in time of peace is "good for our young men." But it is not good for free young Americans. It is good for the politicians who wish to continue to promise abundance for all and "security from the cradle to the grave." It is good for the internationalists who wish to indoctrinate our young men and women into the principles of "One Worldism." It is good for the "statesmen" who imagine they can keep alive this fraudulent prosperity by crushing taxes and endless borrowing.

The day of borrowing is approaching its end. Senator Harry F. Byrd has recently called attention to the fact that the national debt is now equal to the total value of all the land, all the farms, all the buildings all the mines, all the machinery, all the livestock— everything of tangible value—in the United States. In short, the nation is now mortgaged to the top of its befuddled skull.

When Germany and France and Italy launched their UMTs they were free of debt. It did not take many years to pile the debts so high that the economic system began to crack and the distraught "statesmen" sought an escape in war, which, of course, merely doubled the burden and darkened the inevitable tragedy. This is the fate certain powerful groups in the United States now seek to impose on free America—the slavery of militarism.