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Why the Draftee Army Lacks Morale

Soldiers Have No Faith in Cause for Which
Ruling Class Wants Them to Fight

(August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 35, 30 August 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Morale is to materiel as three is to one.”

This famous observation of Napoleon was recalled last week by the United States Chief of Staff, General Marshall, in commenting on the low morale in the new draftee army.

Disciplinary examples, threats, appeals to patriotism or army tradition have not sufficed to stem the tide of draftee discontent. The flood of protests against the army term extension from the draftees, swelled by the clamor from the folks back home, has compelled Roosevelt and the War Department to modify their plans. Last week the administration had to promise the soldiers concessions, the release of 200,000 men from army service by Christmas, and the right of the draftees to apply for release after 14 to 18 months service, instead of the 30 months set by Congress. In addition, General Hershey, director of Selective Service, has directed local draft boards to assist draftees at the end of their service to get back their old jobs, as promised.

The army stuffed-shirts have come reluctantly to admit that army morale is “not what it should be.”

Lieutenant General Ben Lear, of “Yoo Hoo!” fame, voiced the typical officer caste point of view last week, when he said:

“If morale is not high, it is no fault of ours. We have done everything within reason to promote the welfare and comfort of the trainees. If the morale is poor, it is only because the morale of the people is poor.”

There is truth in this statement, in so far as it deals with the effect of popular moods on the army. The morale and attitude of a conscript army parallels that of the civilians.

By and large, the attitude of the draftees is one that has been expressed repeatedly by the people in polls, letters to Congressmen, and the other limited means of expression permitted them. The American people – three-fourths of them at least – are opposed to entering the war.

This sentiment of the people is not an alien force operating upon the morale of the troops, as the officer corps pretends. These are the feelings that the men bring with them into the army.

The officer staff wants the “ideal” soldier, i.e., one who is cut off from all civilian life, and who asks no questions provided he gets his three “squares” a day and a comfortable bunk at night.

The draftees resist. They have – or believe they have – the right to say something about how the army is run. They do not enter the army for a career. And they will fight willingly only for a cause in which they believe so deeply that they will not hesitate to sacrifice their personal welfare and lives to achieve it.

Real Reasons for Low Morale

Prom several authoritative sources we have been able recently to get an indication of the real factors underlying the poor morale of the army.

Pearson and Allen, in their syndicated Merry-Go-Round column, wrote on August 8:

“And to date, judging by our poll of selectees, plus the War Department’s own frank fears, the American Army lacks morale ...

“... the War Department has given the boys no conception of what is happening in the world, has made no attempt to show them why they are called upon to serve. It has fallen down on the one big weapon which makes a modern army fight.”

Life magazine, August 18, 1941, reported the things that the soldiers themselves, in one of the large and typical training camps, gave as their reasons for wanting to get out of the army.

“Not more than 5% of the men in this division believe that the emergency is as serious as President Roosevelt insists. They do not want to fight because they do not see any reason for fighting. Accordingly they see little point in their being in Army camps at all. There is very strong anti-Roosevelt feeling.

“A second reason for trouble is that the men have no faith in the officers who are commanding them ... The men complain about junior and senior officers indiscriminately. They say most of them do not know their jobs. The officers argue with the noncoms on tactical points and are frequently out-argued, losing the respect of the men.”

The draftees see that they are commanded by incompetent officers, who look down on them and won’t hesitate to sacrifice the lives of the privates.

As Life indicates, the men are coming to realize that this is not their army; that it is the army of class rule. If officers are incompetent, if the general staff is ignorant, the soldiers must nevertheless submit. There is no way to replace the present officer caste with competent, responsible men from the ranks.

“The men complain that there is no way to get ahead in the army. They say that very few draftees are given a chance to take officers’ training courses. They say that initiative on the the part of the privates is discouraged.”

The War Department and the army staff cannot do those things which would eliminate the basic reasons for the low morale.

They cannot, first of all, provide the soldiers with a cause worth dying for. The draftees sense that they are not being called upon to fight for real democracy or for the “defense” of the nation. They see the preparations being made to send them to Europe or Asia to fight for colonies and markets. They observe the war profiteers growing fatter at their expense; They take account of Roosevelt’s broken promises, the trend toward repression of civil rights, the secret diplomacy and arbitrary acts of the administration driving toward war, the threat of post-war chaos.

Nor can the War Department change the class character of the army rule, for that rule is simply an extension of the rule of the bosses. The first criterion for an officer in this army is loyalty to the ruling class.

That is why the government makes no effort to assist men from the ranks – workers, trade unionists – to rise to positions of leadership in the army. The government seeks, above all, to preserve the army as an instrument of the ruling minority.

Thus, the method whereby the War Department and the officer caste seek to “build” morale is savage discipline and punishments. A striking instance of this is the court-martial sentence passed last week against Private John Habinyak, who was sentenced to ten years and nine months of hard labor, on five counts of “insubordination”: spitting on the floor; refusing to clean up the spit; refusing to clean his mess kit; refusing to sweep the floor; disobeying an order to pick up some broken concrete. (As we go to press, we learn that Habinyak’s original sentence has been reduced to three years and six months as a result of popular pressure.)

Major S. Murrell, judge advocate of the army post where Habinyak was convicted, on August 22 amplified the reasons for the savage sentence. He admitted that the five offenses cited were considered minor. But, he added, Habinyak was sentenced, in reality, for his “attitude.”

The officer staff knows that Habinyak’s “attitude” is similar to that of 95 per cent of all the draftees. And that “attitude” is the essence of their morale.

Morale is not, as the bourgeois officer caste thinks, simply a question of Prussian discipline, good food, fine equipment and training, or recreational facilities.

Pearson and Allen, in the article previously quoted, draw this comparison between the French and the Soviet Russian armies:

“In France, battalions, companies, entire regiments, surrendered en masse. The world was astounded. The French Army had been heralded as the best in the world. Its officers had been trained for years. Its equipment, while not as good as the Nazis’, was the next best in Europe.

“Yet the French Army collapsed in 11 short days.

“... One year later an entirely different story comes from Russia.

“There, a huge, unwieldy, green army facing the pick of Hitler’s mechanized veterans, has retreated, but not surrendered. At times isolated and hopelessly cut off, Russian troops have continued fighting – fighting so desperately that he Germans have complained that they did not obey the rules of war.


The Soviet soldiers are indeed “defending something which they cherished” – i.e., their nationalized property, their freedom from capitalist exploitation, their free socialist future, which, in spite of the Stalin bureaucracy, still remains a living reality for them.

The French soldiers were defending the COMITÉ DES FORGES (the French Steel Trust) and the 200 Ruling Families of France.

The American officer staff professes to “marvel” at the morale of the Red Army. It cannot hope to achieve a similar morale in its own armies. American working-class youth cannot be made eager to die for America’s Sixty Families.

The draftees may be whipped together into some semblance of a disciplined fighting force by intimidation and terrorism. But that is not the type of army which will stand up under intensive fire and against imposing odds.

Only a Workers’ Army Will Have Morale

An army directed and ruled by the capitalists and their officer caste can never be trusted to fight fascism, whether of the domestic or foreign variety. But the workers of this country must be prepared to repel fascism by the only effective means.

Those means are military. They are blind men or knaves who counsel the workers to pacifism. Those who speak against the workers obtaining military training and learning the techniques of modern warfare would have the workers stand meek and defenseless against the onrushing worldwide capitalist reaction and fascism.

The only kind of army that can defeat fascism is an army which the ruling capitalist class cannot achieve, an army with morale. Morale can exist only in an army which fights for a cause in which it believes.

The American workers and farmers must have such an army. Their very lives and liberties depend on it. It must be an army responsive to the will of the masses, fighting in their interests, controlled and directed by the masses.

Such an army is possible only under a workers’ and farmers’ government. But even before this government is instituted, the’ workers can take effective measures to safeguard their vital interests in the military field. That is the purpose of our military program, which advocates:

  1. Military training of workers financed by the government, but under the control of the trade unions.
  2. Special officers’ training camps, financed by the government, but controlled by the trade unions, to train workers to become officers.

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