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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Soldiers Unmasked
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
The Military Service Publishing Company
Harrisburg, Pa. 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Talk 2

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p1  I

What is a soldier

In a certain town in the United States a sign in front of the theater boldly announced: "No dogs or soldiers admitted." After some complaint the sign was taken down. And after the people of the community got to know the soldier, they were sorry the sign had been put up.

Prejudice against the military man hasn't ordinarily gone to that length, but many citizens are at least uninterested. Not long ago I was called upon to speak to a rather cultured group on the soldier's work. A few days later, an acquaintance, an intelligent, elderly woman, met me on the street. "I liked the way you talked," she said, "but I'm not in sympathy with anything you spoke about. I don't want to hear about the soldier or anything military." I thanked her for her frankness and dropped the matter, knowing it was useless to try to give her the facts which are presented here, and which she probably wouldn't have believed anyway.

Here are some of the questions which have been asked me by educated people: "What do you fellows in the army do when there's no war? Do you  p2 just go out and drill the boys and then loaf around? What's the need of an army in a depression? Where is the army now? How big is it? What's the use of an army when we have an air corps?"

Whether or not such questions sound foolish, they do show ignorance of what the soldier and the War Department are really doing. But the citizen is not to blame for this lack of knowledge. A combination of circumstances has deprived him of knowing what has happened and what is happening with the military man. Certainly no true American wishes to be unfair. First of all our school and college histories, our literature, our entertainment have a habit of either misrepresenting or omitting the actual deeds and purpose of the soldier. Second, anyone associated with weapons usually has a bad name nowadays. Third, the soldier, away off in our island possessions or in an army post has too little intimacy with the general run of people. Fourth, the name War Department has a misleading sound. It makes us think of a great mail-fisted demon, breathing fire and smiting with a red‑hot sword. Before we get through with the stories and facts given later, we'll see that it could much more faithfully be called the Peace Department. Fifth, there's the term "preparation for war," which is about as far from the truth about what the soldier is trying  p3 to do, as saying that firemen are preparing to cause fires.

The soldiers in this country have never prepared to have a war and they are not doing so now. They have always prepared against war. There is no place in our history where they have been the remotest cause of war. And would you believe it, they have actually been the outstanding pacifists of American History? You know it seems peculiar that the trained fighter has done more for peace in this country than any other class. But it is so. In normal times he has repeatedly saved us from war. In public works he has been one of the chief builders of the nation, if not the chief one. In disaster he has been the first on the spot to restore order, and feed and shelter the helpless. In war he has aimed to bring back peace and return the people to restful firesides, with the least loss of life and treasure. A multitude of facts enforce these statements — facts which can be verified in the archives in Washington — facts which we have ordinarily been denied in our formal education.

You know there's a short paper about 150 years old that we Americans are pretty keen about. In that document it says that Congress shall provide for the common defense. And hand in hand with that provision goes its twin brother — the general welfare. Our wise old forefathers, who had plenty  p4 of time to reason, analyze, contemplate human nature and be soundly practical, in contrast to us who must dash through this complex civilization on high, used a sound bit of horse sense when they coupled those two phrases. For it's easy to see that you can't have general welfare without common defense any more than you can have an undisturbed household without locks and policemen. Of course, we need a little more than common defense to get general welfare in these times, but that's quite another subject. However, that business of common defense brings the soldier onto the stage by our Constitution. And one of the big tragedies of our country is that the stage failed to produce him so many times until the play had actually begun. About a million tombstones scattered in this country and in France can be charged up to his absence when he was vitally needed. For it takes time to train a soldier, and it's pretty expensive and bloody to train him when bullets begin to fly. Besides it makes the war drag on. So you see the loss accumulates. I can make this idea clearer by an illustration. Let us suppose you are a night watchman and have to pace around a spooky industrial plant every night. And suppose your employer armed you with a night stick, saying that firearms were dangerous, expensive and might lead to trouble. You plead with him that all you  p5 want is a decent break, that you'd like to have a pistol and learn how to use it. He still contends that the night stick is good enough. Sometime later a bandit scouts around the plant and sees you wandering along with your club as your only defense. The next night you see him entering a window. You chase him. He carefully aims, drops you in your tracks, pilfers the cash box and makes a get away. Now suppose thousands of watchmen are in the same fix. That in principle is what has happened to our untrained men in all our wars. They haven't had a chance. And because they haven't had a chance, they have come home from the catastrophe with all sorts of ill‑feeling against the army, the soldier, the officer, when the fault has been not in the military service, but in the neglect of proper training before the enemy pounces upon us. Just how much waste and hardship to individuals would result, if the country grocery store at Seven Corners had to expand to a thousand chain-stores in thirty days? Can you imagine it? And yet such an expansion is a drop in the bucket to what the Army and the War Department have been compelled to produce in a twinkling, when war caught us flat-footed. Of course, when we got into the World War we were pretty lucky, for we had Allies who held off the enemy for nearly a year before we had to go  p6 into real action. Just what would have happened had we not had such a wall of strength in Europe to stave off our enemies is not pretty to think about. As it was, many an American went to the front untrained, unskilled, an easy prey to disease and explosives. From this lack of preventive medicine, which is what training in peace amounts to, many men have come out of our wars disgusted, and sayings have arisen which have put the army in a mean light. There's the word "soldiering" which oddly has come to mean idleness. Yet if you were to go into any army post, any army school, or any C. M. T. C. camp you'd see the soldier anything but idle. Then there's the term "passing the buck" which expresses an army habit to some people. Just why it should, after your experiences and mine in everyday life, is hard to explain. But the "old army game" is the one we hear so often. It may mean anything from four-flushing to downright crookedness. All these slanders seem to have arisen because men have been rudely and unjustly snatched from the counter, the plough and the mill to face a new desperate life, to live in mixed‑up conditions under hasty shelter, to find themselves square pegs in round holes, and to be under officers as unskilled as they, officers not even a quarter baked, whose leader­ship was too often faulty and cruel. How  p7 could it be otherwise when we plunge fine young men who can't swim into a raging sea? These men come out of the conflict with heavy hatreds, justifiable ones oftentimes, hatreds that go deep into their souls. And whom would they hate? Naturally the professional soldier. He's the one at hand. But curiously enough it's the trained soldier who has tried to prevent the awful haste, waste and unnecessary mortality that have caused these hatreds.

The American soldier is the last man to want war or the unnecessary loss of life and treasure in war. He shies at war's hardships, and the added horrors, resulting from unpreparedness against war. He knows too much about them to want himself or anyone else to be in a war. But he feels that it's not quite practical in the present state of the world to say that there will be no more armed conflicts. With Europe seething with hatreds, Japan flying at Asia's throat, Russia making its militant inroads, with no practical progress in abolition of war to date, with industrial strife breaking out here and there, and with an Army of organized crime in this country greater than the Army and Navy of the United States, he feels it's inviting disaster not to prepare against war and calamity. So he's out to reduce the tragedy when it comes, or to stop it from coming by a proper show of force.

 p8  Do you know that one army officer, single-handed, without an army at his back, saved or helped save this country from six big wars? And do you know that another officer staved off another big war by being on the spot with three trained corps? Do you know that many other officers stubbornly opposed the powers in Washington when those powers wanted to fight the Indian? Do you know who built all our first trails and roads in the west and south? Do you know who constructed the first railroad to span our United States from east to west? Do you know what the army has done to help building this country in time of peace? Do you know that one branch of the army alone has literally saved millions of lives in peace time by its courageous discoveries and safeguards? Do you know what another branch has done in the riddance of pests from industrial plants? Do you know who laid the Alaskan cable? Do you know that not a single covered wagon ever reached the coast states in the west without being accompanied by soldiers? We rarely hear the soldier mentioned or see him shown in the movies in his protection of the wagon trains, but there is no record of any of those trains ever reaching Oregon or California over the wild prairie tracts unless soldiers went with them. This is but one instance of the suppression of truth about the soldier. We're  p9 pretty well acquired with what the soldier has done in war. But do we know what he's done for the up‑building of men and construction of public works in peace time? Do we know what he's done against war?

Listen to what comes next.

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Page updated: 1 Sep 20