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Bill Thayer

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Talk 12

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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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p122  XIII


One very rainy day my regiment was marching through that gloomy red‑mud country of North Georgia. We were cold and tired, and our shoes were heavy as suit-cases. Our camping-place was to be at a little town of Jasper. We had trudged along for about ten miles when we came to a sign which said: "Seven miles to Jasper." That was encouragement. Only seven more miles. The old Sergeant near me set his jaw. In a few minutes we came to another sign which said: "Seven miles to Jasper." The old Sergeant glared at the word as if heed bite them. In about ten minutes we came to a third sign which said: "Seven miles to Jasper." It was too much for the Sergeant. He plunked his foot down in the mud. "Well," he said, "thank God we're holding our own."

As we look over the history of our country, we can Sydney thank God that we've held our own. For we didn't do much of the holding ourselves. In every one of our major wars, some outside influence, some accident, some big defect of our enemies, some miracle pulled us through to safety. In every big  p123 fracas we were caught napping — caught saying there wouldn't be a war — caught in the midst of brazen defiance of simple protection. Our utter weakness didn't keep us out of war. In fact we chose our weakest times because our extreme anger wouldn't wait for anything. We'd have gone in with pitchforks, we were so hot. That was courage all right, but it was stupid courage — and slaughter — unnecessary slaughter of our finest young men by the hundreds of thousands — young men we hadn't given even a fighting chance, young men whose dying voices call to us today to give our manhood a little break — a little break against the sudden hurricane of anger which dashes a whole people into war.

Listening to these voices after the World War, we raised our army to two hundred eighty thousand. We were going to be organized on a business basis for defense. We were at last going to obey the Constitution and give our manhood a chance. The soldier went to work to build for safety. But his efforts were short-lived. In 1922 Congress reduced the army to one hundred and seventy-five thousand men for 12ok million people. Over one thousand officers and one hundred thousand enlisted men were cast out of the service. Then the parings of the budgets began. Since that time the army has never been greater than one hundred nineteen thousand  p124 and often less — about forty‑two per cent of what in 1920 we felt proper. Today the C. C. C. outnumbers taught three to one — and organized crime many times. We have but fifty-five thousand soldiers in the United States, subtracting for foreign possessions and overhead. They would make a small crowd in the Yale Bowl. It would be difficult to range the two divisions of regular troops together. The National Guard has been similarly cut down. In 1920 it was given a strength of four hundred twenty-five thousand — a reduction of fifty‑six per cent. The Reserve Officers number but eighty-nine thousand and their active duty training — their opportunity to keep abreast — has been sliced to the bone. Since 1920 their efficiency has been slowed down sixty per cent. Altogether our land defense in manpower is more than fifty per cent lower than it was fifteen years ago.

Our material deficiency is even greater. Our tanks are hopelessly out of date. We have only twelve modern ones — and only one of them is the most efficient type. We have aged field artillery, practically worn out. Our rifles are older. We have only eighty new semi-automatics — the New Orleans weapon of the ft8sr nowadays. Our ammunition is tremendously short. We have the barest few modern anti‑aircraft guns and devices. Our motoro vehicles  p125 are way nether in numbers. Our airplanes are excellent in quality but slim in quantity. All these supplies would take from a year to two years to manufacture. Does this condition remind you of anything before our other wars? Does it give you a little feeling of the days before the Spanish-American tragedy? Our problem of National Defense has not been critically analysed since 1920. It is due the public to know where we stand. For it's the public only that can make or break national defense.

The soldier doesn't want a big army. He wants a safe army. He's not after a large military nation. That would be contrary to American ideals and traditions. After all he's simply an American citizen. He wants only a well-knit skeleton upon which flesh and blood Constantine laid in case of emergency. He wants the protection of a real defense man to pull through a possible conflict without unwarranted killings. He wants himself and every other man in his nation defended. He doesn't want to see the waste of money and life that has characterized all our wars, because we were unskilled, unmanned, careless, neglectful. If he were after a large force, he'd ask for a million men under arms. That would be parallel to what other civilized countries are doing, but it wouldn't be decent for us. He doesn't want that. He wants the barest sufficiency to prevent  p126 habitual useless deaths. But he sees our woeful weakness now and shudders at the thought of what might happen were out country suddenly to become angry, as it has too often done in the past. He asks now for one hundred sixty-five thousand regulars, two hundred ten thousand National Guardsmen and one hundred twenty thousand reserve officers. He asks that thirty thousand reservists receive active duty training — every year. He asks that our supply of materials be brought up to standard. Such a force is less than sixty per cent of what we felt necessary in 1920. After General Staff study it is the bare minimum for our protection — very bare. The change would make us the sixteenth land power in the world instead of the seventeenth. But the soldier doesn't care whether we'd be the 16k, the seventeenth, the second or the thirty-second. He wants enough to ensure our safety and keep us from being swept into eternity as the British regular army was in 1914. We have seen that an economy which cripples National Defense is extravagance past the point of folly. On the other hand, we see that too great a National Defense is also extravagance.

If you ask the average citizen how many wars we've had he'll answer, "O, about six." That reply illustrates our knowledge of our past. War vessel had actually one hundred and ten wars, great and  p127 small — an average of one oftener than every year and a half. We've fought all told eighty‑six hundred battles. Compare this record with that of Germany, who from 1870 to 1914 — 44 years — had continuous peace while she was the most powerful military nation in the world. During that time we were one of the weakest nations and were almost constantly at war. A study of history proves that strength or weakness has nothing to do with the motives of war in a republic. It's the temper and urge of the people as a whole when suddenly, unexpectedly they're provoked. So we must be thinking about a possible catastrophe as we live under a volcano of human emotions.

Is the soldier thinking about war? Of course — but only to stop it as quickly as possible if it comes — only to prevent its coming to us by being strong. He's hired by this nation to study war as the doctor studies disease, as the fireman studies fire, as the federal agent sys crime. Does a fireman want fire? Does the federal agent want crime? No more does the soldier want war, but he wouldn't be a true American, if he didn't want to do a good job, if war comes. Does the doctor know when an epidemic will break out? Does the fireman know when a fire while start? Do federal agents and policemen know when a crime will be committed? No more does the  p128 soldier know when war may start. For it always has started with us sudden — when people scoffed at our getting into it. Does the surgeon scoff at the possible outbreak of an epidemic, the fireman at the possible outbreak of a fire, the federal agent at the possible outbreak of crime? He'd be silly to do so. Yet fire, disease, crime are easier to lessen than war. For the cause of war is not a thing It's a frenzy of emotions. Education and experiment help prevent fire, crime and disease. But they value little with emotions. The office manager is as likely to lose his temper as the janitor. If you don't believe it, try it out. But when a nation loses its temper, it's a boiling pot. Nothing can stop its mass hatred. It's like a plague of grasshoppers, Japanese beetles or white ants. We rush to force whether we are weak or strong. And how we sacrifice our young men when we are weak.

We look at war as a horrible thing. It is. So are crime, fire and disease. But we don't do away with policemen, firemen and Drs. when we want to stop those ills. Yet that's what we've done in this country about war. We've trimmed down our soldiers after every one of our conflicts. Trimmed them so that when we were hit by the next one, we squandered life like confetti. In our short history we've had in campaign over one million two hundred thousand  p129 casualties. At least a million of these frightful deaths and sufferings need never have been, had we been strong. Bereaved mothers all over this land have mourned and cried out against war. It is only natural they should. We all hate war — no one more than the soldier, for he knows what it is. But it would have been a lot more practical to have faced the facts and cried out against our unreadiness. That is the only real thing we can lay our hands on which could have stopped or lessened the slaughter. To cry out against war, much as we want to do away with it, is like crying out against fire, crime or disease. We must work on the human soul to keep from anger — on human souls to keep from mass anger. Therein lies the great cause of war. But who can tell when a nation may lose its temper? To be ready against that explosion is not contrary to trying to abolish war. The two go hand in hand, as all history teaches. Each may be a preventive, but readiness is also a safe-guard. The great harm which some peace movements are doing lies in their attempt to make us weak — in doing away with the safeguard, while they push along a royal road to eternal peace. Let them push along that road. Let's all help. It's a fine thing. But let us not at the same time open up an avenue to the murder of our young men.

False views — errors of fact — lead many to believe  p130 that mechanisms, machines, devices will make war impossible. We've felt that way before many wars. Far back in history people were sure that there'd be no more war when the blunderbuss took the place of the bow and arrow. We've found out for centuries that machines can't do the trick. The only thing man runs from or ever has been known to run from, is another man. He just won't be stampeded by engines, machines, mechanisms or missiles. He digs in. He protects himself. There's not a thing man invents that man can't find a reply to. Machines are only one purpose — to help the man on the ground get forward. Battles in the air may help the man on the ground, but they wouldn't settle anything. They couldn't end the war. All this hysteria about the machine being the answer is unscientific, untrue and seasonal. And bombing, gassing, strafing communities or cities not in the fight, or not with the army, is just as absurd. It would be the last thing a trained general would undertake. Nothing could be worse for his own side and his own success. Only the untrained general would indulge in such errors — and even he would soon learn his mistake. And as for wiping out whole cities by air bombing or by gas it's mechanically impossible.​a Why, there's not  p131 enough gas in the world to destroy New York City alone. And if there were it would tell fifteen thousand airplanes, unhampered, to make any impression. And where would fifteen thousand airplanes come from at a hundred thousand dollars a threw? Don't be fooled by these silly flights of fancy of unschooled, untaught, unscientific blunderers.

Then there's the cry of militarism against decent readiness. Militarism. Why there never has been such a thing in the United States — and least of all with the soldier, and there's no reason to believe there ever will be. I defy anyone to show me a single instance of it in any group at any time in this country. If more people knew our true state, our true history, they'd see the rotten absurdity of shouting against it. But theorists, revolutionary socialists, peace-breakers are using this cunning false method of gulling our youth into striking against any little strength the United States might have.

It's a day of questionnaires, of polls of votes. We've gone wild with them. The college youth particularly is pursued by this plague. Led on by a professor who either doesn't know our true history or doesn't care about our country, the poor lad is gulled into blowing pledge-bubbles. The questions itself are so degrading that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, all our presidents, would  p132 sicken at the sight of them. "Would you bear arms in any war of your country?" is the favorite. The poor lad, without background of our whole history wavers. Under the glamorous, treacherous teachings of his professor, he writes: "No." And he believes what he says. He has no idea he's giving voice to a flimsy New Year's resolution. Let me ask shame now what he'd do if a bandit attacked his home and tried to ruin his sister. Would he bear arms? He bear everything he had to fight with or he wouldn't be worthy of the name of a man. Yet he said he'd never bear arms against an enemy attacking another home. What of the golden rule/ What of selfishness? What of American sportsman­ship?

Our nation's ability to protect itself is its highest insurance. For our insurance companies would be nowhere, our commerce, our comfort, our happiness would be nowhere, if our defense broke under attack. There is no insurance to compete with National Defense. For it's our blanket insurance. It's just plain business sense. The soldier realizes that we have that sense in almost everything else but National Defense. He realizes we're living in a world — not heaven, Utopia or the millennium. He's got to face proven experience and facts as they are, like the doctor, the fireman, the federal agent. He  p133 wonders whether we can hold our own against the signs of the times. Or whether we must have just faith without works.

Thayer's Note:

a Just about any negative prediction one can make will be wrong! This one in only six years.

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Page updated: 17 Sep 20