The Charlotte News

Saturday, August 23, 1941


Site Ed. Note: The Herblock of the day meshes with the Clapper piece of two days past, indicating that many British citizens believed the war would be over by September 30 and that there was the consequent worry of the government that this optimism could lead to lack of preparedness for the next onslaught--which of course was to come.

Touch wood, touch, earth, Antaeus.

"Well-Earned" tells the sad story of the new "selectee" who arrived at Fort Bragg at the beginning of July and by mid-August had been court-martialed and sentenced to a ten-year, nine-month stretch in prison for "insubordination". His insubordination began with spitting on the mess hall floor and refusing to clean it up because the Army, he contended, should supply spittoons. From that point forward during the ensuing month and a half, he obviously became a target, as several other silly orders were given to which he politely refused to provide obedience. Thus, he went to prison for over a decade.

We disagree with the editorial and agree with Congressman Young of Ohio who came to the soldier's defense. Such a form of Draconian discipline is asinine in any time, even in the case which this was, the gravest of national emergencies. The armed forces had better things to do with its time than make examples out of silly behavior with even sillier, downright fascist, discipline in response to it. One soldier's spitting on the mess hall floor was not the Army going to break. Even if magnified a thousand times in a day. So what?

Thus, manifesting such extreme discipline sets no example, rather breeds contempt for grossly abused authority in any walk of life. It is to say to society at large that each individual does not count, that freedom will be taken away entirely unless a person is willing to sacrifice all measure of personal freedom to some lunatic who happens to have some small amount of authority which that individual is determined to abuse by selecting out particular individuals who are powerless before that authoritarian dictator. This particular "selectee" was no more than a minor recalcitrant faced with adjustment to the rigors of army life and should have been dealt with in a manner befitting the act. It was indicative more of untrained and sadistic officers at the time than any lack of discipline among those who were suddenly plucked from civilian life into the military.

Had the draftee spit in the face of a superior, that is one thing. But to pick on a man fresh out of the civilian ranks and one who probably spit on the floor without thinking as he had spit on the floor countless times at his civilian job is to defy reality. Then to start into a routine of making silly orders to test further the man's willingness to obey silly orders and seeking to bend over backwards to make him comply with such orders further communicates sadism, not military discipline.

Such a form of discipline among the military will cause some then to carry a chip on their old soldier back into civilian life, seeking then to communicate this form of discipline to civilians having nothing to do with the military--injecting this stream of sadism further into the culture at large. And thus society slowly but surely acquires a series of relations resembling Nazi Germany.

The News, we assert, was wrong on this one; the Congressman, quite correct. It wasn't that what the draftee did was okay or that what he did in refusing to clean up the spittle was okay. But court-martialing him for the series of minor disobedient acts, especially fresh into his training, was also not okay. Such an example set for society was not okay.

Perhaps a more positive example might have been set through ordering another draftee to clean up the spittle--and then leaving it to traditional informal methods of mutual peer pressure to straighten out the recalcitrant, to encourage esprit de corps, the same manner of discipline used in schools everyday by wise teachers for time immemorial. And it would have been far cheaper than wasting the precious resources of the military tribunals on such nonsense.

Meanwhile, Hugh Johnson carps of lack of morale within the ranks of draftees because of too soft training and early release. He recommends tougher service.

It seems in truth that no one really knew what to do. A tumultuous decade of depression had preceded this national emergency. No sooner than the average household in the country was for the first time in a decade starting to see the fruit of a decent wage, a national emergency was declared and breadwinners were being drafted for a year of military service at pauper's wages, now suddenly extended by up to eighteen months. It was a cruel existence in a cruel time.

Of course, a principal part of the reason for the thriving economy in 1940 and 1941 was the build-up of the defense industry and the advent of Lend-Lease in March, 1941. So, the cycle of prosperity going along with war was one which fed on itself. Thus was born a notion, instilled first out of the post-war prosperity of the twenties, that war or at least the defense industries feeding war were a necessary concomitant to a thriving economy. The thought appears to have been to try to have the best of both worlds, an economy benefiting from war industries, but without the necessity of actively sending men to fight abroad. It didn't work out that way in the end of course. But the mentality continued right through the 1980's and the end of the Cold War, to produce a disciplined society, ever on a war footing, but without fighting a war.

The Clinton Administration, as we have before pointed out, was the first Administration in modern times to bring prosperity without war. The current Administration decided early on, it would appear, before the anomalous disaster of September 11, 2001, to retreat to the old pattern, apparently out of nostalgia for what the Administration saw as a better way of life--scare the people out of their freedom into a disciplined form of life, because freedom seems to be a scary proposition to some, primarily because some appear unable to handle it themselves. Absurd militaristic discipline of society itself, placing all of society in a military mold. Herd us like sheep into waiting lines for the simplest of services. Subject us to small-witted people in small positions seeking to exert as much authority as they possibly can to extract from it some form of sadistic pleasure. They feel somehow oppressed and limited; they seek to make the rest of us feel likewise.

That is not democracy; that is not discipline. That is a grand joke. And the joke is not on us, but on the lousy little system that these sorts of individuals are being allowed to create in our midst, disgracing the name of American freedom and democracy in the process. It does not resemble anything we have come to describe as freedom. It is merely an abuse of power, far worse, for its general apathetic acceptance by the sheep, than even in the early 1970's; it is merely lies being told by public officials for the sake of accretion of power. And lies being told with impunity.

Today, it is a cold fact of life that the manner in which someone says something is far more important to many people in this country than whether what is being said is the truth. That is a central characteristic of Nazism. If one says something calmly and dispassionately, even if fantastical calumny, it is quite acceptable. But let someone say anything with any form of passion, no matter how truthful, especially if in the form of complaint, and no matter how private the communication, it is shouted down, it is belittled, it is called threatening, it is torturously twisted out of its original context until unrecognizable, and the speaker is lucky to escape with his or her life.

World War II was not won through such means; and, moreover, we are not in World War II, some interesting, well-made films of the last decade or so to the contrary notwithstanding.

We suggest that such people play military war games on the weekend with willing and witting co-participants should they so desire to instruct others in military discipline, but leave it on the mock battlefield when they come to work on Monday. Better, give up playing war altogether. It really, truly leads only to heartbreak in the end.

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