Thursday, May 5, 2016
The Civilian Army
This one has a processors stamp on the back dating this print from the "Week of August 29, 1955", putting it somewhere in between Korea and Vietnam. Since it's almost impossible to put a date on the beginning of the Vietnam War-did it start before U.S. involvement, the arrival of trainers, the first troops in the field, the Gulf of Tonkin incident-we'll just say a lot closer to Korea.
So, here's a fun fact about the U.S. Army in the 1950's. After the end of World War 2, it was assumed by many Americans that the draft would come to an end, and everyone could go on with their lives with no fear of being called up. But that wasn't to be. Fear of Soviet aggression, the perceived need to keep an occupying force in Europe and Japan, kept the military in need of fresh troops, so the draft continued apace. Never popular, it didn't take long for the whole issue of deferments to come up. In 1950, with the backing of many in the academic community, the army decided that college students, based on their grade point average, could avoid conscription. Needless to say, the A students could stay at home, while those with a sold C risked a quick trip to basic training.
One of the few academics to argue against a deferment system of any kind was Harvard President James B. Conant. He thought universal service for all 18 year olds was preferable. In his writings he made a whole host of points, but what it all got down to was that if we were to have a military and if it was necessary to defend the country, than it was undemocratic that that burden should fall on some, and not on everyone. Conant lost the argument. By the time Vietnam came along, there were so many deferments that we had effectively divided the country into two categories: those who were worth saving and those who were disposable.
I was from a small coal mining town in western Pennsylvania, and I was in the disposable pool of Americans. I got lucky. January 23, 1973, my 18th birthday, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, ending American involvement in Vietnam. (There were no Americans in combat when Saigon fell in 1975.) The draft ended not long after that, and my assumption that I'd get swept up and sent to southeast Asia was proved wrong.
This is the last of the photographs from the military memorabilia envelope. Sort of. I do have a couple of press clippings, one with a picture, but if I decide to post it, it will be on my Fair Use blog. I've already published a couple of documents from this collection, but I haven't felt the obligation to put them all on line. Maybe they'll show up some day, maybe not.