A Military House Divided

Nov. 1, 1956
Military Washington is a house divided against itself. If the old adage of “divided we fall” holds true, the situation is ominous, indeed.

The article “What Kind of War?” on page 43 takes up the issue directly in terms of service desires vs. the national need. “The Ready Room” on page 912 does not mention the problem specifically, but nonetheless is part and parcel of it.

This report tells that the AF has accepted a quota of 2,500 young men in this fiscal year to serve six months of active duty and then be mustered out for 7 1/2 years of service in the AF Reserve. This, in itself, seems innocuous enough. And the fact that the AF has committed itself to accept some 4,000 more six-months’ trainees during the next fiscal year does not seem to be earth-shaking.

But this action by the Air Force represents an approach to the military manpower problem which is not only archaic but in the long run potentially dangerous.

On behalf of the Air Force, it must be said that the agreement to accept six-months’ trainees, whatever the number, was reached only after many months of all-out opposition to such a plan, months of hard and relentless pressure from the Department of Defense, represented by one of its many Assistant Secretaries, Carter L. Burgess.

It’s also true that the six-months’ trainee plan was dangled as bait before the AF with the implied threat that if they would be “good boys” and knuckle under on this, it would be easier to achieve some of the personnel requests of interest to the Air Force, which were being pigeon-holed in the Defense Department. Chief among these was the Air Technician Program—of major importance to the progress of the Air Force Reserve.

Back in our April issue we commented on this bit of blackmail. This article by Edmund F. Hogan, our Reserve Affairs Editor, concluded: “We hope the AF holds tight and refuses to make a ‘deal’ in order to get air technicians despite the obvious need for them. Once it becomes party to gangsterism, there’ll be no end to it.”

Gangsterism doesn’t look any better to us today than to it, we can only deplore the AF decision and reaffirm our opposition to the Defense Department’s supposed cure-all to our manpower ills.

In so doing, we hardly expect to be heard above the drum-beating that has been going on to sell the six-months’ military training package to the nation. Every promotion trick in the book has been applied to this one in what a national commentator has referred to as the most extensive propaganda campaign in many years.

Despite all this, the National Security Training Commission recently released a report indicating that the Fancy-Dan recruiting campaign has been something of a flop. Army spokesmen have replied that it is not as bad as all that.

Whatever the case, we can’t overlook the prevailing philosophy behind the program or the so-called military requirement on which it was based.

The Air Force Association minced no words on these matters in its testimony on March 3, 1955, before the House Armed Services Committee, concerning the National Reserve Plan, which provided for the six-months’ training program. The testimony was presented by AFA’s Executive Director, James H. Straubel. For the record, here are a few excerpts from this testimony:

“The question of equity is a huge one and can be easily over-simplified. Certainly, there is an equity of obligation to help defend this nation on the part of every citizen, but it need not follow that this means equity of service. The first is inherent in our way of life. The second should be dependent upon the military requirement. . . .

“Testimony on this bill indicates some lack of understanding of the Air Force’s manpower requirements. For example, take the Air Force requirement for a minimum four-year tour of duty. One major proponent of the National Reserve Plan, during testimony, in questioning the stated Air Force requirement, noted that the first World War ‘was won by men who had not been in two years, because it didn’t last that long.’ . . . There appears to be more than a little World War I thinking behind this legislation. If we gear our thinking to World War III, and ways to prevent it, and if we logically start with the military requirement, we run headlong into the needs of the active Air Force establishment. . . .”

That was the situation as AFA saw it then, and we find no reason to see it differently now. Indeed, with our new knowledge of Russia’s vast educational program to build up its scientific and technical talent, we find more reason than ever for a different national approach to the military manpower requirement.

Meanwhile, in a military house divided against itself, our policy-makers continue to take off in various directions.

One of the major manpower issues now up for decision in the Pentagon is a new salary plan for airmen technicians. The AF has presented the need, and quite adequately, we believe, for a new pay scale based on priority skills. The subject is being investigated by the Cordiner Committee. And we understand that in the inner circles the AF proposal is being strongly opposed because it does not meet the needs of the surface forces, which have far less of a requirement for skilled technicians.

If experience is any teacher, this will be cause enough to scuttle the new pay scale program. If that happens, it will be one more barrier against solving the nation’s manpower dilemma—and one more reason why we could lose a war of tomorrow in the classrooms of today.

Six months of military training—as the prerequisite for service in the Air Force, either the Regular or Reserve establishment—is an insult to one’s intelligence in this air-atomic age.