In the absence of further action by the Congress, all of those involved must be released from active service on the expiration of twelve months. This means that beginning this autumn about two-thirds of the army of the United States will begin a demobilization.
The action taken last year was appropriate to the international situation at that time. It took into consideration the small size and the undeveloped state of our armed forces. The National Guard, which then formed the bulk of these forces, had to be seasoned, its technical training and general efficiency greatly improved. The ranks of the National Guard and the Regular Army had to be brought to full strength; and, in addition, the Army required for its tremendous expansion the services of approximately 50,000 Reserve officers.
In effect, two steps were taken for the security of the Nation. First, the Selective Service Act initiated annual military training as a prime duty of citizenship. Second, the organization and training of field armies was begun - training in teamwork company by company, battalion by battalion, regiment by regiment, and division by division. The objective was to have ready at short notice an organized and integrated personnel of over 1,000,000 men.
I need scarcely emphasize the fact that if and when an organized and integrated company, battalion, regiment, or division is compelled to send two-thirds of its members home, those who return to civil life, if called to the colors later on, would have to go through a new period of organization and integration before the new unit to which they were assigned could be depended on for service. The risks and the weaknesses caused by dissolving a trained army in times of national peril were pointed out by George Washington over and over again in his Messages to the Continental Congress.
It is, therefore, obvious that if two-thirds of our present Army return to civilian life, it will be almost a year before the effective Army strength again reaches one million men.
Today it is imperative that I should officially report to the Congress what the Congress undoubtedly knows: that the international situation is not less grave but is far more grave than it was a year ago. It is so grave, in my opinion, and in the opinion of all who are conversant with the facts, that the Army should be maintained in effective strength and without diminution of its effective numbers in a complete state of readiness. Small as it is in comparison with other armies, it should not suffer any form of disorganization or disintegration.
Therefore, we would be taking a grave national risk unless the Congress were to make it possible for us to maintain our present full effective strength and during the coming year give training to as many additional Americans as we can. When immediate readiness for service becomes more and more a vital precautionary measure, the elimination of approximately two-thirds of our trained soldiers, and about three-fourths of the total officer personnel, would be a tragic error.
Occasional individuals, basing their opinions on unsupported evidence or on no evidence at all, may with honest intent assert that the United States need fear no attack on its own territory or on the other Nations of this hemisphere by aggressors from without.
Nevertheless, it is the well-nigh unanimous opinion of those who are daily cognizant, as military and naval officers and as government servants in the field of international relations, that schemes and plans of aggressor Nations against American security are so evident that the United States and the rest of the Americas are definitely imperiled in their national interests. That is why reluctantly, and only after a careful weighing of all facts and all events, I recently proclaimed that an unlimited national emergency exists.
It is 'not surprising that millions of patriotic Americans find it difficult in the pursuit of their daily occupations and in the normal lives of their families to give constant thought to the implications of happenings many thousands of miles away. It is hard for most of us to bring such events into focus with our own readily accepted and normal democratic ways of living.
That is why I must refer again to the sequence of conquests - German conquests or attacks - which have continued uninterruptedly throughout several years - all the way from the coup against Austria to the present campaign against Russia.
Every move up and down and across Europe, and into Asia, and into Africa, has been conducted according to a time schedule utilizing in every case an overwhelming superiority not only in materiel but in trained men as well. Each campaign has been based on a preliminary assurance of safety or non-aggression to the intended victim. Each campaign has been based on disarming fear and gaining time until the German Government was fully ready to throw treaties and pacts to the winds and simultaneously to launch an attack in overwhelming force.
Each elimination of a victim has brought the issue of Nazi domination closer to this hemisphere, while month by month their intrigues of propaganda and conspiracy have sought to weaken every link in the community of interests that should bind the Americas into a great western family.
I do not think that any branch of the Government of the United States will be willing to let America risk the fate which has destroyed the independence of other Nations. We Americans cannot afford to speculate with the security of America.
Furthermore, we have a definite responsibility to every country in the Western Hemisphere—to aid each and every one of them against attack from without the hemisphere. I do not believe that any branch of the American Government would desire today to abrogate our Pan-American pacts or to discard a policy which we have maintained for nearly a century and a quarter.
If we do not reverse this historic policy, then it is our duty to maintain it. To weaken our Army at this particular time would be, in my judgment, an act of bad faith toward our neighbors.
I realize that personal sacrifices are involved in extending the period of service for selectees, the National Guard, and other reserve components of our Army. I believe that provision now can and will be made in such an extension to relieve individual cases of undue hardship, and also to relieve older men who should, in justice, be allowed to resume their civilian occupations as quickly as their services can be spared.
Nevertheless, I am confident that the men now in the ranks of the Army realize far better than does the general public the disastrous effect which would result from permitting the present Army, only now approaching an acceptable state of efficiency, to melt away and set us back at least six months while new units are being reconstituted from the bottom up and from the top down with new drafts of officers and men.
The legislation of last year provided definitely that if national danger later existed, the one-year period of training could be extended by action of the Congress.
I do not believe that the danger to American safety is less than it was one year ago when, so far as the Army was concerned, the United States was in a woefully weak position. I do not believe that the danger to our national safety is only about the same as it was a year ago.
I do believe - I know - that the danger today is infinitely greater. I do believe - I know - that in all truth we are in the midst of a national emergency.
I am not asking the Congress for specific language in a specific bill. But I can say frankly that I hope the Congress will acknowledge this national emergency either for a specific period or until revocation by the Congress or the President.
The objective is, of course, the all-important issue. It is to authorize continuance in service of selectees, National Guard, and reserve components of the Army and the retired personnel of the Regular Army, with the understanding that, should the exigencies of the situation permit, early return to civil pursuits will follow in due course.
Because of the swiftness of modern events, I think the Congress should also remove the restrictions in regard to the numbers of selectees inducted each year for training and service.
And, in order to reduce individual hardships to a minimum, I urge that the Congress provide that employers be asked to continue to keep jobs open for their employees who have been held in the Army. For my part I will direct the return to civil life of officers and men whose retention on active duty would impose undue hardship and that selectees and enlisted men of the National Guard, who have reached the age of twenty-eight, be transferred from active service to a reserve component as rapidly as possible.
At great cost to the Nation, and at increasing dislocation of private buying, we are accepting the material burdens necessary for our security. In such matters we accept the fact of a crisis in our history.
It is true that in modern war men without machines are of little value. It is equally true that machines without men are of no value at all. Let us consolidate the whole of our defense—the whole of our preparation against attack by those enemies of democracy who are the enemies of all that we hold dear.
One final word: time counts. Within two months disintegration, which would follow failure to take Congressional action, will commence in the armies of the United States. Time counts. The responsibility rests solely with the Congress.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (July 21, 1941) Letter to congress to extend one-year selective service so that US armed forces do not disintegrate just when the need for a trained army is most urgent.