NOTES ON THE DESIRABILITY OF UNIVERSAL SERVICE

Colonel George S. Patton, Jr.,

Tank Corps

May 27, 1919

 

It is the common experience of mankind that in moments of great excitement the conscious mental processes of the brain no longer operate. All actions are subconscious; the result of habits. Troops whose training and discipline depend on conscious thought become helpless crowds in battle. To send forth such men is murder.

Hence, in creating an Army, we must strive at the production of soldiers, so trained that in the midst of battle they will still function.

To illustrate the point at issue; remember the first time you tried to stop your car in a pinch? You knew exactly what to do, and had your brain worked, you could have done it, but the sight of that toddling child in front of you, or the shriek of that klaxon in your car, froze your reasoning powers. Did you do the things you should have done? You did not! You jumbled and fumbled and either had an accident or were saved by the direct interposition of Providence. Shells sound far worse than klaxons.

At the end of three months driving you had mastered your car. Your acts in all cases were the result of habit; automatic. Why cannot the soldier arrive at the same state in a like time? Because, instead of being subjected to the nerve racking sight of one child, the sound of one horn, he is in the midst of thousands of shells and hundreds of corpses. Further, you in your car have to do two or three things, always the same; he has to do many things, always the same in principle, perhaps, but always infinitely more difficult in practice. You are warm and well fed and up to the time of the emergency, in normal condition. He is tired, in a strange environment, hungry, and for days has been working himself up more or less to a nervous state in the expectation of battle and possible death. The training which will produce habit that will operate under such circumstances must assuredly be longer and more intense than the practice necessary to you as a motorist.

There is another question to consider; that of absorption, so to speak. When you were a child you learned the multiplication table and discovered that "1x5=5"; "3x5=15"; etc. In solving problems you eventually reached the point where, by the use of check marks on your slate or computation on your fingers, you could ascertain that "5x7=35"; but it was years later, perhaps not until you were in business, that you knew instinctively and without mental process that "5x7=35" because it was.

So with the soldier. He may learn his multifarious duties in three or four months. By thoughtful effort he can properly perform them, but it takes innumerable repetitions, or soaking in the idea for a long time, at least a year, before he can perform them without thought. Since he cannot think in the midst of battle he is worthless as a soldier until he has reached this state.

Here we may mention a fact almost invariably misunderstood with respect to the salute. The salute, in the first instance, is the mark of brotherhood, the cryptic handshake exchanged between members of the most patriotic of societies; the Army. But it has another and equally important effect. All people have an innate distaste to being directed. The military salute acts like the hole in the dike, letting the necessary flood of subordination stream through.

When at the beginning of the football season the quarterback barks his numbers at the crouching players he excites this same innate opposition; the feeling of "Why in Hell should I do what he says?" Yet, until this feeling is banished by habit, the team is dead on it's feet. The soldier at attention, saluting, is putting himself in the same frame of mind as the player; alert, on his toes, receptive. In battle, the officers are the quarterbacks, the men the disciplined team on their toes, with that lightning response to orders which means victory, and the lack of which means death and defeat, which is worse than death.

Now we come to the greatest of all reasons for universal service; namely, the fact that it makes patriots.

The man who finds twenty dollars on the street or wins it at the slot machine thinks lightly of it, and before long it is as lightly spent. But, the man who works and sweats for half a week for that same amount respects it and grudgingly parts with it when he has won it. So with patriotism. The light feelings of love and reverence for our country engendered by shouting for the flag on the 4th of July are too haphazard; too cheap. The man who has served a year with sweat and some discomfort feels that, truly, he has a part in his country; that of a truth, it is his, and he is a patriot.

Further, the boy who lives at home has little or no respect for elders or equals. He stands in his parents' shoes and is careless of the rights of others. Liberty to him is license. The boy who has lived in barracks has stood on his own feet and has gained consideration and courtesy, and acknowledges that liberty means equality for all, not license for one. His first valuable lesson in consideration was probably obtained when he disturbed the slumbers of his sleeping comrades by noisily entering the squad room after taps. The lesson was probably a volley of well aimed shoes.

At the end of his year of service, the boy emerges a man; courteous, considerate, healthy, and moral. To get these results in a democratic way, service must be absolutely universal. There is some phase in the vast mechanism of the Army where all may serve; the lame, the halt, the weak, and even the blind. Exemptions are the source of all evils in universal service and surely result in the cry of "your money for my blood."

The boy of eighteen or nineteen is not a business asset. He is a liability. The year he serves his country and renders it great and sound, while making himself a thoughtful, patriotic, manly man with as much as five years added to his future life, can only be looked upon as a year well spent.