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In a verbal preparedness blitzkrieg, the New York Times last Friday urged immediate adoption of "compulsory universal military training for America" because the "logic of events drives us remorselessly to this conclusion." Their bombshell was followed over the week-end by speeches and resolutions of interventionist groups praising the proposal to the skies. For most persons the question of conscription has crystallized the whole problem of preparedness--when and for what--and must be thoroughly investigated before a decision is reached. Such an extreme change in American living cannot be hysterically rubber-stamped. The crux of the decision pro or con compulsory military training rests on the belief as to Hitler's future intentions. On the basis of all the facts and statements of Nazi leaders to date, there is a distinct possibility that if Germany wins in Europe she will attempt an invasion of this hemisphere. How long it will take her to reach this point can only be speculation, but this is the root of the conscription enigma. It does not seem, despite Nazi advances and the possibility that, if victorious, Germany would control shipbuilding facilities six times as great as our own, perhaps the British navy, that we would not have adequate time to prepare then. Furthermore, a Nazi victory over France and England is still far from an accomplished fact.
Conscription has the sole advantage of preparing the country for future contingencies. Against this must be set the many trenchant disadvantages of the plan. The first and most important is that inauguration of military training would be the biggest possible stride towards participation in the present European war. A huge army is unnecessary for hemisphere defense at present and would only serve to raise the military mentality to the ascendency. A natural concomitant of conscription would be the breeding of a fatalistic attitude. War would take on, for the American people, an inevitability which it does not merit. The American way of life would immediately be conditioned by fearful waiting, by tremendous annual defense budgets, by a lower living-standard. This may be necessary in the near future, but it cannot be dovetailed with the facts to date. There is the final and vital objection that conscription, once established, would become permanent much like the income tax; it would probably be maintained on one or another pretext.
If Hitler wins in Europe America will then be faced with the unpleasant prospect of possible conflict. Then and only then can war take on an inevitable quality which still must be tempered by allowance for diplomatic contingencies. At that time national defense must go into high gear; only then will it be necessary to gird our loins for the struggle with Mephistopheles. Conscription today is unnecessary for America's best interests and dangerous as one step nearer to involvement in the present war.
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