Conscription and Manpower Needs During World War II Essay

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¶ … Combat Contracts as Applied to U.S. Military Behavior in WWII

During many of the early military conflicts of the United States, many Americans voluntarily signed up for service out of a sense of patriotism and to protect the nation's interests. These factors also played an important role during World War II, but there was the added element of conscription involved that meant young men were legally obligated to serve their country. In this environment, ensuring that combat units had adequate forces became an essential part of winning the war, but given the enormity of the commitment, it is not surprising that some problems were encountered with combat contracts. To determine the facts, this paper reviews the relevant literature concerning combat contracts as applied to U.S. military behavior in World War II, followed by a summary of the research and important findings concerning this issue in the conclusion.

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When World War II erupted in Europe, a majority of Americans were reluctant to become involved. At the time, the U.S. Army was in a fledgling state and even countries such as Romania had larger military forces (Black, 2003). In fact, the American military force numbered fewer than 300,000 prior to the outbreak of World War II (Gerber, 1995). According to Black, though, "The fall of France shocked Americans into realizing that America needed a credible army. Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act (September 16, 1940), creating the country's first peacetime military conscription program" (2003, p. 128). The rationale in support of the Selective Training and Service Act was based in large part on the nation's experiences during World War I when American troops were ill-prepared for the combat roles they were assigned. In this regard, Cooke (2012) points out that, "The rapid defeat of Poland in September 1939 was a matter of deep concern to [General George C.] Marshall, President Roosevelt, and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and that concern grew as the German army overran the Low Countries and then France in the spring of 1940" (p. 25). Despite the resistance from isolationists, the U.S. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in September 1940, followed by the activation of several National Guard units that were intensively trained for a combat role (Cooke, 2012).

Although the original conscription act authorized the recruitment of military forces, there was a cap of 0.9 million men that would be conscripted and training for military service with an enlistment contract that only extended to one year of service (Black, 2003). There were other restrictions placed on combat contracts at this time as well. For instance, Black reports that, "Service was restricted to the Western Hemisphere and U.S. territories. Subsequently in a razor-thin Congressional vote on the eve of Pearl Harbor, the Selective Service Act was renewed (August 1941)" (p. 128). The renewed Selective Service Act allowed the Army to retain all one-year draftees during the war and extended the required period of service to six months after the end of the war (Black, 2003). In this regard, Gosoroski (1997) reports that, "The Selective Service Act of 1940 conscripted eligible males ages 18-37 for the duration and six -- the end of the war plus six months. Though draftees comprised the great majority of all forces in WWII (66%), some attempted to volunteer but were officially conscripted because of the manpower needs of the Army ground forces" (p. 33).

All told, more than 10 million American men were conscripted during the war as a result of the new Selective Service Act, and another 6 million voluntarily enlisted for military service (Black, 2003). Although there were provisions for conscientious objectors in the Selective Service Act, all American men of appropriate age were required to register for the draft (O'Brien & Parsons, 1995). According to O'Brien and Parsons, "Those who received conscientious objector status could be given noncombatant service in the military -- many served as medical corps personnel -- or, if they objected to any kind of military service, they could perform work of national importance under civilian direction" (p. 161). The Selective Service Act was just part of the tools that were used during World War II to ensure that the nation fielded sufficient military forces. For example, Gerber (1995) reports that:

Through such means as selective service, price controls, rationing, subsidies for the construction of war factories, the mobilization of science and institutions of higher education, and countless other forms of government intervention in American society to further the war effort, the federal government assumed powers that went far beyond those exercised under the New Deal of the 1930s. (p. 31)

Based on previous experiences with combat contracts in the First World War, American field officers adopted a different approach to combat contracts during World War II with mixed results. On the one hand, the nation became fully committed to waging a total war against the Axis powers, making the need for some type of combat contract an essential requirement. In this regard, Johnson (1997) reports that, "For the first time in its history, the United States was committed to the concept of collective security it had avoided following World War I, when it refused to join the League of Nations" (p. 13). The approach used during World War I involved the provision of replacements by creating one replacement division for every two combat divisions, but this method proved ineffective during World War II (Brinkerhoff, 2009). On the other hand, there were also a number of constraints involved with this approach that detracted from its ability to satisfy replacement requirements for front-line troops (Brinkerhoff, 2009). This approach also resulted in additional casualties because many soldiers that were deployed were poorly trained and their units were ill prepared for the demands of wartime action (Brinkerhoff, 2009).

The U.S. Army tried a different approach during World War II but there were still problems encountered. For instance, according to Brinkerhoff (2009), "During World War II, the Army tried package unit rotation, but this failed because receiving commanders elected to break the packages down and distribute individual replacements to combat units" (p. 27). The exigencies of wartime therefore required a more flexible approach to satisfying combat contractual requirements. In this regard, Brinkerhoff adds that, "Withdrawing divisions from the line long enough to refit them was impossible because the Army fought the war with the minimum number of divisions" (2009, p. 27). In retrospect, it would seem reasonable to suggest that the U.S. military was not only fully committed to its combat role during World War II, it expended all available resources to this purpose; however, the same problems that caused delays along the entire supply chain also caused problems for the military's replacement system. As Brinkerhoff points out, "All but one division (in Hawaii) was committed to combat during the war. The Army once again used an individual replacement system that worked poorly, in part because it was hastily formed and staffed and partly because estimates of replacements of combat losses were too low" (2009, p. 27).

These constraints were widely recognized as detracting from the country's ability to achieve its strategic goals during World War II of fighting a two-front war in Europe and Asia. Moreover, the combat contracts that were used during World War II involved more than 10 million troops that were deployed around the world in a wide range of diverse settings. Nevertheless, American fighting men and women also recognized the criticality of their efforts and committed themselves to becoming cohesive members of the military. As Worden (1998) points out, "Inducing cohesion was not the only profound effect that World War II had on its junior generation. The vast majority were intimately familiar with the demands and realities of combat" (p. 13). Given that the outcome of the war was still up in the air up until the final months, it is not surprising that members of the military were not only fully committed to winning the war, they were also fully committed to each other. In this regard, Worden reports that, "They took pride in being men of action and of decision -- men who valued experience over education. They saw themselves as highly skilled elites; as such, they entered the theater with a cohesion that was intensified in the dangers of war and would endure long afterwards" (1998, p. 13). Although line units were not aware of the big picture including the use of atomic weapons against Japan at the time, members of the U.S. military were also committed to fulfilling their combat contracts to the best of their abilities. According to Worden (1998), "They had finite goals -- to perfect technique as they fulfilled their combat contracts or to motivate others to do so" (p. 13).

There were a number of strengths and weaknesses that were associated with the combat contracts that were used during World War II. For instance, Toczek (2004) notes that, "As analysts and decision makers continue to refine the Army's future… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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