Finally, Nazi Germany was defeated. However, the total victory of World War II “will not be ours until we have placed the keystone of a global structure for permanent peace,” wrote the National Commander of the American Legion, Edward N..
Victory in Japan was still three months away, and the American Legion continued to impress upon the nation the need to remain vigilant in this final stanza, to purchase war bonds, and to support the home front effort. âThe powerful Nazi war machine is destroyed,â Scheiberling said in an official statement following the German surrender. âSmashed is the Nazi plan for a super-race designed to rule a slave world. But our task is only half done. We have won the European phase of World War II. We still have to win the Pacific phase. The war against the Japanese must be continued until it too comes to a successful conclusion. “
Scheiberling and the legislative director of the American Legion, John Thomas Taylor, had recently met with Legionary President Harry Truman, who had taken office less than a month before after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the White House meeting, the commander told Truman: âThe American Legion, which represents 2 million men and women from both world wars, will do everything possible to interpret the views and feelings of American veterans on lasting peace and global security. He also told the president that ‘the nation’s fighters and veterans should be represented at the next peace table’.
At the time of Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the global war death toll was estimated at over 85 million.
For most of the leaders of the American Legion – primarily World War I veterans who had vigorously pushed for peace by force after losing nearly 117,000 of their comrades in Europe 25 years earlier – the reality that the world is returned to war, one even more deadly, weighed heavily.
âAs I write this message from San Francisco,â Scheiberling wrote, âan old phrase rings in my memory. It is: ‘There has never been a good war or a bad peace.’ “
In the early summer, as the Allies moved closer to a defeated but determined Japan, the American Legion once again reflected on a future of peace and how to maintain it. âMilitary victories, capitulations and conferences between world powers are only stages in this construction of a framework for peace,â wrote the commander. âCompleting the structure will require the highest degree of determination, understanding and cooperation of all. If we fail again, we admit that wars are inevitable.
The first national commander of the American Legion, Franklin D’Olier, delivered a similar message during the closing months of World War II. Serving at the time as chairman of the US Strategic Bombing Survey, D’Olier lamented that World War I did not effectively teach the human race a lasting lesson.
“It is obvious that at the end of the current war, an instrument must be created which will ensure the future peace of the world”, wrote D’Olier in June 1945. “It is the hope and the desire of nations henceforth. allies in this greatest of all wars, to destroy the ideologies that would destroy the democratic way of life enjoyed by this nation since its founding. In the article, he made the American Legion’s relentless case for universal military training for all men 18 and older, rather than having a large standing army.
The United States was unfortunately not prepared for World War I, with less than 400,000 – including the National Guard – in uniform before the United States entered in 1917. After the United States entered, that number would climb to over 4 million thanks to conscription, in a matter of months – the majority untrained to serve in an army ill-equipped to combat any foreign threat. After World War I, the American Legion continually fought for all the American investments in defense and national security that were possible at the time, continually placing peace and diplomacy before force.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed all that. Suddenly, once again, America was plunged into a world war, better prepared than last time, but once again underfunded and ill-armed to face the seasoned war machines of Germany, Italy and Japan, and their allies.
D’Olier wrote that America just couldn’t let this happen again after World War II. âCan this nation afford to ignore the experiences of 1917 and 1941? Our will for peace and our determination to avoid war during these years have served us for nothing. Equally ineffective have been our disarmament program, our embargoes and our acts of neutrality. So what can we do to preserve our way of life and to ensure that our nation remains at peace with the world? We will all agree that we do not want a standing army large enough to challenge the world. It would defeat the very purpose for which this war is being waged. “
The Legion’s preference was to have a capable military citizen – who could be summoned from all over the country in an emergency. âThe goal,â D’Olier wrote, âis a formed group that will stand as a bulwark against those aggressor nations who found us so terribly ill-prepared in 1917 and again, despite this experience, when the present war has begun.”
Universal military training would never materialize the way the American Legion envisioned it. His last gasps came in the mid-1950s, when President Eisenhower supported and signed a law that laid the foundation for modern reservations. By this time, the United States was at war again, on the Korean Peninsula, and was within years of full-scale combat in Southeast Asia. The American armed conflict would, in fact, prove to be continuous during the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the World War on Terrorism, defying the founders’ dreams of lasting peace.
âOn my way to San Francisco by plane, I saw our country again,â Schieberling wrote in July 1945. âIn the space of 24 hours, the panorama of a nation spared the physical scars of war unfolded. under my eyes. We have something our veterans can come back to. We must continue like this. “
World War I veteran Senator Leverett Saltonstall, R-Mass., Wrote in American Legion magazine at the time, this unit was the answer to challenge the ârowers of the mobâ who sought to crush such dreams and turn people against each other, even after the end of World War II. He predicted that they would “pit a veteran against a non-veteran, a worker against an employer, a Christian against a Jew, a Catholic against a Protestant, a black against a white.”
Nazi Germany’s unprecedented intolerance was, for Saltonstall, the greatest enemy of democracy and contributor to armed conflict. âThe cooperation so vital to any military action, the closer understanding gained in battle between men of all nations, creeds and colors, have taught our soldiers how important unity isâ¦ They know that the world they want for themselves and for their children can be achieved only through the cooperative efforts of all groups in our country.
Saltonstall’s dreams of unity, like those who envisioned a future without war, were not to come true in the decades to come. âUnfortunately, it is not enough to know what we are fighting for, as we who came back from the last war found out,â he wrote. âWe also knew why we were fighting in 1917. We knew why we went to war and what we wanted in peace. But we didn’t know how to get it for ourselves and for our children. And because we failed in this, all the rest of our knowledge was useless.
âWhen we returned home, we forgot to continue this protection in peace, and we did not see the enemies of democracy banding together for another murder. We won the war and we lost the peace. We have paid dearly for these mistakes. But we also learned from them.
Visions of world peace, collaboration, and unity aside, the American Legion would continue to take more tangible and achievable action – still alive and well today – while maintaining the hope that war is not inevitable.
Scheiberling put it this way: âHonored care for the dead; adequate rehabilitation of people with disabilities; readjustment to civilian life for capable veterans with all the opportunities we have undertaken; vigilant action to ensure that our country retains the same role in peacebuilding that we played in the war; and guarantees for the protection of our country so that there will never be another Pearl Harbor – these are my goals for the American Legion.
âAchieving them will mean that the Legion has kept the faith in its founders and taken up the challenge of the times. We will be truly at the service of God and of the country. We must not fail. “