Roosevelt and Hopkins, An Intimate History

By Robert E. Sherwood | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XVII
Shoot on Sight

The battle in Congress over extension of Selective Service was dishagreeably synchronized with the Atlantic Conference. It proved to be one of the narrowest escapes of Roosevelt's wartime career. He had almost let it go by default. The Selective Service Law provided that the Army could draft no more than 900,000 men in any one year and only "for training and service unless Congress declares that the national security is imperilled, when such service may then be extended by the President to such time as may be necessary in the interest of national defense." The President's proclamation of a state of unlimited national emergency did not in any way bind Congress to concede that the national security was imperiled. Indeed, leaders in Congress had informed Roosevelt that they could never muster votes enough to extend Selective Service. The emotional appeal of families who wanted their "boys" back was over- whelming. Even more important was the shocking morale of the men themselves: they didn't know why they were in the Army, they were muttering and shouting about promises made to them of only one year of this useless subjection to the brass hats; and, worst of all, great numbers of them were training with broomsticks for guns and with trucks masquerading as tanks, which made the whole process seem a ridiculous waste of time. The war seemed more remote than ever from American soil, with the Japanese apparently bogged down in China and Hitler getting himself more and more involved in Russia. The initials "O.H.I.O." gained alarming currency, being scrawled on walls in training camps all over the country; these stood not for the State but for "over the hill in October" which meant that, when the first year of Selective Service had ended, if the drafted men were not released and sent home according to the letter of the law under which they had registered, they would desert. (Many of the same men who had once

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