The Story of The American Legion Part 23

Lest insincerity be charged let it be said here that there _was_ some unfavorable comment. One New England paper was surprised that soldiers, sailors and marines were not clever enough to know that the American people would perceive their attempt, through this organization, to "drive a six mule team through the Treasury" and get pension and pay grabs. One Southern paper pictured Colonel Roosevelt returning from the St. Louis caucus, a defeated candidate for the chairmanship, with all hope of the future blasted, while one in Ohio said with equal accuracy and solemnity that "there is no need of such an organization at this time, now that the country is entering the era of peace."

But here is the comment. It comes from north, east, south, and west, and it is typical:

_New York Times_, April 10, 1919.--... It is a pleasure to know that Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the worthy inheritor of a beloved American name, has called a meeting of soldiers and sailors at St. Louis. Lieutenant Colonel Bennett Clark, son of Mr. Champ Clark, is an associate of Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, in the plan for an organization of all our soldiers and sailors as the American Legion. These two gentlemen, associated in a patriotic movement, indicate by their names its common national purpose, apart from politics and partisanship.

"A nonpartisan and non-political association is to be formed,"

says Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, "an association which will keep alive the principles of justice, freedom, and democracy for which these veterans fought." Justice, freedom, and democracy, without partisanship! The idea is noble. It should prevail.

_Leavenworth_ (Kansas) _Post_, April 30, 1919.--... The character of the men of the American Army who are promoting it [the Legion] and the high ideals which it professes and proposes to maintain are a guaranty that it will be a power for helpful service in the common family of the nation.

The plan of organization sprang from the desire of serious and able men in the American Army to maintain the high ideals for which all of them have fought, to preserve the soldier comradeship and carry it over into civilian life as an element of broad helpfulness while keeping the record of the army free from the taint of selfish aims. It was also wisely intended to forestall by the creation of one big genuinely representative, nonpartisan and democratic body, the formation of numerous smaller organizations in various places by men intent on exploiting the soldier sentiment and the soldier vote for other than patriotic purposes.

_New York Sun_, April 11, 1919.--... The American Legion will do an indispensable service. We, who have lived up to the past few years in an agitation of protest against the pension grab must now make our minds over sufficiently to realize that in the new situation we run immediately into danger not of over-pensioning the veterans of to-day but of neglecting them.

The new organization must of course be nonpartisan and non-political. Precedent enough exists in the career of the Grand Army to make that clear. It should include and enjoy the guidance of the most influential military men. Politicians it will have at its service so long as it is well run and organized from within. Despite its proper political limitations, it should serve as the most salutary means to influence returned soldiers to cling to plain old Americanism, shed their martial acquirements and return to plain, praiseworthy citizenship.

_Washington Star_, April 10, 1919.--... The American Legion is to be welcomed as an agency for the promotion of the best in our national life. It will represent, with other things, the majesty of numbers. A great many men will be eligible to membership; and they will be young, and full of hope and purpose. And when they act together in matters within the scope of their organization they will represent a force to be reckoned with in the formulating of public policies.

_Brooklyn Eagle_, April 11, 1919.--Organization of "The American Legion" is going on rapidily in every State in the Union. Vast as was the mass of eligibles on which the Grand Army of the Republic could draw after the Civil War, it did not compare with the Legion's bulk of raw material. There will be a formal caucus on May 8th, at St. Louis, of a real representative character, in which it is said the enlisted men of the army and navy will have a majority. Lieutenant Colonel Henry L. Stimson, once Secretary of War, outlines the plan. He believes that this country's future hereafter is in the hands of the men below thirty years of age who fought this war. He trusts that the lesson in practical democracy afforded by military experience and the ideals of democracy emphasized by military enthusiasm may be kept permanently alive.

That this is the main hope of the more active organizers we have no doubt. Men like Major General O'Ryan, General Charles I.

Debevoise, and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and Colonel Robert Bacon would never think of making such a body a lever for pension legislation or an agency of politics. Yet the temptation to a divergence from the higher ideals is strong, and the rank and file may not be inclined to resist it.

_St. Louis Globe-Democrat,_ April II, 1919.--... Such societies, it has been proved, are never partisan. They are invariably exponents of broad-gauge patriotism. That they have great political influence in a high national sense is true, but they have never misused it nor ever viewed their mission in a narrow spirit. They preserve the touch of the elbow throughout life, but only as thorough Americans, devoted first, last, and always to our common country.

St. Louis is proud to be selected as the place for the inauguration of this admirable and undoubtedly perpetual society. All wars are represented by societies formed by their veterans, and all alike have been truly and broadly patriotic.

It will be the same with the new order, whose membership will, on the strength of numbers called to the colors, far exceed any former parallel. This event will be a datemark in our patriotic annals and in the progress of the nation.

_Syracuse_ (N.Y.) _Herald_, April 13, 1919.--It has been earnestly stated, as might have been expected, that the American Legion will be strictly nonpartisan. That much might be inferred from the circumstance that one of the leading associates of Roosevelt in organizing the Legion is Lieutenant Colonel Bennett Clark, son of the late Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives. Colonel Roosevelt is sufficient authority for the assurance that the movement is neither partisan nor political. He calls it "an association which will keep alive the principles of justice, freedom and democracy for which these veterans fought." Viewed in that sentimental, ethical and patriotic light, it is a commendable undertaking. The American people will wish it well, and be glad to see it flourish....

_Norfolk_ (Va.) _Dispatch_, April 9, 1919.--If the American Legion now in process of organization by young Colonel Roosevelt and his associates, clings to the principles of foundation and holds by the purposes proclaimed by its founders, it may become a mighty force for good in the land. It will be composed of several millions of comparatively youthful Americans, a large percentage of whom will be voters, while virtually all will have demonstrated their readiness to fight their country's battles with weapons far deadlier than bullets.... This assumes the legion will fulfill the part it has undertaken to play in the country's life. If it should degenerate into a selfish protective body, it will be worse than useless. But there is little reason to fear it will fall so far below its ideals while there is every reason to hope it will be a powerful factor in helping the country to find itself again.

_New Orleans Item_, April 14, 1919.--The American Legion through the tremendous influence and mighty power of 3,000,000 organized fighting men, is certain to shape and control the destinies of the nation in years to come to an extent of which the wise will refrain from even suggesting a limit. With the announcement by Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt that the "Legion will be interested in policies, but not in politics," the opinion may safely be hazarded that the great political parties of the country are due to have new mentors, from whom they may be forced to look anxiously for their cues.

Primarily among the announced purposes of the Legion is the perpetuating of those principles of justice, freedom and democracy for which its members either fought or stood ready to fight. On the field in France or in the training camps at home, the millions of America's best manhood have learned intimately and well a new lesson of individual and national responsibility.

Such lessons, at the cost they were obtained, are not to be forgotten or lost. The ideals of the fighting men of the states, producing the valor and the power which made the American Army irresistible, and the revelations by fire of new realizations and brotherhood and of world and national citizenship are surely to be felt in the calm, happier times of peace.

_Philadelphia Record_, April 10, 1919.--... If, as Colonel Roosevelt predicts, the membership shall eventually comprise 4,000,000 men who were in the military and naval service of the United States in the late war, it will have possibilities of power that must be reckoned with. But if, in the long life before it, the American Legion shall have no more to its discredit than is summed up in the history of the G.A.R. whose ranks are now so pathetically thin, it will have been a worthy follower of its fathers.

_Paterson_ (N.J.) _Evening News_, May 7, 1919.--... The new organization starts its career deserving and receiving the good wishes of the entire country. The character of the men of the American army who are promoting it and the high ideals which it professes and proposes to maintain are a guaranty that it will be a power for helpful service in the common family of the nation.

_Duluth_ (Minn.) _Herald_, May 24, 1919.--There is a great field for the American Legion, the organization of American veterans of the World War, and judging by the spirit of the recent convention and by the expressions of the returning delegates as reported in the press of the country, it is going to fill that field.

And the field that awaits it, and that it seems to intend to fill, is a field of a vigorous and aggressive effort to demand and enforce a strong and coherent and consistent Americanism.

Not the swashbuckling kind of Americanism--the chip-on-the-shoulder kind--the we-can-lick-the-world kind. These lads of ours are the last in the world to preach that fool kind of Americanism. For they--or at least those of them who crossed the seas and fought for liberty and peace on the other side--have seen in the case of Germany what that kind of nationalism comes to, and they are against it.

But there is a type of Americanism which is utterly free from the taint of militarism and jingoism, but that yet is even more dangerous to anybody at home or abroad who flaunts the spirit of America and defies its power. And unless the signs fail, the American Legion is going to express and embody and inculcate that type of Americanism.

_Anaconda_ (Mont.) _Standard_, May 24, 1919.--... At St. Louis the members voted down all proposals for obtaining from Congress increases of pay for the soldiers and rejected all efforts to obtain canvasses of the members to ascertain their preference as to parties and as to presidential candidates. Everything was excluded which would tend to committ the organization to any particular party or any particular candidate. Young Colonel Roosevelt, son of the former republican president, and Colonel Bennett Clark, son of Champ Clark, former democratic speaker of the house, joined hands in the endeavor to keep partisanship and politics out of the organization.

_Collier's Weekly_, May 31, 1919.--A national convention of American soldiers and sailors in which no grievances were aired, no political axes ground, no special privileges or preferments demanded; where oratorical "bunk" was hooted down; where social discrimination was taboo and military rank counted not at all; where the past glories of war were subordinated to the future glories of peace and where the national interest was placed above all partisanship--that is something new under the sun. It was in such a convention held in St. Louis during the second week in May, that the new spirit of the American army and navy expressed itself articulately for the first time since the armistice was signed. The birth of the American Legion was attended by circumstances having a significance comparable with those surrounding the signing of a certain document in Philadelphia one hundred and forty-three years ago, come July 4th.

A brigadier general arises to "place in nomination the name of a man who--" and is cried down by doughboys with calls of "Name him! Who is he?" A proposal to give extra pay to enlisted men is unanimously defeated because, as Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt put it, "we are not here to sandbag something out of the Government, but to put something into it." The invitation to make Chicago the next meeting place of the Legion is refused because "American soldiers and sailors don't want to go to a city whose mayor would be ashamed to welcome such a convention."

A progressive Republican, son of a famous father, refuses the chairmanship to quiet suspicion of personal ambition, and the office goes to a Southern Democrat of whose party the gathering is in complete ignorance.

One of the convention stenographers said: "This is the funniest convention I have ever attended." We have an idea that there was an element of prophecy in her homely remark--a body representing more than four million American soldiers and sailors that makes so little political noise is likely to be about as funny to the conventionally minded politician as a bombardment of gas shells.

This language of restraint in the mouths of organized civilian youth may prove to be a natural companion to the famous battle slogan of the A.E.F.: "Let's go!"

_New York Evening Post_, May 3, 1919.--... The true usefulness of a veterans' organization is not far to seek. Like the G.A.R., the Legion should maintain and develop the comradeship bred by the war. It can assist the unfortunate in its ranks; it can take care of the widows and orphans of soldiers, in so far as any inadequacy of public provision seems to make care necessary. The Legion can preserve the fame of soldiers and commanders, by erecting monuments, by seeing that histories are written, and by proceedings of its regular reunions. It can foster such a public recollection of the great deeds of the war as well as broaden and deepen American patriotism. Sherman remarked in 1888 that there was some danger that a peace-loving generation in time of crises "would conclude that the wise man stays at home, and leaves the fools to take the buffets and kick of war." This danger can best be met by just such an organization as the G.A.R., with its campfires of song and story. Comradeship, charity and patriotism--these should be the Legion's watchwords.

_New Haven_ (Conn.) _Union_, April 16, 1919.--... Its more immediate task, as its promoters see it, is to help the members and the families of members who maybe in need of assistance. No comrade of the great struggle is to feel that he is forgotten and forsaken by the comrades who served the same great cause.

Its large and more permanent duty is to spread the sentiment of patriotism, to set an example of love of country, and unselfish service, to keep blooming always in the soldiers' bosom the flower of sacrifice that springs from every soldier's grave in France.

_Philadelphia Press_, April 10, 1919.--The organization of the soldiers of the late war into a permanent body is inevitable and entirely proper.

_Capper's Weekly_, May 24, 1919.--The American Legion organized at St. Louis is the new G.A.R. and through its platforms the views of the soldiers who fought in France will be heard. It is already apparent what the trend of that sentiment is. Whatever military system this nation sets up, if it meets the approval of the two million men who served the nation in the Great War, it will be democratic in spirit and as far as possible in form. It will be an army in which the self-respect of the common soldier will be recognized. The returning soldier has no use for anyone living here who is not wholly American, and is for expelling the unnaturalized alien wherever found. Loyalty to the Nation is fundamental in the soldiers' view.

The Nation must safeguard itself and make a distinction between citizens who offer themselves and their all, and citizens who, for whatever reason, withhold some part of their allegiance.

Brutal treatment of conscientious objectors is neither civilized nor necessary, but a differentiation is created by such residents themselves, and there should be corresponding differentiation in rights and protection. This is one of the subjects that the returned soldiers have at heart.

_Post Intelligencer_, Seattle, Washington, May 21, 1919.--...

The American Legion will be a political force in the nation as it has a perfect right to be. No organization of its character is to be held together by the cohesive power of reminiscence.

Something more binding is required, and that something will be forthcoming whether anyone outside the Legion likes it or not....

The American Legion will be made up of intelligent young men who will have a community interest and whose interest can only be furthered by united action. They will know that nothing is more transient than public gratitude, and they will assuredly not rely on it.

_Rochester_ (N.Y.) _Times_, May 23, 1919.--At its first convention held recently in St. Louis, the American Legion unanimously voted down a proposal to seek increased bonus money for the soldiers.

Chapter end

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