/ Published April 07, 2015
As a thorough military history, William Taylor's Every Citizen a Soldier offers something for everyone. His portrayal of the quest for universal military training (UMT) goes beyond the rationales of the senior Army leaders who proposed it by examining the social, political, and even religious factors that combine to shape national military policy in the United States. At the conclusion of the Second World War, the idea of UMT--the mandatory yearlong training of every 18-year-old male not physically disqualified--swept the nation. Every Citizen a Soldier proceeds chronologically and thematically through the jungle of military manpower debates in the early twentieth century to illuminate this striking concept. The author introduces the initial proposals for UMT that emerged after the First World War and traces their progress up to 1943, when US Army leaders embraced them in earnest (p. 26). Taylor demonstrates how UMT became central to War Department plans for the postwar era and argues that this singular focus ultimately brought about the failure of the policy altogether (p. 32).
Army leaders fought hard for the establishment of UMT, drafting press pieces, enlisting the support of civilian organizations, and even recruiting sympathetic chaplains to persuade religious authorities, but as their message spread, so did concern about and opposition toward the plan. Negative responses forced proponents into an increasingly reactionary narrative, and they began to slowly lose control of their message. Taylor leaves none of these facets unexplored and even dedicates an entire chapter to the "Fort Knox Experiment" designed by the Army to showcase the attainability of UMT through small, highly successful units of trainees known as "Umties" (p. 112).
Beginning in 1945, the Truman administration restructured the UMT proposal with heavy emphasis on education, health care, and vocational development; consequently, it began to lose the purely military function that Army leaders had envisioned. However, according to Taylor, the greatest hurdle to UMT's legislative success was the sense of urgency the War Department had manifested in the minds of citizens, a phenomenon the author terms the "paradox of preparedness" (p. 171). In the political climate of 1948, citizens and legislators saw an immediate security problem that UMT could not solve and opted instead for Selective Service as a short-term fix. With this task completed, the urgency fell away, and UMT would never regain the momentum necessary to become a reality (p. 171).
Every Citizen a Soldier is a lively telling of an unexplored moment in US history. Its narrative is interesting and accessible to a broad audience. It has particular value for readers involved in the age-old challenge of military manpower. UMT stands in stark contrast to the All Volunteer Force of today, and Every Citizen a Soldier reveals surprisingly relevant concerns expressed by postwar leaders about the issues that a less "democratic" fighting force might face (p. 29).
The timeline in appendix B proves helpful for any reader struggling to track the order of major events, and the notes demonstrate a solid research foundation on which Taylor built his study. US military historiography often falls victim to rehashing the same tired debates, but Taylor's work tackles a fresh subject in a way that makes it remarkably applicable for current discussions of military policy.
Amanda B. Biles
Minot, North Dakota
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."