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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

The 70 Group Air Force Squabble

(31 May 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 22, 31 May 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

It’s the silly season.

This is the season when the newspapers announce that eclipses have military value (Solar System Finally Justifies Self!) This is the time of year when Truman goes to church and the scripture text for the service is, “Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” This is the month when the Rev. Robert J. White, president of the Chaplains’ Association of the Army and Navy of the United States, flutes,“Our hearts are with all victims of persecution at all times,” but that he does not propose to do anything about segregation in the armed forces. This is the time of year when Churchill, speaking in Amsterdam, brassly trumpets, “I invoke the interests of the broad proletarian masses.”

This is the season when a woman in New York sues her husband for divorce because he forced her to read Marx.

And this is the season when Congress increases the air force budget and all the leading military figures except those in the air force raise an aggrieved howl.


What lies behind this unwonted opposition of leading political and military personnel to an increase in the air force?

Part of the opposition, of course, derives from inter-departmental pride, jealousy – and the consequently sharpened appetite for public funds. Given the air-power hypnosis, it was not difficult for Stuart Symington, secretary for the department of the air, to break the discipline established, alas, but a few weeks ago by the new department of defense, make his bid for a seventy-group air force, and get it overwhelmingly approved by a Congress positively goggle-eyed and red in the face with patriotism.

A good part of the opposition was furnished by persons having a more inclusive view of the armaments program. Secretary of defense Forrestal indicated that the establishment of an air force of 21,000 planes would give a false sense of security. Modern wars, he indicated, and especially a war with Russia, cannot be won primarily by an air force. A proper balance of land and naval forces must be maintained.

Hanson W. Baldwin, the military analyst, has pointed out that infantry commitments for a war with Russia would be astonishingly large. And hardly a beginning has been made in resolving this problem at home and abroad. Nor has the problem really been tackled of equipping these men with new weapons, without which Russia could strongly oppose the United States. Such weapons include heavier and better tanks, effective anti-tank guns, new communications equipment, and large caliber recoilless weapons. In a recent speech Eisenhower posed another and related problem – an international division of labor to produce such matèriel.


From this there flows another consideration a social struggle, transcending the simple, if es- [Line of text missing – Note by ETOL] Russia into hasty actions which could not be coped with militarily now. Following the successes of the Italian elections, the United States can afford to relax the tempo. It can also look forward to a lessening of tensions abroad as the ERP takes hold.

Coupled with this was the alarm expressed by European nations in the U.S. orbit who felt that the belligerent policy of the U.S. would lead to premature clashes with Russian forces and policies which could not be successfully met at the present time. Hence Marshall’s plea for God’s sake not to rock the boat by proposing changes in the UN – changes chiefly involving the exclusion of Russia. And hence the proposal to Russia for conversations.


One of the basic causes for opposition, however, rests upon a recognition of the economic dislocations which such a program would induce in this country, especially if army and navy forces were brought into balance and if economic and military commitments to Europe and Asia were filled.

In his statement Forrestal warned that a smaller program was indicated “... in the interest of avoiding, so far as possible, allocations, rationing, price controls and a host of other restrictions ... the demands upon an already practically fully employed and tight economy may produce explosive inflationary consequences ... The military demands must be within the limits of our capacity to produce, or, alternatively, we must accept those controls that are found necessary to channel manpower and materials necessary to insure the desired production.”

What this means is that the most responsible (capitalist) leaders of the country fear the social consequences of the program. For implicit in it is the curtailing of civilian production, allocation of raw materials to war industries, rationing, wage freezing and other curbs upon labor – and an inevitable acceleration of the drive to war. Since the tasks are so huge, the restrictions in all spheres involving the working class will be much more extensive and intensive than in World War II. It is the fear of the reactions of the workers which lies behind this argumentation against the seventy-group air force.

In sum, congress – and congress in the silly season of an election year – is proving something less than an ideal executive for the capitalist class. This is the burden of Hanson W. Baldwin’s well-reasoned complaint in the New York Times.

But there is no law which says that comedians – all unconscious, of course – shall not sit in congress. They too can contribute to the evolution of history. And the contribution of the current set is to bring closer that fateful D-day whose appearance even the somewhat shrewder politicos view with fear and trembling.

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