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Scraping the Barrel:The Military Use of Sub-Standard Manpower

The Military Use of Sub-Standard Manpower

Sanders Marble Historian U.S. Army Medical Command

Publication Year: 2012

It is a truism that history is written by the victors, and perhaps doubly so of military history, where the tendency is to relate the biggest battles, the most victorious and heroic deeds, the very best (or worst) of men. This book stands as a corrective to this belief.Scraping the Barrel covers ten cases of how armies have used sub-standard manpower in wars from 1860 to the 1960s. Dennis Showalter and Andr� Lambelet look at the changing standards in Germany and France leading up to World War I, while Peter Simkins chronicles what happened with the 'Bantams,' special units of short men used by Britain in WWI. Often the use of substandard men was to answer the sheer need for manpower in brutal, lasting conflicts, as Paul A. Cimbala writes of the U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps in the Civil War, or to keep war-damaged men active; sometimes this ethos was used to include men who wanted to fight but who otherwise would have been excluded, as Steven W. Short writes of the U.S. Colored troops in WWI. In WWII it was to answer more dire exigencies, as David Glantz relates how the USSR, having suffered enormous losses, threw away many pre-war standards, reaching for women, ethnic/national minorities, and political prisoners alike to fill units. Likewise, Nazi Germany, facing many fronts and a finite manpower pool, was compelled to relax both physical and racial standards, and Walter Dunn and Valdis Lumans look at these changing policies as well as the battlefield performance of these men.In relating the stories of the sub-standard (for the military), Scraping the Barrel is also a humanist history of the military, of the more average men who have served their country and how they were put to use. It throws light on how militaries' ideas of fitness reflect the underlying views of their societies. The idea of "disability" has been constructed based on a variety of physical, yes, but also social standards: as a value judgment on groups viewed as lesserthe aged, the lower classes, and those of different races and ethnic identities. From the American Civil War, through World Wars I and II, through the U.S. Project 100,000 in the Cold War, sub-standard men have been mobilized, served, and fought for their countries. These men are the inverse of the elites that get the lion's share of our attention. This is their untold history.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4

Using less-able men in the military is an ancient tradition, but it is one almost ignored by scholars. A Roman law of A.D. 372 provided that men who were too short or weak for service with field armies should be assigned to auxiliary military units, such as river patrol troops.1 Clearly, the Romans saw some military utility in weaker...

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1. Federal Manpower Needs and the U.S. Army's Veteran Reserve Corps

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pp. 5-27

In April 1863, the War Department established the Invalid Corps, later known as the Veteran Reserve Corps, as part of the United States’ Civil War army.1 The purpose of the organization, as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton explained, was to put to work enlisted men and offi cers who “have been disabled for active service who...

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2. A Grand Illusion? German Reserves, 1815-1914

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pp. 28-53

At first glance, the German reserve system of World War I seems anomalous in this volume. Most of the other chapters address marginal elements of societies or armies, brought under arms out of desperation. The German army, by contrast, is generally credited with developing a system of organization, training, and command...

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3. Manifestly Inferior? French Reserves, 1871-1914

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pp. 54-78

Among the many sins of the French army in preparing for what would become the Great War was the sin of omission: it failed to envision Germany’s massive use of reserves from the start and to adequately plan the use of its own reserves. In his memoirs, Marshal Joseph Joffre explained,...

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4. "Each One a Pocket Hercules": The Bantam Experiment and the Case of the Thirty-fifth Division

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pp. 79-104

Few episodes in the massive expansion of the British Army in 1914–1915 more graphically illustrate the haphazard, improvised, and often reactive nature of that process than the story of the “Bantam” experiment and, in particular, the experience of the Thirty-fifth (Bantam) Division.1 It began as a well-intentioned attempt to...

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5. Scraping the Barrel: African American Troops and World War I

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pp. 105-131

African Americans have served in U.S. military institutions since the colonial period, in many cases playing very prominent and gallant roles in fighting the enemies of the United States. Although the army did not offer complete equality, it did offer many blacks the opportunity to prove their worth to themselves and their country....

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6. Below the Bar: The U.S. Army and Limited Service Manpower

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pp. 132-150

In 1918, the U.S. Army adopted Limited Service (LS) as an efficient way to use men with physical shortcomings. The United States was not in World War I long enough for problems to develop, and LS was written into future mobilization plans. The World War II mobilization started without using LS, and when the policy was implemented,...

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7. Soviet Use of "Substandard" Manpower in the Red Army, 1941-1945

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pp. 151-178

The size, nature, and composition of the Soviet Union’s Red Army changed fundamentally in the mid-1930s, as the clouds of war began forming across Europe. The worsening international situation, characterized by increasingly dangerous crises in Europe and the Far East, increased the perceived threats to the Soviet Union. In early...

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8. German Bodenstandig Divisions

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pp. 179-196

Germany, Britain, and France all suffered heavy casualties in World War I. Between 1914 and 1918, millions of potential fathers were either killed, wounded, made prisoners of war, or kept at the front lines for long periods. The result was a low birth rate in all three nations from 1915 to 1919 and, as a result, the number of males reaching...

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9. Recruiting Volksdeutsche for the Waffen-SS: From Skimming the Cream to Scraping the Dregs

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pp. 197-224

By all appearances, Franzfeld was a small farming town somewhere in southwestern Germany. Its cobblestone town square centered on a weathered statue of a local hero of long ago, the clock outside the Rathaus chimed time as it had for some two hundred years, and the buildings around the square had the traditional German halftimbered...

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10. The Ethnic Germans of the Waffen-SS in Combat: Dregs or Gems?

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pp. 225-253

The armed formations of the Nazi Schutzstaffel SS, the Waffen-SS, earned a reputation as the toughest and most effective of all German forces in World War II. Its soldiers sported an esprit de corps comparable to that of elite American units such as the Marines and Army Airborne. The principles of voluntarism and elitism...

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11. Project 100,000 in the Vietnam War and Afterward

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pp. 254-269

In August 1966, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara stood before the Veterans of Foreign Wars and announced that in addition to fighting the war in Vietnam, the military services were also going to help fight President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty at home.1 They would start taking in hundreds of thousands of under - educated,...

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pp. 271-275

We have looked at how five different countries have used different groups of substandard men in their armies at different times. Given the span of a century between the first and last examples, the limited number of examples, and the various cultural factors at play, it would be rash to draw definitive conclusions. Yet it is fair to say that...


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pp. 277-347


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pp. 349-352


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pp. 353-354

E-ISBN-13: 9780823249497
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823239771
Print-ISBN-10: 0823239772

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Recruiting and enlistment -- History -- 20th century.
  • Recruiting and enlistment -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sociology, Military -- History -- 20th century.
  • Sociology, Military -- History -- 19th century.
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