- Political Indoctrination in the U.S. Army from World War II to the Vietnam War
As Christopher DeRosa points out in his introduction, American soldiers typically need to understand the purpose of an order if one expects them to fully comply with it. In 1942, the U.S. Army—worried that its soldiers did not sufficiently appreciate the fascist threat—instituted a "troop information" program aimed at reinforcing patriotism and inducing animosity toward the enemy. During the next thirty years, the Army struggled against its own preference for political neutrality, and the individualism of soldiers drawn from a highly politicized populace, to create an effective indoctrination program. In the end, the Army failed.
During World War I the government and private agencies had made some effort to teach common social and moral values to enlisted men, and citizenship education had remained a small part of soldier training in the interwar years. Since the American military had such limited experience with political education, the Army looked to the British for an example of how to run an indoctrination program. Thus, the Army mandated weekly [End Page 1306] information sessions. Moreover, prominent opinion makers such as Walter Lippmann and Samuel L. A. Marshall wrote course material and lesson plans. Despite what may have seemed a solid foundation, the Army found that commanding officers were generally reluctant to dedicate precious time to troop information, and that the program rarely positively affected a soldiers' attitude toward combat duty or military service. Although there was no evidence that troop information increased soldiers' willingness to fight, the Army retained the indoctrination programs into the Cold War as part of a continuing attempt at "instilling political knowledge and opinions" (p. 50) that soldiers would take with them into civilian life.
Because school curricula in the 1950s and 1960s was strongly anticommunist, soldiers found Army attempts at encouraging anticommunism repetitive, unsophisticated, and just plain boring. In addition, the Army continually contended with criticisms from conservatives that the program was too liberal, turf wars within the Army over which office was the final arbiter of indoctrination material, and disagreements about whether troop information should focus on antidrug messages or counter antiwar sentiment during the Vietnam War. Integration and black soldiers' complaints further strained the troop information program. When the draft ended in 1973, the Army ignored military sociologist Morris Janowitz's contention that political indoctrination was more important than ever before, abandoning troop information in favor of wooing volunteers to enlist with improvements in benefits and more liberal policies regarding military discipline. Ultimately, DeRosa concludes, political indoctrination failed not only because the program could not find a way to explain to soldiers "where they were going," but because it had the potential to weaken civilian control of the military.
DeRosa has produced a well-researched, readable, and well-contextualized study. It will, no doubt, become a standard on military history reading lists.