1916-1925: America– War and Peace

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Author: Woodrow Wilson  | Date: May 18, 1917

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Compulsory Military Service

THE power against we are arrayed has sought to impose its will upon the world by force. To this end armament has been increased until it has changed the face of war. In the sense in which we have been wont to think of armies, there are no armies in this struggle, there are entire nations armed. Thus, the men who remain to till the soil and man the factories are no less a part of the army that is France than the men beneath the battle flags. It must be so with us. It is not an army that we must shape and train for war; it is a nation.

To this end our people must draw close in one compact front against a common foe. But this cannot be if each man pursues a private purpose. All must pursue one purpose. The nation needs all men; but it needs each man not in the field that will most pleasure him, but in the endeavor that will best serve the common good. Thus, though a sharpshooter pleases to operate a trip-hammer for the forging of great guns and an expert machinist desires to march with the flag, the nation is being served only when the sharp-shooter marches and the machinist remains at his levers.

The whole nation must be a team, in which each man shall play the part for which he is best fitted. To this end Congress has provided that the nation shall be organized for war by selection; that each man shall be classified for service in the place to which it shall best serve the general good to call him.

The significance of this cannot be overstated. It is a new thing in our history and a landmark in our progress. It is a new manner of accepting and vitalizing our duty to give ourselves with thoughtful devotion to the common purpose of us all. It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling; it is, rather, selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass. It is no more a choosing of those who shall march with the colors than it is a selection of those who shall serve an equally necessary and devoted purpose in the industries that lie behind the battle line.

The day here named is the time upon which all shall present themselves for assignment to their tasks. It is for that reason destined to be remembered as one of the most conspicuous moments in our history. It is nothing less than the day upon which the manhood of the country shall step forward in one solid rank in defense of the ideals to which this nation is consecrated. It is important to those ideals no less than to the pride of this generation in manifesting its devotion to them that there be no gaps in the ranks.

It is essential that the day be approached in thoughtful apprehension of its significance, and that we accord to it the honor and the meaning that it deserves. Our industrial need prescribes that it be not made a technical holiday, but the stern sacrifice that is before us urges that it be carried in all our hearts as a great day of patriotic devotion and obligation, when the duty shall lie upon every man, whether he is himself to be registered or not, to see to it that the name of every male person of the designated ages is written on these lists of honor.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington this 18th day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and forty-first.

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Chicago: Woodrow Wilson, "Compulsory Military Service," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.39-43 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IPGN7ELSK6I9X7D.

MLA: Wilson, Woodrow. "Compulsory Military Service." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.39-43, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IPGN7ELSK6I9X7D.

Harvard: Wilson, W, 'Compulsory Military Service' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.39-43. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IPGN7ELSK6I9X7D.