The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:
A New Deal Case Study

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Chapter 11
The CCC Weakens

On February 10, 1939, Director Fechner bluntly told his Advisory Council that the current rate of desertion from the CCC was far too high. In fact, he admitted, "it was the worst spot on the whole record of the camps." [1] Six weeks later he emphasized that the President had insisted that steps be taken immediately to deal with the problem, because the adverse publicity given the desertion rates was damaging to the CCC's public image. [2]

Fechner was not exaggerating. By April, 1937, 18.8 per cent of all enrollees who left camp were dishonorably discharged for desertion. [3] By December, 1938, the rate was more than 20 per cent. [4] In other words, by 1939, one out of every five discharged enrollees severed his connection with the camps illegally. Desertion cost the Corps money as well as prestige because it meant that food, clothing, and training had all been wasted. Consequently, CCC officials were assiduous during the Corps' final years in investigating the reasons behind the increased incidence.

To Fechner and McEntee the answers were simple enough. Both laid some blame on weak Army control. McEntee once said that "a large number of the officers now in camp are not competent to control the boys, and lack a proper understanding of the work." [5] Disgusted with the weak leadership, the youths quit the camps in droves. More important, according to Fechner, was the enrollment age limit of seventeen years. His claim was that at seventeen a boy was not "physically developed to do the work expected of him." Tired and discouraged, he therefore "went over the hill." If the age limit were once more raised to eighteen, Fechner guaranteed a significant reduction in the high rates of desertion. [6] These points of view were grossly over simplified, yet both contained a strong element of truth. Unquestionably, weak camp leadership was a factor in explaining desertions, but it did not explain their sharp rise. Moreover, though Fechner was partially right in assuming that the older the enrollee the less likely he was to desert, the raising of the age limit to eighteen would have resulted in no appreciable lessening of the problem. A study made in May, 1939, revealed that, in fact, almost twice as many eighteen-year-old enrollees deserted as did seventeen year olds, and that youths aged nineteen left at an even higher rate. [7] A detailed and prolonged study of the whole problem was required, and it was the Selection Division which provided it.

The Selection Division had been probing the desertion problem since its first manifestations. There was a practical reason for this interest, as too many desertions could indicate poor selection work. In addition, both Persons and Snyder were deeply concerned with the problem for its own sake, acting on behalf of the many boys who were voluntarily and foolishly depriving themselves of all the benefits the CCC could bring them. [8] Having no national organization of their own, however, Persons and Snyder were largely dependent on state directors of selection for their information, though they were certainly able to suggest methods of investigation. Thus, in 1937 they urged that all State directors institute a monthly study of desertions in an attempt to determine prevailing causes. [9] Some declined to make the study because of a lack of staff members, [10] but many others complied. By 1939 the Selection Division had amassed a considerable amount of data on the desertion problem. But unfortunately no clear answers were provided. The reasons given for desertion formed no single pattern, while the value of each state's material depended largely on the effort expended in collecting it.

Most State Directors found that the reasons for desertion lay either with faulty camp administration or with inadequate preparation for camp life. The Connecticut director considered homesickness to be the major cause and thought that little could be done about it. [11] The Iowa agent thought that increasingly "strict discipline" was responsible for the rising rates, and he called on Army officers to modify their authoritarian approach. [12] Others stated that the boys were being given a false impression of camp life and deserted when their expectations were not realized. [13] A few reported that desertion increased when enrollees were sent to camp outside their home states after having been told that they would be stationed near their homes. [14] An investigator for the Missouri director wove many of these factors together. Increased desertions, he asserted, were "due to the type of enrollment selected . . . homesickness on the part of a few men, group transfers out of state for men who were told prior to transfer that they were not going to be sent out of the state, and lack of welfare equipment." Also, some parents advised their sons to desert, he contended. [15]

A few state officials found the fault to lie more with the enrollees than with the camp. J. Fred Kurtz, the Pennsylvania director of selection, who was more concerned than most with the problem, thought that while severe discipline and homesickness undoubtedly caused desertion, they did not explain adequately the sharply rising rates. He believed that he could detect, in his state at least, a progressive deterioration in the quality of boys offering themselves for selection. "Many lads join up with the frank and sole intention of getting a CCC outfit," he said. After receiving their clothing issue, they promptly deserted. [16]

Kurtz was unusual in attempting to explain the rising rates; most directors merely listed reasons why desertions had occurred. Their explanations were often equally applicable to the years up to 1937, when desertions rates were much lower. Thus, though the Selection Division officials by 1940 possessed a vast amount of material about desertions, they were little closer to understanding why the numbers had increased. Because of this, Persons sent a circular to all state directors in 1940, asking for a comprehensive and confidential survey of desertion in their states and giving operational directions aimed at gauging the reasons for the increase in rates. [17] Some directors disregarded his appeal, [18] but other replies did point to certain trends which indicated why so many recent enrollees had deserted. Fourteen states reported, for instance, that the growing international tension since 1937 had been in part responsible. Enrollees deserted because they feared they would be drafted and sent to fight overseas. [19] Others said that the European situation had caused the Army to drain the best officers from the camps back into regular service. Their replacements had neither the character nor the experience to prevent a deterioration of camp morale and conditions. [20] Some directors concentrated on the improving economic situation of the country. The ablest young men could now get jobs and had no need of the CCC. Thus, there had been a progressive deterioration in the last few years in the quality of youths enrolled. They were younger, less self-reliant, less developed physically, and more prone to homesickness or discouragement. [21] In addition, the removal of the relief provision in 1937 had permitted the enrolment of youths from more financially secure families than had formerly been the case. Not only did these enrollees tend to be "more critical of camp conditions," [22] but also their families did not particularly need the $25 allotment. [23] There was probably not the same compulsion, therefore, to stay in camp. Another reason adduced was the competition of the NYA, where enrollees, without ever leaving home, [24] earned almost as much money as they would have in the CCC. Still another was the growing shortage of farm labor, which provided alternative employment. [25]

Thus, after four years of patient probing, the Selection Division had gained some insight into the reasons for the increase in desertions. Would they be able to use this knowledge to good effect in achieving some significant reductions in the rates? Obviously, much was beyond their capability. Persons and Snyder had no method of calming fears about the international situation or of persuading the War Department to leave its best officers in command of CCC camps. Moreover, the Selection Division had no coercive powers; it had to achieve the best results it could by moral suasion alone. Persons and Snyder constantly emphasized to selection agents the need both to screen all applicants carefully, accepting only those youths who seemed likely to become "mature and proficient" workmen, and to paint a realistic picture of the nature of life in the Corps. [26]

Even before the study in 1940, they had been successful in securing the adoption of three policies designed to reduce desertion rates. First, in 1937, at Persons' behest, Fechner recommended that the "buddy system" be introduced in all camps. Each new recruit was to have a "buddy," or experienced enrollee, assigned to him upon his arrival at camp, whose job was to show him round the site, make him feel welcome, and discourage any tendency to desert through homesickness. [27] Second, in 1938, acting on a recommendation from Indiana, Persons successfully sought a modification of CCC regulations which permitted deserting enrollees to return to camp without penalty. There are indications that this expedient was relatively successful. [28] Finally, in 1939, it was decided that henceforth youths who were under eighteen years of age were to be selected only when it was impossible to fill state quotas from older age groups. [29] The success of these three policies, however, depended on the interest and ability of local camp commanders and selection agents. There was little the Selection Division could do to insure their implementation. In any event, all that could be expected was a small reduction in desertions, for the main causes of the problem were still outside the Selection Division's compass. The desertion problem remained a pressing one for Corps officials until the agency's abolition in 1942.

The unpalatable fact that one in every five enrollees did not even think life in the Corps worthwhile enough to complete his enrolment was both frustrating and disappointing to CCC officials, and their attempts to find a solution were sincere and painstaking. Like many other problems, these high desertion rates were probably the product of the CCC's makeshift organization and its diverse aims. The Corps was not solely concerned with the rehabilitation of American youth; had this been so, perhaps the desertion problem would have come under even closer scrutiny. But the CCC had conservation and relief functions as well. Inevitably, therefore, adolescent boys, not all of them fitted for the experience, were going to be transported from their familiar, often urban, home environment into the strange, silent forests. There many of them encountered effective discipline for the first time, and others received their first taste of hard manual work. That a sizable minority of these boys would simply not be able to make the necessary adjustment seems scarcely surprising. The reasons for the increased desertion rates after 1938 are harder to identify. The loss of the best Reserve officers and their replacement by less experienced men, the attraction of the NYA, the fear of being drafted, the gradual up-swing in the economy—all of these must have played a part.

The desertion rates undoubtedly damaged the CCC's image, but they were far from destroying it. Far more damaging publicly to the CCC was the increased incidence of unrest and mutiny in the camps. The Washington Times broke the story of the most spectacular revolt of all in November, 1937, when it reported that mutiny had broken out in five CCC camps operating in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. More than one hundred enrollees had been dismissed for refusing to work. The camp commander explained that the youths "had enlisted apparently under the impression they were going to a Southern resort for the winter. When they arrived to find snow and ice and plenty of work, the trouble started." [30] Most enrollees were disgusted by the mutineers' action, the report concluded.

Fechner, dismayed at such unwelcome publicity for the CCC, immediately instigated a full investigation and soon uncovered a multiplicity of causes for the unrest. [31] Most of the youths who participated were from the mining districts of Pennsylvania, where a strike was the normal method of achieving redress for grievances. Furthermore, neither local CCC officials nor the camp commander had made any attempt to prepare the lads for the transfer from their highly industrialized home communities to a completely rural environment. The situation was further complicated by the presence in the camps of a large contingent of Southern enrollees, with whom the Pennsylvania boys, completely different in background and outlook, clashed repeatedly. These were the factors which coalesced to produce one of the most publicized of all CCC mutinies. [32]

The Virginia revolt was but the first of a series of unpleasant incidents which plagued the Corps. In 1938, for example, enrollees in a New York camp were caught stealing CCC material and disposing of it locally. [33] In January, 1939, Pennsylvania and Southern youths clashed at Luray, Virginia, in a major riot. Several enrollees were badly beaten, and one suffered severe knife and ax wounds. [34] The commander of a camp near Lexington, Indiana, permitted the wide-scale distribution of liquor to enrollees, and brought "two girls into the camp, for immoral purposes." [35] There were many signs that the high morale of the first four years of the Corps was disintegrating.

CCC officials could do little to prevent the disturbances, apart from urging the commanders to closely supervise incoming enrollees and to generally "keep their fingers on the pulse of the camp." [36] Persons sought to prevent as much as possible the mingling of urban and rural enrollees in the same camps, while fully realizing that this approach was a stopgap measure only. [37] On the other hand, Major General Tyner insisted that only the granting of wider punitive powers to camp commanders could remedy the situation; "the main reason for the unrest," he said, was the lack of respect for military authority among the enrollees. [38] Fechner refused to grant additional power, however, on the grounds that "these camps are not military camps," and the Regular Army discipline would be out of place in them. [39] The mutiny problem continued to bother the CCC officials, not because of its extensiveness, but because of the publicity given each outbreak.

Misdemeanors on the part of the CCC employees and camp commanders also brought criticism to the agency. Fechner expressed great chagrin in 1939 when it was revealed that a camp commander in Maryland had been arrested for selling liquor to enrollees, and that a New York officer had embezzled $20,000 of the camp's money; he knew that the twin scandals would damage the CCC's image of efficiency. [40] Ever since the highly publicized trial of Reno C. Stitely, a CCC clerk who had defrauded the Corps of $84,000 as a result of lax disbursement procedures, Congress and the press had been watchful for further indiscretions. [41] Their hostile scrutiny was a new and unwelcome experience for officials used to basking in the sunlight of universal public acclaim.

To add to the discomfort of CCC officials, familiar problems reappeared, often in more acute form. Agitation for fairer treatment of Negroes had certainly not been quashed by Fechner's decision in 1935 to curb Negro enrolment, and white hostility to Negro camps had not ceased. A determined effort to locate a Negro camp at Georgetown, Delaware, was frustrated by residents of the city, who lobbied successfully against its establishment. [42] As this would have been Delaware's first Negro camp, the failure meant that no Negro from that state was yet able to enjoy the benefits of CCC life. Negro action groups now concentrated on another aspect of the problem. As Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP indicated, there was a real need to adjust Negro CCC enrolment to a re-employment ratio. The new jobs created by the slowly improving economy went to white youths, not Negroes, he averred, and Negro enrolment in the CCC should be at least doubled. [43]

Fechner remained intransigent in face of such pressures. Not only did he flatly refuse to select more Negroes, [44] but he also directed that Negro camps should be cut in strict proportion to the reduction of white companies, despite the slower Negro reemployment rate. [45] Neither would he permit any compromise on camp segregation, even though he was forced to break another of his own injunctions in the process and send the Negroes out of their home states. Philip La Follette, governor of Wisconsin, requested in 1938 that Wisconsin Negroes be enrolled in integrated camps within the state rather than be sent to segregated camps in Illinois. [46] The Director's Office refused, claiming it would be "contrary to official policy," [47] a reply which the executive secretary of the Milwaukee Urban League characterized as "a decided disappointment, coming as it did from a Federal agency. To my knowledge," he wrote, "there are no units in Wisconsin designed as Italian, Polish, German or Jewish. Therefore we feel it well within the fitness of things to raise the question as to why Negroes are being set aside into so-called Negro units." [48] There was no acceptable solution to the problem. To the end, it was hard to locate Negro camps, [49] while there was little increase in the Negro selection rate, even after rising reemployment made it more difficult to secure qualified white applicants. [50]

Another aspect of the total pattern of CCC discrimination against Negroes became a matter of increasing urgency in the years after 1937. It concerned their use as supervisors in Negro camps. The question first arose quite early in the CCC's existence. In 1934, in response to pressure from the NAACP, General MacArthur and Fechner agreed to appoint Negro educational advisers whenever practicable; this soon became established policy. [51] Thus encouraged, Negroes began to seek appointments to other positions, including that of camp commander. The Army drew the line on this but Roosevelt, no doubt looking to the Negro vote, thought the idea had merit, and in 1936, at his direction, three Negro Reserve officers were each placed in charge of a Negro camp. [52] These appointments were given wide publicity, but the whole business was little more than a symbolic gesture. After re-election Roosevelt displayed no further interest in the question, and though Negroes pressed vehemently for increased openings, the Army, with Fechner's tacit consent, refused to call any more Negro Reserve officers to duty as camp commanders. Army authorities claimed that it was simply not possible to get a community to accept a Negro camp if it had a Negro in command. [53] They undoubtedly had a point, yet it is equally true that their efforts in this direction were extraordinarily halfhearted. With neither director nor War Department in any way committed to increasing the opportunities available to Negro officers, progress could hardly be expected.

Negroes, however, were used increasingly as project supervisors in Negro camps. An order of 1938 made this mandatory, and the policy was implemented and sustained in spite of the vigorous opposition of some selection agents and Army officers. [54] Moreover, Negroes continued to benefit mentally and physically from Corps life and still remained in the camps half as long again as white enrollees. [55] The failure of the CCC in aiding Negro enrollees was certainly not one of performance, but one of potential. Much was accomplished, but much more could have been done.

If the closing of the camps worried Negro leaders, it profoundly disturbed many congressmen. The pressure from politicians on the Director's Office in the final years of the CCC was no longer concerned with getting camps established in their districts, but with preventing their removal. This was a phenomenon as old as the Corps itself, but the protests intensified markedly as the rate of camp closings increased, and congressmen had to face the local political effects of the President's economy schemes. [56] Men like Senator "Cotton Ed" Smith started to demand full congressional investigations every time a camp was removed from their district. [57] Though insurgent congressmen did not have enough strength in 1938 to defeat the President's reduction plans, as they had done in 1935, their opposition was none the less bitter for that. [58] In fact, Fechner considered that the intense reaction by some congressmen to the closing of the camps endangered the whole image of the CCC. The situation had "become very bad," he thought. [59]

Behind the discomforts of congressmen was the vociferous anger of hundreds of local communities which had lost their CCC camps, and with them a strong aid to economic recovery. Many of these towns and villages did not even have the compensation of a completed work project to fall back on, so drastic had been the reductions. The Menominee, Michigan, Chamber of Commerce in protesting the closing of a camp there, said work had barely begun. Leaving it in such an embryonic state would represent an inexplicable waste of money, time, and effort. [60] In some districts specially constituted local organizations attempted to force the retention of camps. The North-Western Ohio Drainage Association, formed with the sole aim of preventing the abandonment of four CCC drainage camps, represented twenty counties. [61] It held so many well-attended mass protest meetings that Senator Victor Donahey, Democrat of Ohio, nervously feared that its influence would determine the results, in three districts, of the 1938 congressional elections. [62] Other groups and individuals began to criticize aspects of CCC life. A special commission reported to the Massachusetts State Legislature that "Communists were creating dissatisfaction, unrest and class consciousness among the young men in the camps," a contention enthusiastically supported by Mayor Frank L. Hague of Jersey City. A Brooklyn County judge denounced it as a "haven for ex-convicts," yet the American Prisons Association upbraided it for not officially accepting parolees and probationers. [63] Increasingly, the Corps was feeling the lash of criticism from all sides.

Nevertheless, the fact of the CCC's popularity must never be obscured. Individuals and organizations ranging from the Catholic Social Action Congress to the president of the Latvian Republic still accorded it unreserved praise. [64] Richard St. Barbe Baker, a leading British conservationist, considered the CCC to be "the finest thing ever heard of," and hoped to bring one hundred Englishmen to the United States to study its workings. [65] One of the highlights of the American visit of the King and Queen of England in June, 1939, was their tour of a CCC camp in Virginia. [66] Newspapers also added their plaudits. The Washington Times-Herald, defiantly answering foreign criticism of the United States, cited the record of the CCC as proof of the country's greatness. [67] Collier's simply considered it "indispensable." [68] Mothers still pleaded that their sons be enrolled, [69] and former enrollees continued to pay glowing tributes to the benefits of camp life. [70] Criticism of the Corps may have increased, but as yet it had made little impression on the phalanx of favorable public opinion. This eventuality still lay in the future.

Casting its ominous shadow over much of American life in the late thirties was the steadily worsening international situation. As war in Europe drew nearer, Americans became progressively concerned about the state of their own defenses. Inevitably, the issue of military training in the CCC became an increasingly vital one, affecting many facets of Corps life. The military training controversy was not a factor in the fight for permanence of 1937 but it was brought squarely to the forefront of public concern at the end of that year by the director himself. Speaking at Miami, Fechner declared that the CCC boys, because of their camp training and discipline, were "85 per cent prepared for military life" and could be "turned into first-class fighting men at almost an instant's notice." [71] He went on to point out that the "military aspect" of CCC life was unintentional and formed but a very small part of the camp program, but his speech was interpreted in many quarters as supporting military training in the Corps. The Des Moines Register demanded that the CCC "stick to the civilian idea" and that Fechner eschew further discussion of the issue. [72] The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom angrily denounced "the use of the CCC as a means for training young men for war." [73] However, some Army officers connected with the Corps not only supported Fechner, but also demanded that a complete training program be instituted immediately. [74] Significantly, public opinion at last seemed to favor such a move. A Gallup Poll taken in August, 1938, revealed that 75 per cent of those polled supported military training in the camps, a startling increase from 1936 when no clear preferences could be discerned. [75] Though a substantial body of the press, particularly in Western states, remained doggedly opposed to training, [76] and though Roosevelt in October, 1938, once more specifically disclaimed even considering the introduction of any such program, [77] the issue was bound to remain a live one.

A few of the largest daily newspapers helped to keep the question in the forefront by repeated editorial comment and news coverage. The New York Times proposed that CCC labor be used to man airplane plants. In this way the Corps could be "made an essential part of the national defense program." [78] The Washington News believed that the international situation rendered it essential to use CCC boys in defense work, and claimed that War Department officials unanimously favored military training in the camps. [79] To be sure, some Army officers were extremely vocal in pressing for training, and in May, 1939, an interdepartmental government committee urged that the CCC provide apprentices for aircraft mechanics as a defense measure. [80] Congressmen, mainly from Southern states, introduced legislation providing for military training in the Corps and spoke publicly in favor of it. [81] Worried CCC selection agents called for some slackening in the publicity given the issue because of its effect on selection rates. Dayton Jones, the California agent, in May, 1939, reported the wholesale withdrawal of applicants due to fear of becoming "cannon fodder." [82] Such pleas were in vain. By the outbreak of World War II, military training in the CCC had firm Army, press, and popular support.

The coming of the war in Europe brought increased demands for a military training scheme. The Chicago Tribune angrily declared that "we should not neglect the opportunity afforded by the CCC to prepare for any emergency which may arise." [83] The attitude of some Army officers verged on the irrational. Addressing enrollees at the dedication of a CCC camp near Franklinton, North Carolina, Colonel C. L. McGee declared that "It's great to get into war. It broadens you." McGee insisted that "it is a glorious thing for an American youth to lay down his life in a foreign land for defense of his country," and he was hopeful that all CCC lads would be given first claim to this happy experience. [84] The effect of such histrionics on the camp desertion rate was not recorded. At the Capitol, the chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, Representative Andrew J. May, Democrat of Kentucky, admitted that he might introduce a bill providing for five hours' military instruction a week in all camps. "We should give CCC boys an advantage in wartime that many of their wealthier fellows lacked," he said, in answer to critics who called the bill class legislation which "placed an unequal military burden on the poor youths forced to enroll in the camps." [85] The public was obviously solid in its support for training. The latest Gallup Poll revealed that 90 per cent favored military activity in the CCC. [86]

A few important newspapers stood firm against the majority. The New York Herald Tribune argued that the problem should not be approached from the standpoint of the European war, but in the light of how America would benefit. "The camps are in conception and execution essentially non-military," [87] it declared. The St. Louis Post Dispatch firmly asserted that the CCC "should continue to be civilian" [88] in title and objectives. The official position was stated clearly in December, 1939, by Fechner when he appeared before the House Labor Committee. He asserted that many of the essentials of military life—discipline, hygiene, and leadership training—were already embodied in the CCC program. "I think it would be a grave mistake to go further and attempt to militarize what is essentially a civilian conservation corps," he said. "If the Congress and the people, in their wisdom determine that there exists a need for additional military forces in this country . . . we should very frankly provide for additional military forces, and not attempt to gain this objective through making the Corps half civil and half military." [89] Ten days later, McEntee presented the same argument in a coast-to-coast radio debate with Raymond J. Kelly, national commander of the American Legion. He saw a dangerous parallel between a militarized CCC and the labor camps of Nazi Germany. [90]

By far the strongest argument against military training in the CCC however, was provided by the Army chief of staff, General George C. Marshall. In a press interview, he denied all reports that the Army wanted such training or was even considering immediate use of the Corps as a noncombatant auxiliary to Army troops, though he did concede that if any emergency should arise, then perhaps some CCC labor would be used on noncombatant work. Meanwhile, both he, as a former CCC commander, and other Army officials were perfectly satisfied with what the Corps was doing in introducing youths to a military mode of existence; they had no desire to interfere with the current program. [91]

Marshall's positive statement did much to stem the tide of agitation for formal military training in the CCC. Commenting on this in his first press conference as director, McEntee said "he did not anticipate the recurrence of a serious campaign to force military training on the Corps." [92] He was correct—for the moment. In his statement, General Marshall had given implicit approval to the future use of the Corps on noncombatant technical activity if the situation so warranted. Attention was now turned to this alternative. In an attempt to placate the proponents of full military training, Senator James F. Byrnes, Democrat of South Carolina, introduced an amendment to the 1940-1941 Relief Appropriation measure which provided for noncombatant military training in the CCC. [93] The Byrnes Amendment had the full support of the Federal Security Agency, the War Department, and the Administration. Testifying in its favor before the Senate Appropriations Committee, General Marshall said that its passage would enable the Corps to provide speciallized training in fields important to the Army. He mentioned specifically the need for cooks and engineers. There existed in the CCC, he said, "a set-up which would facilitate training in a number of specialized fields of a non-combative nature." Moreover, the camp system was such that "we would not have to go beyond their present activities to get the training that we need and want." [94] Though opposed by a few isolationists like Senator Gerald Nye, the amendment met few congressional barriers. An attempt by Senator Walter F. George, Democrat of Georgia, to authorize voluntary combat training was defeated, and the relief bill, with the Byrnes Amendment attached, had a clear passage. [95]

McEntee, Studebaker, and Frank J. McSherry, director of defense training, Federal Security Agency, working in consultation with Army authorities, drew up details of the plan. It provided for eight hours per week basic training for each enrollee in subjects such as hygiene, basic mathematics, or English, all already taught in the camps as part of the general education program; it also provided for twenty hours per week of general defense training, eight of which were deductible from the work hours. This section covered vocational subjects, such as blueprint reading, shop mathematics, and basic engineering. After completing general defense training, the ablest enrollees were to be moved to full-time defense work in specific areas geared directly to Army needs. The more important of these fields included cooking, first aid, demolition, road and bridge construction, radio operation, and signal communication. [96] The education program of the CCC was thus diverted toward fulfilling the needs of national defense.

The plan was fully operative by early September, 1940, and remained so until the abolishment of the Corps. [97] Though basic Army drill was eventually ordered for all enrollees, [98] it was in noncombative work that the CCC made its most significant contribution to national defense. Testifying before the Senate Labor Committee on a bill to terminate the CCC and the NYA, the adjutant general, Major General James A. Ulio, paid tribute to the Corps' noncombatant program, not only for its intrinsic worth, but also because the use of CCC labor had enabled the Army to release enlisted men from noncombat duties. [99] Furthermore, a number of CCC enrollees enlisted, or were drafted, after completing their Corps training. These men were often already well versed in specifically military occupations, as well as being familiar with Army discipline. This was but one instance, Ulio stated, of how the CCC had aided the war effort. [100]

The vexing question of military training was thus settled successfully by compromise, and the Corps co-ordinated its educational activities into the basic weave of the nation's defense policy. In retrospect, bearing in mind the state of America's military unpreparedness as war drew nearer, it is possible that some training scheme might have been introduced with profit earlier than 1940. Yet, as one surveys the various arguments for and against such an innovation, two facts emerge. The first is that, indisputably, the enrollees, by their very presence in camps run by the military, were receiving a valuable introduction to Army conditions, an experience that must have greatly aided many when they were eventually drafted. Second, given the emphasis on work, which was still the cardinal aspect of CCC life, any training which was introduced into the existing CCC program would have had to be of a limited nature only, probably confined to some marching or rifle shooting. In view of the controversy such a minor innovation would inevitably cause, the game was clearly not worth the candle. More was to be gained by allowing the present situation to continue, rather than risking strife over a limited scheme. In any event, the introduction of noncombatant training soon made the issue irrelevant.

Despite the successful settlement of the military training question, the pressing problems of administrative friction and sagging morale remained with the CCC. Furthermore, the war in Europe brought some measure of economic recovery to the United States. Though officials insisted that the CCC was no longer a relief agency but a means of "providing employment as well as vocational training for youthful citizens," [101] the relief stamp would always remain with it, particularly as its enrollees still came primarily from the lowest income groups. With a reviving economy creating more jobs for everyone, the Corps was forced increasingly to compete for men with private employment. Its relief function was no longer needed. Could its continued existence, therefore, be justified? After Pearl Harbor, this question became: is the CCC necessary to the winning of the war?


The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study
salmond/chap11.htm — 03-Jan-2008

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