June 5, 1917: A Close-up on the Mechanism of War

by Joe Scarry

When I wrote about my grandfather’s WWI service — and the reason he enlisted — someone asked, “Don’t you suppose he was drafted?”

This led me to discover the Selective Service Act of 1917, and learn about the easy availability of individual draft records from WWI online.

So here’s what I learned:

Draft record for Martin Melker of Nesquehoning, PA
under the Selective Service Act of 1917.

Granddaddy (Martin) Melker was one of several million registered for the draft. Based on the way his draft registration card was filled out, he should have qualified for “Exempted, but available for military service” status. He was supporting his mother, and his work as a miner for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. should have similarly qualified him, as coal mining was an important source of fuel for the war effort.

Martin Melker’s draft record, dated June 5, 1917.

And . . . if I ever for one moment imagined that Granddaddy Melker was interested in being drafted, that notion was put to rest by the information he volunteered as grounds for being disqualified on the basis of his physical condition: “Advised by physician to wear belt, appendicitis operation.”

Based on the draft registration card information, I’m guessing he was trying to avoid being drafted, but he ended up being called anyway. “By the end of World War I, some 2 million men volunteered for various branches of the armed services, and some 2.8 million had been drafted.” (Wikipedia,Selective Service Act of 1917) I believe my grandfather was called up and sent to France some time in 1918.

Insignia of the “Keystone Corps” (28th Infrantry)
Made up of men from Pennsylvania and nearby states.

To what use can we put history? My view is that, in order to stop the machinery of war, we need to know all about how it works. And the most important part of war machinery — the part that determines whether war happens — is the part that convinces the people of a democratic country to support and participate in war.

The Wikipedia article on the WWI draft describes the massive PR effort to whip up support for the war: “In order to sell the idea that the war and draft were right to an uninterested populace, George Creel, a veteran of the newspaper industry, became the United States’ official war propagandist. He set up the Committee on Public Information, which organized 75,000 speakers and conducted 750,000 four minute speeches in 5,000 cities and towns across America.” (emphasis added)

Just imagine what they would have done with Twitter, TV, and video games . . . .

Related posts

It’s time for us to get honest about the true costs of war, including the long term health consequences for people who serve in the military, and the corresponding long-term costs that our society must commit to bear.

(See How to REALLY Honor Veterans)

Granddaddy Melker probably would have been proud to have mined any kind of coal. But he was especially proud to have been an anthracite coal miner.

(See “I was an anthracite miner . . . . “)

“A terrible disease has struck the area . . . people call it the “flu” . . . many in our own community have fallen to it . . . including someone very dear to you, someone in your own family . . . I’m talking about your sister, Margaret.” (See November 11, 1918: Another Veteran for Peace )

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the “glories” of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

Advertisements
This entry was posted in American Military Culture, World War I and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s