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The Citizen Soldiers: The Plattsburg Training Camp Movement, 1913-1920

John Garry Clifford
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 342
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  • Book Info
    The Citizen Soldiers
    Book Description:

    The Citizen Soldiersexplores the military reform movement that took its name from the famous Business Men's Military Training Camps at Plattsburg, New York. It also illuminates the story of two exceptional men: General Leonard Wood, the rambunctious and controversial former Rough Rider who galvanized the Plattsburg Idea with his magnetic personality; and Grenville Clark, a young Wall Street lawyer.

    The Plattsburg camps strove to advertise the lack of military preparation in the United States and stressed the military obligation every man owed to his country. Publicized by individuals who voluntarily underwent military training, the preparedness movement rapidly took shape in the years prior to America's entry into the First World War. Far from being war hawks, the Plattsburg men emphasized the need for a "citizen army" rather than a large professional establishment. Although they failed in their major objective -- universal military training -- their vision of a citizen army was largely realized in the National Defense Act of 1920, and their efforts helped to establish selective service as the United States' preferred recruitment method in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

    Featuring a new preface by the author, this new edition of a seminal study will hit shelves just in time for the World War I Centennial.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5444-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the New Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. I. General Wood—The Beginnings
    (pp. 1-29)

    In hot, dusty Gettysburg during July 1913, on the same battlefield where Union and Confederate armies had clashed fifty years earlier, some 160 students from sixty-one schools and colleges spent six weeks learning how to shoulder arms, clean a rifle, march in formation, and, in general, act like soldiers. In California a similar camp opened at the Presidio of Monterey, attended by sixty-three young men from twenty-nine schools. These Students’ Military Instruction Camps, as they were called, did not capture the public imagination that summer of 1913. One or two pacifists raised a protest, but the camps scarcely seemed imporatnt...

  6. II. World War I & Preparedness
    (pp. 30-53)

    “A general European war is unthinkable,” theNew York Timesobserved on July 28, 1914. ”Europe can’t afford such a war, and the world can’t afford it, and happily the conviction is growing that such an appalling conflict is altogether beyond the realm of possibility.”¹ But within a week Europe was at war, and an astonished American public watched the beginnings of a conflict so terrible and far-reaching that in three years the United States, too, would become embroiled.

    With the outbreak of the war the issue of military preparedness took on new importance. What had been the almost exclusive...

  7. III. Plattsburg & ‘Our Kind of People’
    (pp. 54-91)

    Grenville Clark and Elihu Root, Jr., partners in a small Manhattan law firm, had scheduled a round of golf for Sunday, May 9, 1915. But news of theLusitanialeft them “too angry and horror stricken to play.” The two men spent the morning in the St. Andrews clubhouse talking. “Mr. Clark,” Root remembered, “felt that inaction was intolerable.”¹ That afternoon Clark returned to his office on 31 Nassau Street where he found J. Lloyd Derby, a young associate in the firm.¹ Clark felt that “the opportunity was present for some concerted effort to combine the young men of the...

  8. IV. The Military Training Camp Association
    (pp. 92-115)

    Grenville Clark was determined that Plattsburg should not be a “flash in the pan.”¹ He and the other men who organized the First Training Regiment in September 1915 realized that the accomplishments of the Business Men’s Camp were more potential than immediate. The Plattsburgers had acquired the fundamentals of military training and had generated much enthusiasm. But this was not enough. General Wood told the trainees that they must act as missionaries for national defense in their home communities. What did Wood mean? How were these missionary activities to be coordinated? Secretary Garrison’s reprimand of Wood over the Roosevelt affair...

  9. V. The National Defense Act of 1916
    (pp. 116-151)

    The resignation of Garrison and Breckinridge from the War Department constituted a major crisis for the Plattsburg movement. Most observers interpreted the action as a protest against President Wilson’s abandonment of Garrison’s program to the anti-preparedness forces in Congress, led by James Hay of Virginia, chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs. “Hay voices the real sentiments of the powers that be,” Wood growled on February 11, 1916, “and Garrison has just found it out. I told him long ago that Hay was speaking with the confidence of one with a strong backing. It looks to me pretty ugly....

  10. VI. The 1916 Camps
    (pp. 152-192)

    A young Princeton student named Edmund Wilson went up to Plattsburg in the summer of 1916. Not yet embarked on the literary pursuits which would make him one of America’s foremost men of letters, Wilson enrolled for four weeks of military training for the simple reason that he could think of nothing better to do during his long college vacation. He found the training course “very boring,” and his general military ineptitude showed that he could never become an officer and had no desire to be a soldier. Many years later he recalled that his performance on the rifle range...

  11. VII. The Plattsburg Philosophy & Universal Military Training
    (pp. 193-227)

    In hisAnnual Reportfor 1916, published at the end of the year, General Scott reprinted his testimony before the House Military Affairs Committee the previous January wherein he had advocated compulsory military training for all able-bodied men between eighteen and twenty-one years of age. He went on to explain the necessity of such a policy: how the United States might be dragged into the European war and why it was impossible to recruit sufficient manpower through voluntary enlistment alone. Military service was an obligation of citizenship, Scott argued, an obligation which entailed training in time of peace. Without going...

  12. VIII. The MTCA & the War
    (pp. 228-261)

    Shortly after the Armistice in 1918, two officers, French and American, were reminiscing about the battles and sacrifices which had culminated in victory. “I know you recruited over 3,000,000 men in 19 months,” the Frenchman commented. “That is very good but not so difficult. But I am told also that, although you had no officers’ reserve to start with, you somehow found 200,000 new officers, most of them competent. That is what is astonishing and what was impossible. Tell me how that was done.”¹

    The American was able to describe how it was done because he himself had earned his...

  13. IX. Postwar Policy & the National Defense Act of 1920
    (pp. 262-295)

    “Let us begin the struggle for universal training,” General Wood wrote to Theodore Roosevelt shortly after the Armistice. “We have these great cantonments and we must not let things slump. . . . You saw the other day the mob bearing the red flag coming into New York from the East Side. You see the same crowd in Germany today. The world is a bit upside down, and we want to begin to talk organization and preparation as we never talked before.”¹ The prospect of fighting for universal military training would have pleased Roosevelt, but seven weeks later, January 6,...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 296-304)

    The Plattsburgers, by reviving the idea of voluntary training camps in 1920, reaffirmed their “gradualist” philosophy of the prewar years. The only way that universal military training could possibly come to the United States was through a process of education and demonstration. The National Defense Act of 1920, with its provisions for voluntary training, gave the Plattsburgers a laboratory to test their ideas. If the camps were large enough, if hundreds of thousands of young men experienced the supposed benefits of military training, then the entire country might be persuaded to accept the Plattsburg idea. As Clark put it, voluntary...

  15. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 305-315)
  16. Index
    (pp. 316-326)