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FAMILY ALLOWANCE, INDEMNITY, AND INSURANCE FOR OUR SOLDIERS
AND SAILORS—THE DUTY OF A JUST GOVERNMENT.
[By W. G. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury.)
The number of claims for exemption from military duty under the draft law has caused a painful impression in many quarters, but after all, does not the fact that no provision has yet been made by the Government for the support of the wives and children, mothers or fathers, of the men who have been drafted explain many of these claims for exemption ?
Under the draft law the Government has the power to require every able-bodied man between 21 and 31 years of age to perform military duty. Thousands of the drafted men are wage earners who married years ago and are the sole support of dependent families. So long as the Government has made no provision for the care of these dependents, it is natural that such drafted men should seek to protect their loved ones by staying at home. I am sure that if the Congress should promptly enact the pending war insurance bill which makes definite allowances for the support of the dependent wives and children, fathers or mothers, of our soldiers and sailors, claims for exemption on that score will cease. This is an imperative duty of the Government. We can not deprive helpless women and children of the support of the wage earner by forcing him into the military service of the country unless the Government substitutes itself as their support.
Imagine the emotions of the man who is called into the military service of his country with full knowledge that his loved ones are left without means of support and may be reduced to want unless the charity of the community in which they live comes to their relief. It would be nothing less than a crime for a rich and just Government to treat its fighting men so heartlessly and to subject their dependent wives and children, who are unable to fight, to greater suffering than if they could fight.
The morale of an army is as essential to its effective fighting power as guns, ammunition, and other instrumentalities of war.
Of equal importance is the morale of the civil population which must support the armies in the field. We can not have this essential morale unless the Nation comforts the men in the ranks with the knowledge that everything possible will be done for them and their families, and renders to the civil population at home the assistance wbich will make it most effective in upholding the Government and the fighting forces.
The purpose of the war insurance bill now pending in the Congress is to secure the future of America's soldiers and sailors by insuring
their lives and providing adequate compensations and indemnities for loss of life and total or partial permanent disability; also to protect their families against poverty and want by providing them with sufficient means of support during the absence of the men at the front.
The Nation, having been forced to resort to the draft in order to create quickly an army to save the country, is under a higher obligation to do these things for its fighting forces than if à volunteer army only was created. This great and rich Republic can not afford to do less, and it must do what is proposed in a spirit of gratitude and not as charity. Every soldier and sailor who serves his country in this war will earn everything the proposed war insurance bill provides; to be a beneficiary of the proposed law will be a badge of honor.
When we draft the wage earner, we call not only him but the entire family to the flag; the sacrifice entailed is not divisible. The wife and children, the mother, the father, are all involved in the sacrificethey directly share the burden of defense. They suffer just as much as the soldier, but in a different way, and the Nation must generously discharge as a proud privilege the duty of maintaining them until the soldiers and sailors return from the war and resume the responsibility.
We have drawn the sword to vindicate America's violated rights, to restore peace and justice, and to secure the progress of civilization. We can not permit our soldiers, while they hold the front, to be stabbed in the back by uncertainty as to what is being done for their loved ones at home. Our to-morrows are in their hands—theirs in ours. The national conscience will not permit America's soldiers and their dependents to go unprovided with everything that a just, generous and noble people can do to compensate them for the sufferings and sacrifices they make to serve their country.
Aside from the care and protection of their dependents while the soldier is alive, the proposed war insurance act provides for definite compensation for his dependents in case of death, for definite and adequate indemnities in case of total or partial disability, and for re-education of the maimed and disabled man, so that he may take up a new occupation and make himself a useful member of society. We must restore their efficiency and adjust their still available faculties and functions to suitable trades and vocations, which the injuries of the battlefield have not wholly destroyed. The heavy depletions in man-power resulting from this conflict, which is without precedent in history or imagination, will place new and greater values upon all forms and degrees of human energy, and demand as a first duty of intelligent government that every remaining useful sense and limb of the blind and crippled shall be reclaimed under the benevolent processes of education and reapplied to economic uses for the benefit of society. The millions we shall be called upon to spend to support the dependents of the soldiers while they are in the fighting line, for indemnities and for re-education of the crippled, are in the last analysis investments of the best sort; they are sums of capital advanced by the Nation to promote utility, self-respect, and economic development. More than all, they are essentially humanitarian and in the highest sense a discharge by the Government of an essential duty to society.
Military service is now obligatory; those who imperil themselves have no election. The insurance companies do not and can not permit this fact to affect their calculations. They must protect themselves by charging premiums so high that they are secured against loss no matter how severe the rate of mortality may be. Consequently, the very men who are called into the service because their physical condition is of the best and who as civilians would for that reason be able to secure the most favorable insurance rate in peace time, are denied as soldiers the necessary life insurance to enable them to protect their families and dependents. The tremendous rates charged by private insurance companies to protect them against the extrahazardous risks of war put insurance entirely beyond the reach of the conscripted soldier.
Military necessity has, therefore, subjected the most fit subjects for insurance to an insurmountable discrimination unless the Government itself supplies insurance at cost and upon a peace basis. It would, in fact, bedastardly and undemocratic if the Government should penalize the soldier who is forced to render the highest duty of the citizen by its failure to provide war insurance upon peace terms and at net cost, first, because the pay of the enlisted men in the Army and Navy is less than the wages and salaries generally earned in private life, which reduces their investing capacity; and, second, because Government insurance is an essential war and emergency measure, inaugurated for the specific benefit of our military forces, and can not and should not be conducted for profit.
Such overhead charges as agents' commissions, advertising, promotion, local rentals, etc., are eliminated. The Government must assume the cost of administering this benevolent agency, just as it bears the cost of administering all other Government agencies established for the benefit of the people.
This legislation will be a great step forward in the recognition of the Republic's duty to its heroes. I consider it the most significant and progressive measure presented to Congress since the declaration of war. It immediately affects the well-being of a greater number of persons than any act with which I am familiar. It deserves the earnest and vigorous support of the country. It provides the broadest and the most liberal protection ever extended by any government to its fighting forces and their dependent families. The United States, the most progressive and prosperous nation on earth, setting an example in the ideals for which enlightened humanity is fighting, should set the highest example of all the nations in the treatment of those who do and die for their country and for world freedom.
We are proposing to expend during the next year more than ten billion dollars to create and maintain the necessary fighting forces to reestablish justice in the world. But justice must begin at home; justice must be done to the men who die and suffer for us on the battlefields and for their wives and children and dependents who sacrifice for us at home. To do justice to them requires only a tithe of the money we are expending for the general objects of the war. Let it not be said that noble America was ignoble in the treatment of her soldiers and sailors and callous to the fate of their dependents in this greatest war of all time.
The pending war insurance bill gives compensation, not pensions; it fixes amounts definitely in advance instead of holding out the mere
chance of gratuities after the conclusion of peace. It saves the dependents from want and gives them the necessaries of life while their men are at the front. It deals with its heroes liberally for the sufferings that result from their disablement on the field of battle, and, if they die, it makes just provision for the loved ones who survive them. It fosters the helpless and dependent, the maimed and disabled, and recognizes the immensity of the Nation's debt to the valor and patriotism of her heroic sons.