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Mary Teresa Norton, Representative from New Jersey and friend of Boss Frank Hague, last fortnight introduced a bill to make the Civilian Conservation Corps permanent. Said she, “I hope Congress acts promptly. . . .”

Prompt to act was Kentucky’s Andrew Jackson May, chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee. Preoccupied with Rearmament, he last week had another amendment to the present CCC act expiring June 1940, providing that in CCC “not less than two nor more than five hours a week be devoted to military training.”

“These boys,” said he, meaning the 311,000 enrollees at present in CCCamps, “are under the supervision of Army officers right now. So why wouldn’t it be a good idea to give them military training? …”

Gilded Idea. More continuously than any other New Deal experiment, CCC has had the respect of foes as well as friends of Franklin Roosevelt. This is a striking fact, for unlike dozens of projects which Franklin Roosevelt has sponsored, CCC came not from the Brain Trust but from his own head. A good guess (by ex-Brain Truster Raymond Moley) is that it was planted there by Harvard’s late, great Philosopher William James, who used to lecture Franklin Roosevelt & classmates on the morals of war.*

“If now,” William James once observed, “there were instead of military conscription a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out, and numerous other goods to the commonwealth would follow. . . . Our gilded youth [would be] drafted off according to their choice [of work assignments] to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas.”

Before Philosopher James’s pacific idea became a military idea in the head of Mr. May, it traveled a long road. Young Mr. Roosevelt as a fledgling New York State Legislator began early to boost conservation. Later as Governor he put 10,000 unemployed on Conservation projects. By the time of his first inaugural in Washington the Jamesian idea of CCC had grown into a definite plan, as he informed Congress in his first message on Unemployment Relief:

“I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects.”

CCC was created in April 1933.

Work Done. To set up and run this very first agency of the First New Deal, the President chose Tennessee-born, Georgia-raised Robert Fechner. Because Robert Fechner was an A. F. of L. unionist, and A. F. of L.’s William Green had at first opposed CCC as “forced labor,” the choice was bound to be interpreted as a sop.

Quiet by nature, unobtrusive by preference, Robert Fechner had ‘hardly taken hold at CCC before he got into a first-class stink. The Affair of the Toilet Kits in June 1933 concerned a persuasive salesman who got Louis Howe to get Robert Fechner to pay an outrageous price for 200,000 handybags. Although Franklin Roosevelt himself had casually endorsed the salesman, loyal Mr. Fechner took the blows from Congress. That body in 1937 repaid him by cutting his $12,000 salary to $10,000. (Mrs. Norton’s bill would restore it to $12,000.)

On his CCC Advisory Council Mr. Fechner has experts representing the four departments (Agriculture, Interior, War, Labor) most concerned with the program. Because Franklin Roosevelt implicitly trusted him, Robert Fechner ran and still runs the show.

Never before has the U. S. had a show like Mr. Fechner’s. By statute, its purposes are: 1) to provide employment (plus vocational training), and 2) to conserve and develop “the natural resources of the United States.” For this, CCC between April 5, 1933 and December 31, 1938 spent $2,125,000,000. On its rolls had been 2,120,000 men, the number varying widely at various times. A few hard facts show that the U. S. got more for its money from CCC than from most other depression-begotten experiments.

Largely on or near public forest and park lands, CCC by 1938’s end had planted 1,456,973,900 trees; put in 8,594,829 man-days at fire fighting & prevention; completed 102,004 miles of trails and roads; killed uncounted millions of prairie dogs, pocket gophers, jackrabbits, practiced “rodent control” on 30,774,000 infested acres; “re-vegetated” (grassed) 267,600 acres of grazing lands; built 41,960 bridges, 5,181 large dams, 3,612 towers and stations for fire lookouts, 68,990 miles of telephone line.

CCC gets off the public domain only by consent of private landowners. Its No. 1 private job: erosion control. The Corps shows community groups of farmers how to combat soil-wastage, has built 4,400,490 dams to check erosion. It also digs and maintains ditches for drainage districts organized by local governments and cooperatives. Today it looks to the 84,400,000 acres of U. S. farm land requiring drainage as one of its most useful future fields of operations.

Happy Days. These prodigious labors (and enough more to fill dozens of close-set-columns in CCC’s last annual report) were performed by young men, poor, not gilded. They had to be poor to get in the corps. In fiscal 1938, arrivals at over 1,500 CCCamps included 253,776 needy, unemployed, unmarried “junior enrollees” from 17 to 23; 17,707 war veterans unlimited by age or marital status; 9,500 Indians on Government reservations; 4,800 indigent Territorials in Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Virgin Islands.

According to CCC thinking, the juniors are “the corps.” Of them, 66.75% in 1938 came from Relief families; another 29% from families “below a normal or average standard of living”; 3% had no families. Three per cent were completely illiterate;

38% had not gone through grammar school; only 11% had finished high school. In age, 59.47% were 17 or 18. Nine per cent were Negroes segregated in their own camps (as are veterans; Indians usually work in reservation groups, live at home). Application for CCC jobs are cleared by local relief agencies through the U. S. Labor and War Departments. CCC juniors report, on acceptance, at an Army recruiting station, usually go directly to CCCamps, where they find a Reserve lieutenant or captain in command. There they begin group life in uniform. But they find no guardhouse, no drill, no saluting, no punishments that an Army private would respect. CCC scamps may be confined to camp for a few days if a reprimand doesn’t work. Worst that can happen is dishonorable discharge, meaning principally that an offender loses his accrued cash allowances. In the main, discipline is a matter of persuasion and good administrative sense on a C. O.’s part—good training for officers used to rule the easy way by command alone. Aside from a wise C. O., best bolster to CCC morale is promotion: a company of 200 may include twelve group leaders, 18 assistants from the ranks. Topnotchers may win salaried jobs as assistant technicians.

Cash pay for CCC bucks is $30 a month. Those with dependents must sign over $22 to $25 to the home folks; others must deposit $22 to $25 with the War Department Finance Officer, to be drawn when they leave. CCC figures that $102,400,000 paid enrollees in fiscal 1938 helped 1,365,000 otherwise indigent persons (an average of four dependents per man in CCC).

To earn their money CCCers must turn out for reveille at 6 a.m., don blue denim work caps, blouses and trousers. A typical day’s schedule from then on: breakfast, 6:20; sick call, 7; inspection, 7:15; to work at 7:30, off an hour for lunch, off work at 4 p.m.; mail at 4:30; change to Army issue olive drab or khaki for formation and “dress inspection” (instituted a year ago to spruce up the corps) at 5 p.m. Last fortnight Franklin Roosevelt authorized a new forest green uniform, to be issued next fall—when the corps may be not only distinctive but permanent.

After dinner at 5:30 comes CCC’s fun and education. Until taps at 10 p.m., four in ten CCCers take vocational instruction in everything from Diesel engine operation to drawing; three in ten study mathematics and other academic subjects. They also have organized sports, camp papers and CCC’s weekly Happy Days, published in Washington, as well as other recreations common to young men who distinctly are neither uniformed angels nor devils.

On Saturdays and Sundays, they may go home or go to town to blow what’s left of their $5 to $8 monthly spending money. CCCers over the past five years have contracted venereal disease at the rate of 18.3 per 1,000. Last year the rate dropped to 12.9 per thousand, as compared with the Army’s 87 per 1,000 in the World War, 140 in the Spanish American War, 90 in the Civil War.

CCC insists (and camp appearances bear out) that morale has risen immensely since the first days, when depression-sore enrollees refused by the thousands to take the CCC oath of allegiance, demolished a mess hall and destroyed trees at Camp Dix, N. J. But the rate of desertions is still high: 48,483 in fiscal 1938; 1,741 last December.

Potato Bug. Franklin Roosevelt and his late, trusted Secretary Louis McHenry Howe knew Robert Fechner in World War days when he represented his machinists’ union in negotiations with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. Their friendship continued, and on his 57th birthday (March 22, 1933) Mr. Fechner got a telephone call from Louis Howe suggesting a quick trip to Washington. Tied up with union business and unaware that CCC legislation had been introduced, he put off going for a week. When he did visit the White House, he saw there the original (and largely unchanged) chart for a CCC, based not on conscription but on voluntary enrollment.

Among the swarming professional Brain Trusters, CCC’s director was as a potato bug among dragonflies. “Why, most of my clerks are better educated than I am,” Robert Fechner used to say. He quit school when he was 16, worked in a railroad machine shop, then wandered to Mexico, Central and South America and back again as an itinerant machinist. He fought through a losing general strike in 1901 for the 9-hour day, was elected in 1913 to the general executive board of the A. F. of L. machinists’ union. He sandwiched in a year’s schooling at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, later lectured on labor relations at Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth. Still an officer of his union, he got his biggest vote for re-election after he took leave to go with CCC.

Director Fechner still wears high-topped, hooked shoes as he did in Georgia 30 years ago. For fun he reads newspapers and magazines, occasionally sees a movie, plays a feeble hand of poker. With his closest friend and right-hand man at CCC, James J. McEntee, he lives at the modestly priced Burlington Hotel in Washington. (Mrs. Fechner spends the winters with him, the rest of the time at their home in Wollaston, Mass.) He is definitely not a military sort of man.

But in 1936 Happy Days reported that Major General George Van Horn Moseley (now retired) had advocated “expansion of the CCC to take in every 18-year-old youth in the country for a six-month course in work, education and military training.” Happy Days mused: “. . . The teaching of boys to use their fists … is recognized, even by our religious organizations, as a good and reasonable thing. But to teach a man military training! ‘No! No! No! No!’. . .”

Robert Fechner himself has never specifically agreed to militarizing his boys. But when a move is afoot to cut down on CCC appropriations or to thwart his ambition to make it a permanent agency, he may stress the corps’ present military values. Once he was quoted as saying that after the regular six-month CCC enrollment a graduate was “85% prepared for military life.” His publicity man says a reporter put the figure in his mouth; he meant 50%. Army officers consider three months’ intensive training the minimum necessary to turn a green man into a conscript fighter, thinks CCCers may be useful after a month of drill & discipline. Other military potentials of CCC: the permanent, continuously up-to-date list of CCC names kept at the Army’s nine Corps Area headquarters; a reservoir of air corps mechanics.

Because he believes Conservation is CCC’s first & foremost aim, Director Fechner also believes that for his corps the spade is mightier than the sword and a better weapon. Should U. S. youth be militarized to build up Army reserves, he would have Congress: i) forget the work program and go in exclusively for military training, 2) would draw trainees from all classes of the population. If this would make a final mockery of William James’s peaceful idea, it would at least fulfill the James idea of making use of gilded youth.

-According to Charles Price Harper, a Johns Hopkins University student who made a thorough study of CCC for his Ph.D. thesis.

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