Zero Hour For A Generation Of Manhood
October 16, 1940
“It was 7 a.m. of Oct. 16, 1940, and a new age began,” proclaimed an article in that day’s edition of the University Daily Kansan. “It was zero hour for a generation of manhood…. The United States is listing its defenders for a peace time draft.” Although, historically, American men had twice been subjected to compulsory military service (during the Civil War and World War I) President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature on the Burke-Wadsworth Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was truly unprecedented, and not without controversy. Nevertheless, just as they had done in 1917, KU men answered America’s call to arms.
Their patriotism was far from inevitable, though; and some might say it was downright surprising considering the antiwar and anti-militarist climate that pervaded the University of Kansas from the 1930s until, at least, early 1941. In the years before Pearl Harbor, as KU historian Clifford Griffin has noted, “Pacifist students had organized numerous mass meetings [and] many antiwar editorials had appeared in the Kansan and the Dove,” the latter a decidedly pacifist newspaper of “liberal University opinion.” Griffin recounts how, in 1935, over seven hundred KU students staged a mass protest against “war and all the agents of war,” with similar – and larger – demonstrations occurring in both 1936 and 1937.
In response to what it perceived as President Roosevelt’s militaristic efforts to “fan the flame of preparedness,” the Kansan asked in 1938, “How long will it take us to understand that militarism is the denial of democracy? How long before we realize that war is the antithesis of Christianity?” It continued, declaring that meeting “militarism with militarism is to become the victim of the very thing we are supposedly attempting to destroy…. [Militarism] is always bad – whether the model is German, Japanese, or American. Always it has meant regimentation, unreasoning obedience, class consciousness, surrender of individual rights, and dictatorship – and it always will.” And even as late as May 1940, when the German Blitzkrieg had already overrun Poland, Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries and was about to crush France, the various student polls were overwhelmingly against US entry into World War II, generally reflecting surveys taken of the country as a whole.
Yet less than two months later, with Axis forces in control of much of Europe, North Africa, and Asia while Britain stood alone, a substantial minority of Americans were beginning to consider seriously the possibility that war might come to our shores. The Roosevelt Administration, acting in conjunction with the US Congress, moved quickly to respond to the daily-worsening crisis. In May, the president had asked for and received funds for the construction of 50,000 airplanes and a “two-ocean navy.” By October, Congress had appropriated $17 billion to rebuild the nation’s dilapidated defenses. It was in September 1940, though, that Roosevelt signed perhaps the most significant peacetime measure into law, an act that would eventually affect over 10 million men nationwide: the Selective Training and Service Act.
In compliance with the new law, all KU men (faculty and students alike) between the ages of 21 and 36, a total of 1,083 out of the University’s overall male population of 2,932, gathered in the Kansas Room of the Kansas Union on “R-Day” to register for the draft. As was done at colleges and universities throughout the country that day, the “arrangement [saved] students the inconvenience of returning home to register in their home precinct,” explained the Kansan. While there were a number of exemptions provided for by the Selective Service Act, such as marriage, dependents, essential jobs, physical ailments, and a few others, failure to register could result in a $10,000 fine and imprisonment. Quoting authorities, the Kansan advised, “All persons who aren’t sure about their exempt status should register anyway…This action will be a safeguard from possible penalty for draft evasion.”
In spite of serious past protests against “militarization,” on registration day the Kansan reported “no violent opposition … observed by any members of the board. There was a fine spirit of cooperation with the registration board on the part of the students registering.” The paper also quoted George O. Foster, University Registrar, as being “pleased with … the orderly, courteous behavior of the registrants.”
Yet some campus dissent was still in evidence, and prominently so, as a special edition of the Dove, the first since 1938, appeared on the hilltop that very day. Indeed, strong opposition to the draft had roused the paper out of its two-year hibernation. In its October 16, 1940, edition, the Dove’s editors denounced what they believed was the creation of a “huge American military machine” and warned that “a telling blow is struck at American democracy today.” Our system of government is “full of faults,” they admitted, “but it is far supreme to the military state which some now begin to set up in its place.” Their attacks fell upon Republicans and Democrats alike as they announced their support for the no-shot (as opposed to long-shot) Socialist presidential ticket in that election year, consisting of Norman Thomas and Maynard C. Krueger. “The Socialist party,” they said, “has made the repeal of the conscription act a principle [sic] point in its campaign, asking a vote ‘for war OR democracy.’” Ironically, just a few days prior to R-Day, Krueger had made a speech at KU to “an overflow crowd of 300 persons” in the very same room in the Kansas Union where registration would eventually take place.
The Dove’s was a minority viewpoint, though, as most KU students complied, if not joyously, then at least dutifully, with the registration orders. The Kansan did note, however, that there were “little blobs of dissent” across campus. “A teacher here, a parson there cannot reconcile conscience to assist the draft. Some young students … feel that they cannot conscientiously give their names despite assured deferment.” Moreover, the Kansan’s tone, writing of students getting “caught” or “KO’d” by the draft, indicates that the University was far from being overwhelmed by a surging tide of patriotism. This perception is perhaps strengthened by the fact that, nearly seven hours after R-Day had begun, less than half of the 1,083 affected men had turned up to register and officials were preparing themselves for a late night.
Nineteen-forty was also a presidential election year, but the debate over conscription was most notable by its absence. Both Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and Republican Wendell Willkie seemed determined to outdo each other in promising peace and domestic tranquility to the American electorate. Essentially agreeing with the president on most war-related questions, including conscription, Willkie nevertheless announced late in the campaign that, “If you elect me president, I will never send an American boy to fight in any European war.” Roosevelt responded, famously, in an October 30 address to the “mothers of America”: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
The day before FDR’s pronouncement, a blindfolded Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had drawn the first draft number from a gigantic goldfish bowl. The number picked was 158. Unlike the Vietnam War lottery draft, where numbers were assigned based on one’s birthday, in this instance the issuance of draft numbers was completely randomized. And in Douglas County, Kansas, registration card No. 158 belonged to D. Elmo Hardy, a KU graduate student and assistant instructor in entomology who happened to be listening to a live broadcast of the event on a radio in Snow Hall. He immediately became the area’s first man eligible for induction into the nation’s armed services. Hardy, a 26 year-old married man and Utah native, told the Kansan, that “the selective service act was a good thing for the country in general [and] that he was ready to go if necessary.” Given his married status, it was unlikely Hardy would be called into service; nevertheless, he said he was “doubtful of his chances for exemption.”
As it turned out, however, Hardy’s instincts were correct. During World War II, he put the knowledge and experience gained at KU to work in defense of his country, serving in the Army as a medical entomologist in such far-flung regions as India, Burma and China. By war’s end, Hardy had racked up a most distinguished military record, earning a Bronze Star and a Presidential Unit Citation for his work in controlling insect-born diseases.
In the decades to follow, Hardy continued his work in entomology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he served variously as associate professor, department chairman and, after retirement in 1981, professor emeritus. Known to the scientific community as “the father of evolutionary biology in Hawaii,” Hardy was a prolific writer and researcher, authoring hundreds of papers and books on flies and other insects; indeed so respected was he that, in addition to receiving numerous prestigious scientific awards, more than 50 new species of flies were named in his honor, with appellations such as Hardyadrama and Elmomyza. Hardy’s remarkable life and career, of which all Jayhawks can be justly proud, came to an end, sadly, in 2002, when he passed away in Honolulu at the age of 88.
Elmo Hardy may have been the first KU man called to service, but he was just one of the over 7,000 then-current and former students and faculty in all branches and types of military service who, from 1941 to 1945, would take part in the Second World War. And for 276 of these sons and daughters of Mount Oread, the war would eventually take their lives.
John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas