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Universal Military Training is a response to modern warfare, i.e., warfare carried out by mass conscripted citizen armies. Universal Military Training (UMT) was invented to organize and manage the conscription process. Typically it requires a period of full-time training followed by a longer reserve status punctuated by brief retraining sessions. In some cases the reserve status may last for two or three decades.

In the United States the first concerted effort to create a UMT followed World War I. In 1919 several bills were submitted to Congress. Most called for a two-year training period for all men between 18 and 26 years of age, followed by membership in a national reserve force.

The specter of wartime conscription transformed into peacetime conscription generated enormous concern among the historic peace churches. Henry C. Early, moderator of the Church of the Brethren, called enactment of UMT a "calamity" and the Brethren in Virginia, under his leadership, issued a strong statement condemning the idea. The Mennonites launched an aggressive petition campaign which garnered 20,000 Mennonite signatures (25 percent of United States Mennonites in 1919) protesting passage of the UMT legislation. Americans viewed UMT as a form of European militarism and the legislative initiatives did not get out of congressional committees.

In January 1945 President Roosevelt announced his intention to propose a UMT program after the war. He hoped such a plan would circumvent the American people's reluctance to support a large peacetime military force, which Roosevelt believed was necessary. The plan was designed to create a reservoir of trained men who could be available for service. All men between 18 and 20 would undergo a period of military training and then become a part of a reserve pool of manpower for five years. Hearings were held on the bill in 1945 but the proposal never got out of the congressional committee. A second effort to create UMT failed in 1947, largely because important congressmen believed it impinged on personal freedom.

In 1951 the Universal Military Training Service Act was passed to raise personnel for the Korean War, but the UMT provision of the act could only be implemented after additional legislative action. That action was attempted in 1952, but was defeated. In its place Congress enacted a much more modest plan embodied in the Armed Forces Reserve Act which utilized regular inductees, who after five years of active service could opt for reserve status, with certain special privileges, and specified obligations with regard to recall to active service in the event of war.

A last effort to pass a UMT bill was made in 1955. It failed largely because of controversial amendments dealing with racial segregation in the National Guard. The bill would have inducted all young men for six months of training and membership in the reserves for six and one-half years. With the defeat of UMT in 1955, it was never again a serious legislative possibility. The idea was raised from time to time by military administrators, but fears about the militarization of American society, strong resistance to the sweeping compulsory quality of UMT, and the reliance, in the 1950s, on air power as the centerpiece of American readiness (the air force, with its highly technical demands had little need for a generally trained reserve), all conspired to reduce UMT to a dead issue, although during the Vietnam War, UMT surfaced briefly.

Throughout these years the Mennonites consistently testified against UMT whenever the issue appeared. In June 1945 Harold Bender made an eloquent argument against UMT to the House of Representatives Committee on Post-War Military Policy. He spoke for the Mennonite Central Committee. Over the next 10 years he appeared before numerous congressional committees on the same issue, as did Brethren and Friends (Quakers) leaders.

In other countries UNIT laws are very common. Some notable exceptions of interest to Mennonites have been Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, India, and Japan. The best, if somewhat dated, survey of international conscription policies is found in Prasad and Smyth, Conscription: A World Survey (1968).

See also Alternative Service; Conscientious Objection.


Author(s) Albert N Keim
Date Published 1989


[edit] Cite This Article

MLA style

Keim, Albert N. "Universal Military Training." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Universal_Military_Training&oldid=78405.

APA style

Keim, Albert N. (1989). Universal Military Training. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 April 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Universal_Military_Training&oldid=78405.




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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 898-899. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.


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