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.