National Affairs: The Pressagent Touch

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The Defense Department was under heavy congressional fire last week for handling its recruiting program with a pressagent's instead of a soldier's touch. To get volunteers, the services had spent $1,128,175 in the fiscal year 1951 for such unmilitary radio & TV shows as roller-derbies, The Shadow, and Ralph Flanagan's band. For 1952, the recruiters had signed up Singer Frankie Laine ($434,602), a weekly football game ($117,166), and a 15-minute weekly Bill Stern sportcast ($254,867). Just what, asked Vermont's Senator George Aiken, did all this outlay "have to do with the work of the armed services?"

The Army-Air Force Recruiting Service answered that it was money well spent. "We believe," answered a colonel, "that four people influence the man volunteering for the armed forces—his parents, his girl friend, and a buddy. All those people must be working for us. A headline can change a volunteer's mind at the edge of the recruiting office."

Aiken was unconvinced. "You don't change a young man's mind by having him hear a band," he snapped. "The best way to convince him he should enlist is to write him a letter explaining the advantages of enlisting over waiting until he's drafted."

Indiana's Senator Homer Capehart had a similar bone to pick with the Pentagon. The Army had asked Cartoonist George Baker to donate the use of his baggy, wistful comic-strip child, Sad Sack, to help the recruiting drive. Sad Sack first appeared in Yank, the wartime weekly, became so popular that he now runs in some 90 U.S. papers. With Cartoonist Baker's permission, the Army got out a comic book showing Sad Sack up against the pitfalls and pratfalls of civilian life. When he draws his first paycheck, he finds that after all the taxes and deductions, he has only a nickel left. Even that turns out to be counterfeit, and Sad Sack is glad to reenlist.

Capehart saw this broad satire as "another Fair Deal blow below the Belt." Cried he: "Looks to me like Socialistic propaganda aimed at discrediting American industry." Meekly the Defense Department gathered up the 500,000 comic books it had printed, and burned them.