Veterans of Future Wars, so goes the legend, sprang full-blown from a tea party at Terrace Club in March 1936. The Founding Father was Lewis Jefferson Gorin, Jr. '36, of Louisville, a politics major then writing a senior thesis, appropriately enough, on Niccolo Machiavelli.
Gorin and the other tea drinkers -- Urban J. P. Rushton '36, Thomas Riggs, Jr. '37, Archibald Lewis '36, Robert G. Barnes '37, John C. Turner '36, Alexander Black, Jr. '36, and a young member of the history faculty, Lynn White, Jr. -- were disturbed by an act of Congress that had advanced by ten years -- from 1946 to 1936 -- the date at which the veterans of World War I would receive their long-sought and controversial soldiers' bonuses. This legislation, the consequence of intensive lobbying by the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, struck the Princetonians as an intolerable raid upon the United States Treasury for the benefit of an organized minority.
Veterans of Future Wars (VFW) has been formed as a prank forming a satirical reaction to a bill granting the early payment of bonuses to World War I veterans as articulated in their manifesto:
“Whereas it is inevitable that this country will be engaged in war within the next thirty years, and whereas it is by all accounts likely that every man of military age will have a part in this war, We, therefore, demand that the Government make known its intention to pay an adjusted service compensation, sometimes called a bonus, of $1,000 to every male citizen between the ages of 18 and 36, said bonus to be payable the first of June, 1965. Furthermore, we believe a study of history demonstrates that it is customary to pay all bonuses before they are due. Therefore we demand immediate cash payment, plus three per cent interest compounded annually and retroactively from the first of June, 1965, to the first of June, 1935. It is but common right that this bonus be paid now, for many will be killed or wounded in the next war, and hence they, the most deserving, will not otherwise get the full benefit of their country's gratitude”.
The Press Club sent out stories, the wire services got interested, and all across the country newspapers ran articles on the Future Veterans. Overnight, local chapters mushroomed on college campuses; by June 1936 there were more than 500 chapters and a paid-up membership of over 50,000 students.
The Future Veterans were discussed -- and denounced -- in Congress, and they were vigorously criticized and condemned by the organized veterans movement. The Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, James Van Zandt, called them ``insolent puppies'' who ought to be spanked. ``They'll never be veterans of a future war,'' he predicted, ``for they are too yellow to go to war.'' The Princetonians replied that since the Veterans of Future Wars was a genuinely patriotic organization, Van Zandt clearly must be a ``Red.''
Activity at other colleges took various forms, but most of what happened at Princeton headquarters was intended simply to laugh the bonus movement to death. This spirit was well summed up by the student who happily noted, as the memberships rolled in, ``Manifest Destiny has laid another golden egg.''
What made the Future Veterans an instant success was their rare appeal both to conservatives and to liberals. Conservatives saw the Princetonians as heaven-sent allies who would help them keep FDR from spending the country into bankruptcy. College liberals who were pacifist, anti-war, and anti-military saw in the movement an opportunity to satirize war itself. Still, more than a few liberals did suspect that the Princetonians were at heart merely conservatives who really didn't care about anything except the bonus issue. This, to a considerable extent, was right. At Princeton the emphasis was upon the joke, the satire, the bonus. But not always, and not exclusively. Dean Christian Gauss, who had originally lent only grudging support, sensed this when he wrote a critic of the Future Veterans that the movement ``was founded partly in a spirit of high jinks and partly in a spirit of protest against the glorification of war.'' Later on, Gauss mused that the Future Veterans ``might have consequences that no one can yet see and that it demonstrates the determination of youth to rebuild the disordered world of their fathers a little closer to sanity.''
The liberal, anti-war note was most evident at Princeton toward the end. In June 1936 the national headquarters adopted a resolution calling upon Congress to declare that the United States would not enter a foreign war except by majority vote of the residents of three-fourths of the States of the Union. In spirit and language this resolution paralleled the then pending Ludlow Amendment, which in 1937 barely failed of passage in the House of Representatives.
Future Veteran activity had peaked by the close of the academic year. After the summer vacation the treasury was bare, the joke was stale, and national attention was focused on the Roosevelt-Landon campaign. The Princetonians gamely issued a few proclamations and sent questionnaires to the presidential candidates about the bonus -- and also about conscription and wartime controls over capital. But it was clear that the last golden egg had been laid. Operations were suspended in the fall, and in April 1937, with the treasury showing a deficit of forty-four cents, the Veterans of Future Wars closed their books forever.
Tragicomically, except for one student who was hurt in an automobile accident, every one of the Princetonians who founded the Veterans of Future Wars served in the armed forces of the United States in World War II.
There was a brief effort to revive the movement in 1950 at the start of the Korean War, but by then the joke had lost its freshness and went nowhere.
In 2003 an online version of the organization appeared, with a website at vofw.org. The authors of this website claimed that the new organization represented all those soldiers who would, in the future, fight wars in the following countries scheduled to be invaded: Afghanistan (2002), Iraq (2003), North Korea (2004), Iran (2005), Libya (2006), Somalia (2007), Syria (2008), Yemen (2009), Indonesia (2010), China (2011), Japan (2012), Germany (2013), France (2013), Australia (2014), Mexico (2015), Canada (2016), and California (2017). The web site is currently down, probably because of the failed predictions of the war schedule, as it looked in 2003.
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