Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service

At first glance, a National Security League pamphlet on “Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service” seemed too ‘on brand’ to be interesting. Without even opening the cover I was sure of the words I would inevitably find inside: “patriotic duty,” “citizenship,” and “defense of democracy.”  What ideas and phrases could it contain that would alter my conception of the NSL beyond its two paragraph wikipedia introduction? Regardless, I opened the cover. Instead, I found a fascinatingly written pamphlet that is formatted unlike any other I looked at.

Written by George R. Conroy in 1917, this pamphlet sought to “make as clear as possible the meaning of universal obligatory military training and service” and advocate for its implementation as a formal United States policy. As I mentioned previously, it is not the subject manner that makes this pamphlet notable, but the manner in which its argument is presented. From what I gathered, these pamphlets were typically written similarly to essays: the author provides a thesis and then substantiates their claim in subsequent paragraphs. Not this one. Conroy & Co. at the National Security League opted to write the entirety of this pamphlet in a question and answer format. Unlike a typical Q&A where perhaps an interviewer asks a series of questions to someone, or an FAQ that compiles questions commonly asked with their appropriate answers, this pamphlet was written entirely by Conroy. That is to say, one man wrote both the questions and answers. Insignificant though this may seem, it is in fact a proven rhetorical trick that allowed the National Security League to craft leading questions such as:

“Q. Would it have any other result in this country than to build up a great citizen soldiery and guarantee our security against foreign aggression?

A. Yes.”


“Q. It is not actual service, then, but the training he receives before he reaches his twentieth year that makes the Swiss the soldier par excellence that he is?

A. Exactly.”

And my personal favorite:

“Q. Why do the professional pacifists try to mislead the public on this question?”


By structuring his pamphlet in this manner, George R. Conroy constructs a faux-discussion between the National Security League and the readership. In doing so, he effectively ‘changes the rules’ of debate. Rather than presenting an argument and support, Conroy presents a series of questions and optimal, prepared responses. Additionally, the brevity of the format makes it inherently more easily digestible. Rather than having to trace an author’s argument through a essay, one is plainly presented with ‘what you should be wondering’ and ‘what is actually true.’ Resultantly, the reader subconsciously identifies with the Question-er, uneducated on this subject and seeking information that is most easily provided by the immediate answers. Even I found myself susceptible to this trick; at one point I realized I was literally shaking my head while reading the seemingly naive questions and then nodding my head as I read the ‘absolute’ answers. Both the questions and answers, mind you, were written by Conroy.

Conroy and the National Security League used this Q&A format to great effect for the entirety of the pamphlet, pointing the Australia and Switzerland as prime historical implementers of universal obligatory military training. This pamphlet provides valuable insight into the argumentative forms through which the National Security League advanced their nationalistic agenda.

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One Response to Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service

  1. Eric Yellin says:

    I love the focus here on form, Cole. Yes, the answers are predictable but the form allows for a sense of how the logic was presented and the limits to free thinking in the period. Of course, the form is not quite so bizarre, as Conroy labels it a “catechism.” A catechism is an old form of teaching Christian principles used most famously by the Catholic Church. Children recite “the catechism” to absorb the basic principles of the religion. So Conroy is borrowing a religious practice for patriotic ends — fascinating!

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