According to Allen Kent Powell, approximately 7,000 Utahns were serving in the U.S. military by June 1941. This illustrated how the draft or Selective Service Act enacted just one year prior had the ability to alter one’s reality instantly. Powell also noted that “enrollment in Utah’s colleges and universities offered another indicator of the coming war as enrolment in the fall of 1941 dropped from 10 to 25 percent below the previous year. At the University of Utah registration for the 1941 fall quarter was 3,665 or 19 percent less than the 4,085 students who registered for the previous fall quarter.” (“Utah and World War II,” p. 109)
Students of the university saw the shock wave right in front of them, as the draft majorly impacted male students’ education and career paths. In one Utah Chronicle article, “Are We Patriots,” published May 8, 1941, the writer questions the role of the war and why young men ought to be proud to serve against their will. The author suggests there should be nothing wrong with a student who has invested themselves into their education, continuing that education.
This question of the draft was something university students had no option but to face and for some, the idea of amping up militarism or leaving their school desks for war, was not as patriotic as it posed to be. Moreover, the March 6, 1941, Utah Chronicle included a letter from student Neil P. Richards titled “The Enigma of National Defense.” Richards explains the government has placed a stricter time limit on earning an engineering degree, from four to three years. Richards implies that this is due to the ways engineering departments are relied upon to assist with national defense, and isolates an example of one faculty member taken by the government. Moreover, he explains that the draft provides no provision for engineers, meaning they may finish their program and be sent to serve on front lines rather than develop technology. It is clear from Richards’s account there was not simply a war happening in the world, but a war that impacted the everyday life of the college student.
On November 6, 1941, the Utah Chronicle detailed in an article titled “Utes Favor Militarism Short of War” the results of a survey of roughly 400 students. They were asked questions pertaining to the war and though they seemingly favored militarism, they strongly opposed adjustments to the draftable age of young men. Perhaps that was because, as outlined in a March 6, 1941, Chronicle article, that young men of university age were directly targeted by the draft. The article detailed how there could be a significant depletion of young men at the university as a result of a large draft in the following weeks that would take 410 Utah men. Or perhaps it was because the war would create a hot and volatile political climate that the young would be the only hope for recovery.
Hays Gorey, in his Chronicle article “College Men, Planners of Post War World Face Vital Issues,” explained that in order for there to be peaceful future decisions about international policies, it would be imperative to listen to various voices. Gorey suggested that the college student, specifically the college man, was the one in the best position to start creating this future.
Moreover, Heber Hart, in his Chronicle article “The War This Week: College Students Look Toward Future With Hope for Better World,” echoed the idea that college students are the future. Hart wrote, “What youth does not want is a hand in an orgy of blood and fire if it will do nothing toward bettering the world.”
The University of Utah played a key role in World War II and its students bore much of the burden. It is clear that the war and the country’s first ever peacetime draft specifically harmed college students. In a day and age where international politics seem to be heating up and rhetoric surrounding weapons technology and development are constantly brought up by world leaders as “an option,” it is important that we don’t disregard history and the valuable lessons it has provided.
Averie Vockel is a student at the University of Utah. She is majoring in communication studies with a certificate in criminology.
“Draft May Cause Male Depletion,” Utah Chronicle, March 6, 1941, 2.
Neil P. Richards, “The Enigma of National Defense,” Utah Chronicle, March 6, 1941, 4.
“Are We Patriots,” Utah Chronicle, May 8, 1941, 4.
“Utes Favor Militarism Short of War,” Utah Chronicle, November 6, 1941, 1.
Hays Gorey, “College Men, Planners of Post War World Face Vital Issues,” Utah Chronicle, April 23, 1942, 4.
Heber Hart, “The War This Week: College Students Look Toward Future With Hope for Better World,” Utah Chronicle, October 8, 1942, 4.
Powell, Allen Kent. “Utah and World War II,” Utah Historical Quarterly 73, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 108-131.