When Princeton Students Created An Organization For Future Veterans

“I am a soldier and unapt to weep / Or to exclaim on fortune’s fickleness.” —William Shakespeare, “Henry VI, Part I”

In A Nutshell

When World War I veterans received a payout from the government to help see them through the troubled times of the Great Depression, a pair of Princeton students sat down and wrote a manifesto for the Veterans of Future Wars. They demanded their payouts now: War was imminent, after all, and at least they could use the money while they were still alive. The entire idea might have fizzled (sooner rather than later) if another student hadn’t written up a fake story about supportive rallies and sent the story out on the wire. By summer, more than 50,000 people had signed up, and it led to some heated debates in Congress. The organization didn’t last, but all eight of the nine founding members (one was paralyzed in a car accident) would serve in World War II.

The Whole Bushel

During the Great Depression, financial difficulties made life tough for a lot of people. And that included worrying some of the country’s best and brightest students, who were suddenly faced with a pretty grim outlook on what they faced when they graduated college.

In 1936, two Princeton students—Lewis Jefferson Gorin Jr. and Urban Joseph Peters Rushton—were at the cinema. Those were the days when newsreels preceded films, and the newsreel before their movie was a report on the authorization of massive payouts to veterans of World War I, in the hopes of alleviating some of the financial stress and hardships they were facing. It was a payout that today would equate to somewhere around $34 billion, and the two students got planning.

They wanted their bonuses now.

So they sat down and started writing. What came of their plan was Veterans of Future Wars, and they started a campaign to have every man of military age (between 18 and 36 years old) awarded a $1,000 payout for the service they’d no doubt be asked to provide.

It wasn’t that far-fetched of an idea, either. Trouble was brewing in Europe, and it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before things went global, even though it was still a few years before the real kick-off to World War II. The students argued that it was only fair they get their bonuses at a time when most people were struggling to put food on the table, and, they pointed out, at least they would be alive to enjoy the money if they got their rewards early.

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On March 14, 1936, the manifesto of the Veterans of Future Wars ran in the Daily Princetonian. That might have been the end of it right there, but another student wrote a rather fanciful piece on the (nonexistent) rally of Princeton students behind their “National Commander” Lewis Gorin.

And then he sent it out to papers across the country.

The whole idea spread like wildfire. Veterans of Future Wars was incorporated into an actual organization, and they got the attention of the US Congress. Congress took a rather cynical approach to the whole thing, predicting that everyone who was campaigning for money now would be the first to dodge the draft when the time came.

Similar organizations started popping up on college campuses around the country, and by the summer there were more than 500 splinter groups and a membership of 50,000 for the VFW. Boston University students promised to provide funeral services and eulogies for the fallen, while Vassar students formed the Future Gold Star Mothers Association, in the shadow of another group dedicated to providing support to women who had lost their sons and husbands to war. Princeton’s president began to get bombarded with letters deriding what others viewed as students’ insensitivity to issues and problems facing veterans who had already served their time.

Veterans of Future Wars was short-lived, fading away when its nine charter members graduated. Those nine members (save one, who was paralyzed after his involvement in a car accident) would all go on to serve in World War II. Lewis Gorin would earn a bronze star and five battle stars for his service in Germany, France, and Italy, while Rushton would serve as a lieutenant for the Navy’s Naval Air Transport Service.

Show Me The Proof

Mudd Manuscript Library Blog: “War Is Imminent”: The Veterans of Future Wars
Princeton: Veterans of Future Wars
Cabinet: The Veterans of Future Wars

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