Can the United States Get 500,000 Volunteers?

In the months after WWI ended, could the military still recruit the same number of volunteers they had during wartime?

Secretary of War Newton D. Baker argued yes: “He has stated not only that such an army [of 500,000 men] could be raised by voluntary enlistment in peace time, but that to raise it would be no more difficult than to enlist an army of 100,000 men.”

Oregon Senator George Chamberlain, at the time a member of the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department, argued no: “So eminent an authority as Senator Chamberlain of Oregon, on the other hand, holds that since the war is over voluntary enlistments in large numbers are a thing of the past?”

Who ended up being proved correct? It’s surprisingly difficult to get exact figures when searching for terms like ‘number of military volunteers by year,’ but it appears Chamberlain’s pessimism was right.

There were about 300,000 volunteer enlistments during WWI. By 1939, also a time of peace — and with a U.S. population millions larger than in 1919 — there were only 334,473 total military members.

The military isn’t meeting its own volunteer levels in the present day, either. The Army set a goal of 80,000 new recruits last year, but they only got about 70,000.

Can the United States Get 500,000 Volunteers?: An Affirmative Answer Is Indicated by the Way Recruits Have Responded to the New Idea of Service to the Man as Well as to the Country

Published: Sunday, July 6, 1919

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