13. The interwar Army helped create the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933
FDR established the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide employment, job training, and physical conditioning for young men. In return, the CCC planted millions of trees, built roads, parks, campgrounds, bridges, and other contributions to American infrastructure. Reasoning that no American organization had more experience building and maintaining camps housing young men than the US Army, FDR assigned them that role. Camps were established and commanded by reserve officers, and contingents of active-duty troops supported them. MacArthur opposed the use of the Army in such a role, arguing it detracted from readiness. Most career Army officers took their cue from their Chief of Staff. In contrast, General George C. Marshall, who was eventually responsible for 35 CCC camps in the American Northwest, supported the program. Marshall later called his involvement with the CCC, “the most instructive service I ever had, and the most interesting”.
When the CCC became the most popular of all of the New Deal’s many initiatives, MacArthur characteristically took credit for its success. At its height, more than 2,500 camps were in operation, providing leadership and management training for reserve and active-duty Army officers across the nation, training which would otherwise have been unavailable due to restrictive military budgets during the Depression. The Army’s Quartermaster Corps supplied the camps with everything from food to toothbrushes, sports equipment, motion pictures, and in the camps established for older veterans of the First World War, canteens which included beer. Eventually, MacArthur lobbied for an increase in Army control of the camps, including a voice in the work to be accomplished by the men, nominally approved by the US Forest Service. Soldiers attached to the CCC camps had better training, better food, and higher morale than their counterparts on sleepy American bases.