Reversion, Disaggregation, and “Prehabilitation”, 1919–1940

Standing before the National Convention of the American Physical Education Association (APEA) in Chicago on April 11, 1919, Col. F. J. Morrow claimed that the recent war had made “evident that one of the leading considerations in military preparedness is the matter of physical power and vigor.”1 Advancing a linkage between service and citizenship, Morrow also asserted that any effort to improve such qualities had to begin by targeting American boys, but that no plan for military training of civilians could succeed unless it “incidentally produces results which are of solid benefit to the individual and to the community under peace conditions as well as under war conditions.”2 Earlier that year, Dr. A. D. Browne made a similar appeal to adjust civilian physical education to meet the needs of military preparedness. Modern warfare demanded much of the soldiers fighting it. “Men are now required to drag themselves over many yards of rough ground without raising the body,” Browne observed, and men who had “never had occasion to raise their own weight off the ground” found it necessary to “climb out of trenches, over seven-foot walls, vault, leap and jump over obstacles.”3 Morrow’s and Browne’s pieces were representative of many articles produced by commentators on physical fitness and combat in the decade following World War I. Nearly all shared a few consistent themes: fitness was a necessity in war; American men were less physically suited for service than once thought; military training proved more successful than civilian training in sculpting men; and national preparedness required a fit citizenry.

The Army’s wartime experiences and interpretations of those experiences advanced by military officers, physical educators, and political leaders stimulated change in the Army’s physical culture during and after World War I. First, systematic training came to be accepted within the military as a crucial element of basic soldier and unit training. By 1918, the value of such training was unquestionable. Second, civilian educators, who dominated physical training theory and practice during the wartime emergency, had reoriented military physical training on producing capable individual warriors using a wide range of activities. Most observers hailed this system as a smashing success, but its survival was not guaranteed. When civilians departed the service, Army officers content in success and facing budget restrictions returned to the physical culture they knew best—Koehler’s. Raycroft’s culture faded away in all but a few parts of the US Army. By the 1930s, the Army’s official physical culture, propelled by institutional and cultural inertia, and the physical education profession’s dominant body of philosophy and practice parted ways once more. Third, the physical training discourse within the Army shifted to the question of whose bodies should be built up for battle. The answer, in an age of mass mobilization and industrial warfare, was both the soldier and the citizen. Military and political leaders alike perceived a need to deploy the Army’s physical culture and its attendant systems elsewhere in citizen-shaping projects designed to prehabilitate potential soldiers. The resulting programs, such as the Citizens’ Military Training Camps and the Civilian Conservation Corps, aimed to improve the nation’s manpower and embodied lessons learned from the Great War about the need for and demands of total mobilization.

In the late summer of 1919, a cadre of Raycroft’s physical training veterans assembled in Camp Benning. Among them were many of Raycroft’s top instructors who had earned commissions during the war, including his former executive officer and the Big Ten’s future first athletics commissioner, Maj. John Griffiths, and Herman Koehler’s cousin, Capt. Carl Brosius.4 These men gathered at the behest of the General Staff’s Training and Instruction Branch to open a special school for physical and bayonet training. Raycroft’s advocacy during the CTCA’s demobilization over the previous year persuaded the Training and Instruction Branch that making the wartime physical training system permanent would improve the physical condition of the Army’s enlisted population and morale throughout the force.5

The resulting Physical and Bayonet Training Course pursued a twofold purpose. First, the course was supposed to propagate and perpetuate Raycroft’s system within the Army. Consequently, three or four officers from each of the Army’s five service schools composed the student body.6 These newly minted physical instructors would, ideally, return to their service schools and train the next generation of young officers.7 Second, it helped Raycroft validate his comprehensive training system, which he had spent the summer assembling into a treatise that became his book Mass Physical Training, published in 1920.8 The Benning course’s program of instruction followed the outline of Raycroft’s later book precisely, furnished many of the photographs used as illustrations, and reflected the functional training approach underlying Raycroft’s system. Maj. J. C. Drain, the course director, defined functional development as physical and mental improvement, or the “development of initiative and spirit,” through participation in “carefully prepared games and athletic exercises.”9 According to Drain, this approach contrasted with earlier Army practices that pursued corrective, physical enhancement, and recreational goals, but that did not combine practices synergistically. Raycroft’s solution, adopted by the Benning school, was to pull together disparate exercise systems and recreational activities under the control of experts who could achieve better, quicker results than had previously been possible.

The variety of activities under an athletic director’s purview during the war and the range of subjects covered in the Benning course illustrate Raycroft’s concept of functional training. Between 1917 and 1918, CTCA athletic directors assumed wide responsibilities in the divisions and camps to which they were assigned. They advised commanders on issues related to physical training, developed local training programs, led exercise sessions, trained uniformed instructors, supervised boxing programs, and participated in planning and executing bayonet training. Along with partners from the YMCA and other organizations, athletic directors also coordinated recreational athletic leagues and events, and even planned large competitions that often drew spectators from local communities. The Benning course prepared uniformed officer instructors to perform a similarly wide range of functions. Of the 145 hours of instruction students received over three-and-a-half weeks, more than twenty-eight were dedicated to bayonet training. The remaining hours were spread evenly between subjects such as quickening and skirmishing exercises, boxing and wrestling, hand-to-hand fighting, setting-up exercises, mass athletics, physical efficiency tests, and “highly organized games” that included football and baseball.10 This distribution of time and emphasis highlights the impetus, foundational to Raycroft’s culture, to incorporate athletics and combat training into physical training. This approach differed from Koehler’s, which had largely separated physical training, combat skills training, and athletics into related but distinct activities. Had the highest hopes of the Benning course been realized, Raycroft’s instructors would have been better prepared than their predecessors to direct and integrate a wide variety of activities. Drain promised that the US Army could look forward to beginning the next war with the “splendid physical opportunities” of the German army, along with the benefits of “complete physical and mental training” from uniquely American games and exercises.11 Indeed, the school’s instructors and others anticipated the course and its associated manual becoming official Army practice. The Infantry Journal’s editor, for instance, commended a report from the school as indicative of the future of physical training.12

Those high hopes were soon dashed. Graduates of the course’s first class returned to their service schools but made only a limited impact. A second iteration in March 1920 pulled five officers from each department. The War Plans Division of the General Staff anticipated that graduates of this special course would establish similar schools in their own departments, but such schools do not appear to have become regular fixtures.13 Raycroft’s system did not spread. Postwar consolidations and budget cuts soon shuttered the new physical and bayonet training school, well before it could produce a critical mass of certified trainers.14 Dreams for a comprehensive trainings system did not survive the era of normalization.15 Shutting off the inflow of new instructors proved fatal for the consolidation of Raycroft’s system in Army practice. Furthermore, most of the instructors trained at Camp Gordon and elsewhere during the war were reservists or emergency officers who departed the shrinking interwar army. Without new, uniformed officers trained to replace them, physical training policy largely fell to regular officers brought up under Koehler at West Point and untutored in Raycroft’s system.

Camp Benning’s Infantry School was one exception to the gradual passing of Raycroft’s system. There, Maj. Gen. Charles Farnsworth, the school’s first commandant and a physical training enthusiast, was a vocal proponent for the Physical and Bayonet Training School.16 When the scheme for training officers of other branches withered, Farnsworth turned his attention to the infantry officers over which he had control. Farnsworth kept Drain and his instructors from the Department of Physical and Bayonet Training employed over the following year teaching courses for Infantry School students. These courses mirrored the program of instruction that had been applied in September 1919 in Raycroft’s school. Farnsworth envisioned this program expanding to offer four six-week courses annually at Camp Benning between October and June. In the summer months, Farnsworth intended to disperse his instructors throughout the northern military districts to assist in instruction and to inspect their physical training programs. Instructors were to make similar trips throughout the southern districts between each course iteration in the winter and spring.17

Farnsworth struggled to realize this dream in the face of fiscal constraints. In letters between Farnsworth and Raycroft, the former identified several problems. For instance, the War Department frequently turned down, without comment, requests for funds to dispatch instructors on assistance and inspection trips to regional departments. Camp Benning’s physical plant seemed to be the most critical problem. Forecasted rainfall during the planned primary instruction period between October and June was of special concern, so Farnsworth had sought a large indoor assembly building where training could proceed regardless of weather conditions. Costs proved prohibitive. Given the small appropriations Congress directed to the Infantry School in 1920 and the likelihood of continued economization, Farnsworth believed the funds required for construction would not be available for several years. On Raycroft’s suggestion, Farnsworth instead secured several steel and canvas hangars that partly addressed the indoor training space issue. Filling those buildings with exercise and sporting equipment was another matter entirely, and one still unresolved by mid-1922. However, Raycroft proved instrumental through the mid-1920s in helping furnish the Infantry School’s gymnasium by securing funds from those raised during World War I.18 Thanks to both Farnsworth’s and Raycroft’s efforts, the Department of Physical and Bayonet Training managed to obtain sufficient manpower and facilities to propagate Raycroft’s system in the infantry branch through the 1920s.

The survival of Raycroft’s system at the Infantry School made sense. The infantry branch had taken an intense interest in physical training issues since the 1880s. Discussion about these issues appeared far more frequently in the branch’s professional publications, such as the Infantry Journal, than in those of other branches. Furthermore, many infantry officers took seriously the assertion in Training Regulations 10–5 of 1922, the basic training regulation for all arms, that athletics and physical training were key elements in every military training program.19 The Infantry School’s leadership saw itself filling a void in physical instruction left by Koehler’s retirement from USMA in 1923, but physical training at the school adhered to a gradually diminishing version of Raycroft’s model that included competitive sports, calisthenics, and apparatus work. Even if time constraints reduced the hours devoted to topics such as wrestling and baseball, the training philosophy remained true to Raycroft’s comprehensive concept: exercise was not for strength alone, but for its “military value, its hygienic or health value, its educational value, mental and physical, for its recreational value, for its moral value, and for its social value.”20 However, the persistence of Raycroft’s philosophy and system in the Infantry School’s curriculum through the 1920s ultimately proved insufficient for sustaining Raycroft’s ideas and practices in the wider Army physical culture.

Wider trends in Army physical training during the interwar years, abetted by organizational forgetting and complacency, bent toward disaggregation. Raycroft’s system was notable for its comprehensiveness and integration of calisthenic drills, athletics, close-combat work, and more. In contrast, all of these activities existed on most prewar Army training calendars, but they stood alone as complementary but separate. Thus, Koehler’s manuals had paid little attention to athletics, military sport developed haphazardly in a quasi-official status without a central proponent, and bayonet training appeared in separate manuals and occurred in hours outside those designated for physical training.21 These same features, characterized here as a disaggregation of efforts, reemerged in Army physical training and physical culture during the interwar years.

The first visible manifestation of these trends appeared in Training Regulations 115-5, published in 1928, which was the first official Army physical training guide published since Koehler’s Manual of Physical Training of 1914. Raycroft’s book Mass Physical Training of 1920 predated Training Regulations 115-5, but it exerted very little influence on subsequent manuals. Maj. Gen. William Haan, chief of the General Staff’s War Plans Division, had endorsed Raycroft’s work, recommended its use in institutions providing physical training, and anticipated that it would “form the basis for the training and instruction” of the Army “in the subjects included.”22 However, in an effort to save both time and money, the War Department published Raycroft’s book privately. The manual never gained official status within the Army or full organizational backing as a result. Mentions of Mass Physical Training disappeared from military professional journals by the mid-1920s and the authors of Training Regulations 115-5 made no reference to its privately published predecessor. Indeed, someone reading only the Army’s official physical training manuals might never have an inkling of the Army physical culture’s wartime interregnum.

Training Regulations 115-5 might have ignored Mass Physical Training, but it exhibited a strong historical continuity with Koehler’s culture. Published on September 10, 1928, upon the authority of Chief of Staff Charles Summerall, Training Regulations 115-5 explicitly superseded the Manual of Physical Training of 1914. Its preparation occurred under the direction of West Point’s superintendent, Brig. Gen. Merch Stewart.23 Both the place and the leadership under which Training Regulations 115-5 gestated were significant because Koehler strongly influenced both, even though the famous Master of the Sword had retired in 1923 and passed away in 1927. Koehler had directed all aspects of physical training at the Academy for nearly four decades. He molded the institution’s physical culture and those men who took up his work after 1923. Institutional memories and culture virtually guaranteed that the Academy would look to its own heritage and practices, both inseparable from Koehler, when updating the Army’s physical training regulations.

Koehler also strongly influenced key individuals, such as Stewart, who were responsible for the creation of Training Regulations 115-5. Merch Stewart, an 1896 Academy graduate and former student of Koehler’s, made his outlook on physical training clear in his book The Physical Development of the Infantry Soldier, published in 1913. In it, Stewart championed the importance of systematic exercise for the infantry soldier. “War,” he noted, “is truly a struggle between life and death and, in war, death is caused equally as frequently by sickness and incapacity as by the bullets of the enemy.”24 Because the infantryman was an “independent fighting element” that bore a heavy “burden of combat and march,” he had to be fitted to carry on “when every muscle in his body cries out for rest.”25 Much like Koehler, Stewart connected physical fitness with qualities such as will and discipline, and then declared that exercise could develop all of them. Stewart’s concept of discipline aligned with Koehler’s; it was both the subordination of the body to man’s control and the subordination of the man to the team’s needs.26 Development of physical fitness, discipline, and other qualities occurred in three stages according to Stewart: strength and endurance first, then ease and grace, and finally self-confidence, “which comes of a knowledge of his strength and capacity.”27 This progression paralleled Koehler’s pyramidal structure. Although Stewart did not advance a system of physical training, he directed readers to other manuals then in publication, all of which Koehler either authored or influenced. Stewart also quoted the Master of the Sword and proposed categories of exercise that matched those found in Koehler’s manuals of 1896 and 1904.28 While Stewart also addressed functional fitness activities such as rushing, crawling, and aiming exercises, these were included for the general physical development of infantry soldiers as activities complementary to but distinct from systematic training. Responsibility for restating the Army’s official physical culture thus fell to a disciple of Koehler’s leading an organization that remained a posthumous bastion of the old Turner’s thought and practice.

Comparing Training Regulations 115-5 of 1928 and the Manual of Physical Training of 1914 also reveals a direct lineage. Little differentiates the two works in terms of format, organization, objectives sought, areas of emphasis, and recommended activities. Many of the demonstration photographs even appear to be unchanged. Like Koehler and Stewart before them, Training Regulations 115-5’s authors posited a multilevel hierarchy of objectives pursued through physical training. Physical fitness, according to these authors, was a recruit’s baseline requirement that enabled him to execute all of his other duties. Through systematic exercise, recruits developed health, strength, and vigor. Learning to employ those physical qualities “to the best advantages for himself and for the mass for which he is a member” also developed “self-reliance, confidence, self-control, the courage to dare,” alertness, precision, and enthusiasm.29 These intangibles translated into the Koehler culture’s ultimate quality of discipline. Physical training in this mode therefore possessed a “disciplinary value” that was “at least the equal to its physiological or military value.”30

Further examples of continuities with the pre-Raycroft physical culture appear in the methods employed to achieve physical fitness. The authors of Training Regulations 115-5 briefly addressed activities ranging from gymnastics, jumping, and climbing to rifle exercises, group games, and dumbbell routines. They also advocated including boxing, wrestling, and bayonet drills in training programs.31 However, the importance of all these activities paled in comparison to the value accorded to traditional setting-up exercises. Unlike Raycroft’s dismissal of the setting-up exercises as kindergarten work, Training Regulations 115-5’s authors asserted that the drills formed the “foundation upon which the entire course of physical training in the service is based” and that “their importance hardly can be overestimated.”32 The new regulation recommended that setting-up drills comprise a full third of every morning’s physical training period, and its authors dedicated nearly two-thirds of the manual’s contents to the precise explication of each movement and its associated commands. As had their forebears, the soldiers of the 1930s were to flex, bend, thrust, hop, swing, and squat their way to fitness in mass formation and in response to commands.

A single addition to these “disciplinary physical training exercises,” known as mass commands, set the model from 1928 apart from its predecessor from 1914. Pioneered in an officer’s training camp in early 1917, mass commands involved men in formation collectively giving preparatory commands and the exercise cadence in response to prompts issued by an instructor. The authors of Training Regulations 115-5 contended that this practice had “practically revolutionized the old method of recruit instruction, both as to the time required and the efficiency obtained.”33 With mass commands, the “volume and smash” of the combined voices “literally impel[led] every man to extend himself to the limit in performing the movements snappily and precisely.”34 The value attached to these mass commands helps illustrate key features of the physical culture that the authors of Training Regulations 115-5 promoted. Mass commands did not make the exercises themselves more strenuous. Instead, their value derived from enhancing the disciplinary quality of the drill and boosting self-confidence. Soldiers felt a part of the whole organization, practiced precision in the issuance of clear commands, and learned self-reliance and “assertiveness.”35

Other elements of continuity between the Army’s official physical culture and its prewar predecessor included an emphasis on average unit fitness over maximal individual capacity, and a general wariness about the value of athletics as a part of the formal training program. The former is visible in the methods advocated, the disciplinary objectives sought, and the repeated goal of subordinating the individual to the unit. For instance, the authors of Training Regulations 115-5 summoned the spirits of Koehler and Butts in asserting that athletics should have “an applicable value” and be “educational” instead of “spectacular” because it was the “ability of the average of the mass that determines the efficiency of a fighting machine.”36 Concerning athletics, Training Regulations 115-5 staked out a position more friendly to athletics than had its predecessor of 1914, which included in its athletics chapter as many warnings about the potential evils of sport as it did instructions. The authors of Training Regulations 115-5 contended that use of mass athletics in the Army was “most desirable” on the grounds of both fitness and morale. This aligned with the Army’s World War I experience and the contemporaneous flourishing of sport at the US Military Academy.37 However, the manual downplayed games such as football and baseball as a component of formal physical training. Instead, it stressed mass games and individual contests such as relay races, cane wrestling, and other schoolyard competitions that had also featured in the manual of 1914. This was a far cry from the prominent place sport occupied in Raycroft’s manual, even if they shared an emphasis on the educational value of athletics.38

Although Training Regulations 115-5 exhibited strong continuities with an earlier physical culture, it did not replicate earlier manuals entirely. Several matters, though minor, differentiated the manuals of 1928 and 1914 and deserve mention. First, running (or double-timing) made its debut in Army physical training as a beneficial activity. Training Regulations 115-5’s characterization of running as being “invaluable in the development of endurance and organic vigor” diverged from the Manual of Physical Training’s claim about the extreme risk of injury associated with running and its concomitant warning that instructors “exercise the utmost care in its application.”39 The inclusion of running probably does not reflect much influence from Raycroft’s culture. Running was not a major component of Raycroft’s Mass Physical Training. Also, Koehler had come around to the practice after 1914, claiming in 1919 that no exercise could “develop condition, vigor and endurance, lung and leg power in general” as rapidly as running, so long as care was taken with “green” men.40 In another contrast, Training Regulations 115-5 suggested two hour-long training sessions per day, the latter consisting of bayonet or other combatives training and mass athletics, instead of the Manual of Physical Training’s single forty-five-minute drill. However, such differences did not represent a significant variance between the physical cultures each manual embodied and promoted. Their definitions of physical fitness remained largely the same, as did the vast majority of the methods recommended to attain fitness.

The trend toward disaggregation in the Army’s official physical training system and the general reemergence of Koehler’s physical culture, both embodied in Training Regulations 115-5, continued up until the eve of World War II. Although the regulations were formally superseded by the fourth chapter of the Basic Field Manual’s (BFM) first volume, published in 1936, the latter manual did little more than reprint a portion of Training Regulations 115-5.41 Somewhat more change arrived in 1941 with the publication of Field Manual (FM) 21-20. The new manual slightly modified the Army’s definition of fitness, but only in replacing the discipline capstone with a generic quality of “physical efficiency for military effectiveness.”42 FM 21-20 continued the disaggregation of physical activities. Sports and combative training did not qualify for coverage, and disciplinary drills in mass formation continued to dominate training periods. The only notable change between 1928 and 1941 was that FM 21-20 exhibited a turn toward a more functional fitness-based physical culture with the inclusion of obstacle courses and survival swimming. This turn echoed a similar cultural shift around 1917 when the Army began seriously preparing for war. Yet at root, the new manual still reflected the culture Koehler fashioned nearly six decades earlier.

One consequence of disaggregation in the Army’s physical culture was that systematic training and sport diverged. The former leveraged the latter less and less. Sport remained enormously popular and a fixture in Army life, but soldiers increasingly played for the sake of playing instead of as a supplement to rational training objectives. Sport became a site only for building morale and for incidental training of soldierly qualities. Still, Americans attached an enormous amount of importance to sport in the military after World War I. Perhaps the most dramatic representation of this valuation was the Inter-Allied Games of 1919. Held in Paris, the games pulled together nearly fifteen hundred athletes from eighteen Allied nations and more than thirty thousand spectators, cementing the place of sport in the US military and helping spread the cause of the “sporting life” to other nations recovering from the trauma of World War I.43 To reaffirm the place of sport on a scale smaller than an Olympiad, many Army posts also built new athletic complexes. For instance, Fort Benning completed construction of its Doughboy Memorial Stadium in 1925. During a speech dedicating this latest American living memorial, Maj. Gen. R. H. Allen declared that physical training and athletics had been recognized as “vital parts of all military training” and that neglect of either represented a “vital blow” struck at an army’s “efficiency as a fighting machine.”44 Summoning long-standing assumptions about the inherent developmental potential of sport, Allen declared that the playing field cultivated qualities key to past and future success: action, teamwork, fighting spirit, the will to win, tenacity, and steadfastness.45

The Army’s official physical culture increasingly ignored or minimized sport, but athletic competitions remained a regular feature of US Army life between 1918 and 1941. An unofficial, parallel physical culture emerged as a result. Historian Wanda Wakefield’s survey of the accounts of retirees who served as junior officers prior to World War II confirms this. Many recalled the great personal and professional importance they attached to sports. One, Lt. Gen. Hobart Gay, even chose to remain in the army after World War I solely because he earned a spot on the Army’s prestigious polo team.46 Another, Gen. Robert Porter, found that young officers had to involve themselves in sports if they wanted to establish control and discipline in their units. “If he [the young lieutenant] was nothing but a bookworm,” Porter recalled, “he would have trouble getting through to some of these people [the enlisted men in the regiment].”47 Officers valued athletics for a variety of reasons. Sports helped keep officers physically fit, taught them lessons for their professional lives about leadership, built relationships between military personnel and local civilian communities, developed esprit de corps, and reinforced expectations of masculine behavior predicated on strength, aggressiveness, and competitiveness.48 Sports were significant in the enlisted man’s experience too. Apart from regular periods of mass athletics, most units maintained competitive athletic teams. Post and unit newspapers along with more widely available military publications such as the Army and Navy Journal and Infantry Journal consistently dedicated considerable space to covering the records and exploits of these teams.

Athletics also continued growing in popularity and importance at West Point during the interwar period. This growth occurred most explosively between 1919 and 1922 under the Academy’s dashing young superintendent, Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. A longtime sports enthusiast himself, MacArthur believed that sports were crucial to the preparation of junior officers, especially in developing “the coordination of mental and physical effort, an appreciation of the principle of cooperation, the development of hardihood and courage, and the inculcation of an aggressive and determined spirit.”49 Along with the Academic Board, MacArthur oversaw a curriculum reorganization that instituted a mandatory intramural program for all cadets on top of the foundational training all Fourth Class cadets received through Koehler’s system. All cadets learned to play baseball, football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, track, tennis, golf, and hockey in six-week periods that culminated in intramural competitions. Cadets received grades for their participation and performance that contributed to their all-important class ranking, thereby formally incorporating sport as a requisite and essential element of officer education. MacArthur also expanded the Academy’s intercollegiate athletics program by adding several teams and taking controversial steps toward instituting the recruitment of athletes. Even Koehler endorsed the Academy’s growing embrace of athletics as an adjunct to individual physical training, arguing that “participation in athletic competition is the best school for leadership, self-discipline and team work.”50 But as before, Koehler qualified his support on the basis of his belief that the Academy was more capable than other institutions of resisting the evils often associated with intercollegiate athletics.

However, athletics did not become an integral part of systematic physical training in the wider Army as they did at West Point. Echoing elements of the official physical culture existing before World War I, the two activities were generally considered to be associated and complementary, but they were not effectively integrated. Allen voiced this in his stadium dedication speech in 1925 when he noted that “official recognition” had long been given to disciplinary drill while athletics had “subsisted solely through the interest of its devotees.”51 Raycroft had explicitly recognized and encouraged the relationship between physical training and athletics, but the Army’s physical training system in the interwar period did not. Training Regulation 115-5 and the Basic Field Manual of 1936 recommended that leaders dedicate some time to mass athletics, which could include competitive athletics, but these manuals were primarily concerned with other forms of training. Athletics came under the purview of athletic officers, who were not necessarily the same individuals that led comprehensive unit physical training.52 With the demise of the Physical and Bayonet Training School, no centralized institution certified individuals in the management of a comprehensive physical training program. Army policies also tended to regard athletics more in terms of recreation than training.53 So while athletics remained a prominent part of Army life, the Army’s official physical culture generally disaggregated training and sport. Raycroft and his team tried to harmonize physical training, athletics, combat sports, and more in a single program oriented toward maximizing the individual’s combat efficiency. In the interwar years, this comprehensive program fractured. The bonds between physical training, sport, and activities such as bayonet training weakened. By the mid-1920s, the Raycroft interregnum in the history of the Army’s physical culture closed.

While systematic training in the Army reverted to its nineteenth-century roots, other changes in the Army’s physical culture were afoot. Unlike in earlier periods, much of this change is best understood by considering first what officers were not discussing—namely, the basic value of physical training. Between the last quarter of the nineteenth century and America’s entry into World War I, professional military journals regularly featured articles or letters to the editor concerning physical training. Some reflected doubt in the force at large as to the desirability of regular, systematic training. Most made a positive case, often while positing a regimen or program. All implicitly or explicitly took a position on the value of exercise. After World War I, articles on physical training largely disappeared, even from the Infantry Journal, as the subject became more accepted and less controversial. Major General Allen’s dedication speech for Fort Benning’s Doughboy Memorial Stadium in 1925 illustrated this widespread acceptance throughout the Army: regarding physical training and athletics as “fundamental elements of all military training” was “no new doctrine,” Allen asserted, and they did not belong among the “many fads that have sprung up in our service like mushroom growths.”54 Allen’s comments directly contradicted the common assertion of an earlier generation that physical training was a dangerous fad best avoided. Though officers wrote less about whether to exercise or how to exercise, they did not forget physical training. Instead, they turned their attention to who should exercise and leveled a finger at the young American male. After World War I, a discourse of declension concerning the population’s physical fitness manifested in American society. Associations between physical fitness and a concept of citizenship defined by obligations intensified. The Army’s official physical culture became a part of this discourse. Its definition of fitness provided the ends for numerous physical training and education advocates, many of whom both inside and outside the military endeavored to appropriate the Army’s methods for civilian use. In short, these advocates averred that America’s youth must be “prehabilitated” for future service because the health and strength of the body politic depended upon the health and strength of the individual citizen.

The declension discourse largely emerged from concerns over draft rejection rates that were widely perceived, in both military and civilian circles, as being alarmingly high. The first thorough statistical analysis of draft rejections, authored by Charles Davenport and Albert Love under the surgeon general’s supervision, appeared in print in 1920.55 Both men had worked for the office of the surgeon general during World War I compiling anthropometric data on draftees. Using this data, which local draft boards and camp physicians collected on more than 2.5 million men enlisted during the war, Davenport and Love found that approximately 46 percent of the recorded population presented a defect of some kind.56 The report’s authors divided the deficiencies into eleven groups ranging from “mechanical” ones involving bones, joints, hands, and feet to “nervous and mental” issues and venereal disease. Recognizing that not all were equally important, Davenport and Love broke the defects down into five categories established by draft and military officials during the war, two of which totally prevented the draftee from serving in the military.57 Counting only those totally rejected, and not those qualified for limited duties, Davenport and Love found that about 12 percent of all men examined were rejected for military service.58

Prior to the Davenport and Love analysis, and as early as 1918, much larger draft rejection figures began circulating, which were often cited in the declension discourse over the two following decades. Most of these pegged the rejection rate at about one-third of drafted men, which clearly counted more than just those completely rejected for service.59 Extrapolating from these rates, commentators alleged a serious problem in American society with national power implications that bordered on crisis. For instance, Walter Camp, the Navy CTCA’s athletic director and “Father of American Football,” wrote that the war revealed the “flower of our racial stock” to be largely “deficient physically when put to the test before examining-boards.”60 The most immediate concern was of a military nature. Great powers needed to be able to field armies numbering in the millions to fight and win industrial-era wars. The vast majority of those soldiers would be conscripts, and conscripts represented a broad cross-section of the nation’s manpower. Nearly all men were liable for service and, as the logic went, therefore obligated to maintain a baseline of physical fitness. Additionally, commentators linked defects disqualifying men from military service to the quality of the nation’s labor force and the individual’s ability to live a full life.61

A guilt-laden sense of crisis was particularly acute in the civilian physical education community. Thomas Storey expressed these sentiments in an address to the American Physical Education Association in April 1919, claiming that the war had “heartlessly, relentlessly and with calculating accuracy” revealed the quality of America’s peacetime physical education.62 Noting the “army of young men” rejected for service, and using the 30 percent rejection rate, Storey harangued the American educational system for failing to teach hygiene and make students’ bodies fit for the “supreme obligation of citizenship.”63 The University of Minnesota’s John Sundwall advanced a similar argument about how the wartime experience demolished the myth of an America comprising a “superhealthy, superstrong, and superactive and vigorous people.”64 Sundwall, like Storey and others, laid much of the blame on the US educational system and urged colleges and universities to “accept their share of responsibility” and to “do their part in the physical regeneration of America.”65 Dudley Sargent, one of the venerable old fathers of physical education, lent his voice to the chorus too. In Sargent’s opinion, schools had not done enough to develop in American youth the “physical, mental, and moral qualities” that make good soldiers. Echoing concerns that drove the development of physical training in the Army and university a generation earlier, Sargent argued that physical educators had a duty to offset the deleterious effects of urbanization, industrialization, and undesirable immigration.66 They seemed to have fallen short.

Serious concerns about the educational system having failed American youth and the nation spurred searches for solutions. One set of solutions followed from a common critique about the narrowness of prewar physical education in terms of both populations and subjects. According to conscription statistics, some regions of the country produced more defective men than others. Statistical imbalances existed between socioeconomic classes as well. As a remedy, many educators called for making physical education more accessible to everyone and, if possible, mandatory. For instance, George Fisher argued during the Athletic Research Council’s annual meeting in December 1919 that the physical education community had to capitalize on the “tide of popular sentiment” for physical preparedness. Harnessed, such a tide could bring compulsory training to all schoolchildren, and even to the workplace.67 This movement gathered steam. States “vied with each other,” in the words of one observer, through the 1920s to pass physical education legislation.68 By 1934, thirty-seven states had mandated physical education as part of their students’ general education.69 Physical education advocates also argued for the broadening of curricula because many men were rejected due to venereal disease and other problems that could be reduced or eliminated through hygiene instruction.

Another point on which most critics of physical education agreed was that the military seemed to have succeeded where civilian institutions had failed. Such assessments tended to overlook the fact that the military population contained only those who had passed entrance exams. The military population would therefore naturally appear more fit than the wider population. Nevertheless, the military’s training system came in for frequent praise. For instance, the YMCA’s James McCurdy, who spent time overseas with troops during the war supervising and directing recreational activities, wrote that “no man could have observed the Army . . . without having a deep impression of, and an overwhelming pride in, the deeds of valor of the American soldier.”70 McCurdy credited much of this to the Army’s ability to cultivate “physical efficiency” in its troops. In this, McCurdy believed that the Army “did a marvelous piece of work.”71 Similarly, Fisher claimed that the US Army deserved credit for producing between three and four million soldiers who were “in better condition than any similar number of men have ever been at one time in the United States.”72 Such sentiment existed in the popular imagination too. One ditty making the rounds in the nation’s newspapers in 1921 promised not only that the Army functioned as a melting pot for ethnically diverse American youth, but that it built men:

Have you heard of our Army’s slogan? We shout it—THE ARMY BUILDS MEN! / We care not for features, they’re all of God’s creatures, they go to the “melting pot.” Then / watch for the change that comes o’er them, / Are these the young lads whom you knew? / They are hearty and hale, each a red-blooded male, / That’s what our Army can do. / Deep-chested, square-shouldered and active, / Erect and with twinkling glance, / Straightforward and true, we return them to you, / These boys but needed the chance.73

Reciprocal relationships between civilian physical education and Army physical training were especially evident during World War I and in the immediate postwar period. These relationships modified the Army’s physical culture, but they also informed the search for solutions to perceived shortcomings in the physical education community. In 1917, the Army had called on civilian educators to help expand, improve, and man the institution’s physical training system. In doing so, Raycroft and his peers advanced a concept of using multiple activities, ranging from hygiene training and recreational athletics to disciplinary drill and boxing, to achieve higher-order educational outcomes. A few short years later, civilian educators looked to the Army as a guide and inspiration, believing that the Army had achieved a remarkable success in rapidly building healthy young men. No sooner had the war concluded than civilian educators began discussing the application of the Army’s model to improve childhood education. Given the distress over draft rejections, qualification for military service also became something of a standard for physical education outcomes. Wartime experience and Army successes also contributed to a renewed emphasis on training for citizenship within the physical education community.

Looking to the Army as a guide and inspiration for reforming civilian physical education convinced some educators and school administrators to borrow its pedagogies, but these efforts met with mixed success. In a positive example, systems created to train large numbers of recruits yielded effective practices for primary and secondary schools. The Commission on Training Camp Activities’ (CTCA) boxing training program provided a particularly useful case study in this regard. Schools did not suddenly start teaching children to box, but educators derived methods of mass instruction to teach the fundamentals of other sports to large bodies of students.74 However, not all attempts to align civilian and military practice were embraced as widely. A more controversial effort that arose from a misunderstanding of the Army physical culture’s nature and context saw physical education replaced with military training, usually marching drill and the manual of arms, to prepare pupils for immediate service. After the war, some high schools and colleges continued permitting military drill in place of physical education.75 The leading luminaries of the physical education profession opposed such policies, arguing that drill could not possibly replace the many activities needed to promote holistic student growth and development.76 For instance, Springfield College’s James McCurdy opposed drill because it was too narrow and did not address problems identified by examination boards that could only be remedied by health and hygiene programs. McCurdy also believed that drill did not promote all-round individual improvement or the cultivation of “vigor” needed to meet the demands of modern war.77 Military authorities also opposed drill in school. Secretary of War Newton Baker did so explicitly in 1918, arguing that school-time drill contributed very little to the nation’s military strength.78 Echoing McCurdy, Col. F. J. Morrow, a General Staff officer responsible for education and special training, argued that drill alone could not “provide an adequate course of physical training.”79 Military training could supplement physical training, but not replace it. The positions taken by senior Army officials highlight how much the Army’s physical culture had changed since the 1880s. Earlier, elder officers opposed systematic exercise and sport as wasteful—even dangerous—fads, and considered incidental training through drill and duty sufficient. By 1920, senior leaders had embraced the utility of systematic physical training, even if their conceptual horizons remained fixed along Koehler’s lines.80

Resistance from physical educators to the use of drill and the manual of arms in schools also reflected how their wartime experiences reinforced earlier trends in physical education’s prevailing philosophies. Specifically, these educators cautioned against blindly importing practices such as drill from one context to another when searching for solutions to American society’s perceived declension dilemma. They urged peers and school administrators to instead consider the specific needs of a given population and the broad array of tools and practices available, and then tailor programs to those specific needs. A report authored by Raycroft in 1918 titled Suggestions for Colleges from the Army Experience of Physical Training captures this approach perfectly. In it, Raycroft recalled that he and his team tackled the Army’s physical training problem with open minds, seeking only “those things which would give results in training recruits.”81 The basis for such a search had to be “straight thinking” that discriminated between “exercise and training or education.”82 This differentiation was also key to making improvements in college physical education according to Raycroft. What he meant was that too often Army officers and college faculty members alike regarded physical training as either purely for exercise or purely for recreation, and thereby lost sight of the educational value possible with the proper utilization of physical training activities.

Physical educators aligned with this thinking tried taking to heart a lesson from the Army’s wartime experience about the need for tailored, educative approaches. Raycroft exemplified this movement in seeking to maximize physical training’s educational value by applying a broad range of means in new ways to enhance mental, physical, and character development.83 He expressly advocated using intercollegiate athletics rather than abolishing them, for instance.84 These ideas also reflected the powerful influence of educational developmentalism at the time, which endorsed holistic student growth in order to mold young pupils into creative and critically thinking individuals.85 Educational developmentalists, like Raycroft, often critiqued ossification and narrowness in pedagogical practice and school curricula. One could nearly always identify and integrate new ways and means to educate students, they argued. In one discreet example, the National Education Association’s James Rogers critiqued some educators of the postwar decade for placing too much stress on health education instead of integrating the many other activities residing under physical education’s big tent.86 What is notable here in respect to the reciprocal relationship between civilian and Army physical cultures is that the two moved in opposite directions in some ways during the postwar decades. While civilian educators looked to the wartime experience and saw cause to expand, enlarge, and integrate activities, the disaggregation of activities came to characterize the Army’s interwar physical culture.

While physical education and the Army’s official physical culture diverged in regard to system comprehensiveness in the years after World War I, they initially converged on the importance of training the American public for citizenship. At this time and in the declension discourse especially, military authors and physical educators defined citizenship mainly in terms of military service obligations.87 Thus, citizenship was predicated to a large degree on fitness. In turn, fitness meant a baseline of strength and endurance, along with an absence of health-related disorders and deformations. In the immediate postwar years, educators and military leaders alike counted the population’s physical fitness as a leading consideration in national preparedness and contended that improving the population’s health and fitness could not wait for the emergency of a future war.88 In such an emergency, limits existed on what the military could do with the material the nation gave to it, even with an excellent training system. Improving the military’s raw human material before it arrived at examination boards was therefore crucial, and that improvement had to come through the education system or new programs targeting American youth. As Colonel Morrow had reasoned in 1919 at the APEA’s national convention, no efforts directed toward promoting the “average citizen’s” fitness could be successful “unless they begin with the boys and youth of the country, in order to mold them during the plastic period of life.”89 In short, building men’s bodies for battle necessitated their prehabilitation years before they might be called to service.

Prehabilitation’s prominence in physical fitness discussions within the Army signified a major change in the service’s physical culture during the interwar years. Content with the sufficiency of their service’s training system, Army leaders turned outward. Compared to previous decades, discussion in professional journals centered less on how soldiers should exercise. Instead, the matter of who should exercise arose most frequently, and the “who” were typically young American men and boys theoretically liable to render military service with little forewarning. Civilian educators agreed for a time. However, by the 1930s they rarely explicitly connected military service and citizenship, or military fitness standards and expectations for physical education. For educators, preparation for good citizenship lost its martial flavor over time and increasingly meant social development and the “health of the entire personality.”90 Participation in a democratic society required social skills, a capacity for “self-expression and self-realization,” education to make the best use of increasing amounts of leisure time, and the vigor and health to be happy and productive in a vocation.91 Military writers agreed with much of this, though they emphasized discipline and stuck to an explicit, direct, and close linkage between preparedness for service and citizenship.

Few sites provide better opportunities to observe this tight linkage and the consequent application of prehabilitation than the Citizens’ Military Training Camps (CMTC) program’s dusty fields. The CMTC program, comprising three progressive, month-long summer training courses run by active-duty service members at military posts, was charged with improving national military preparedness while teaching attendees to be better citizens. Specifically, the CMTC was supposed to bring together a diverse lot of boys and young men, develop them “physically, mentally, and morally,” equip them with some basic military training, and “teach Americanism in its true sense.”92 Those few who completed all three courses could become eligible for a commission in the Reserves. The CMTC was a direct outgrowth of the pre–World War I preparedness movement. Its leaders traced their heritage directly to the “Plattsburg Camps,” which had grown into a system of Officers’ Candidate Schools that operated between May 1917 and November 1918. Though technically created by the 1916 National Defense Act, the CMTC was not implemented until 1921. It remained in operation until 1940.93 Twelve camps made up the CMTC system in its first year of operation, and together they graduated a class of nearly ten thousand.94 At its peak in 1927, the CMTC operated fifty-three camps and graduated more than thirty-eight thousand candidates annually.95

While the CMTC was a weak substitute for the universal military training advocated by many officers and by groups such as the Military Training Camps Association, it afforded the Army an opportunity to perform prehabilitation.96 Take the Red Course, for instance, which was the first of the three courses and the only one completed by a vast majority of candidates. Its program of instruction focused on basic infantry training, but physical training featured as a prominent subject and often occupied several hours of every boy’s day. This physical training served a dual purpose according to the CMTC’s creators, directors, and political sponsors. First, training improved every candidates’ fitness, thereby preparing them for service and correcting deficiencies that might otherwise “impair their worth as citizens of the nation.”97 Second, training produced fit candidates who would carry “right standards of physical life” back to their communities upon graduation.98 Graduates inculcated with knowledge about and a proclivity for exercise could spread the gospel of physical training to multiply the effects of each camp’s prehabilitation efforts. This latter argument had long been a common component in the linguistic toolkit of the military’s systematic training advocates.

The rhetoric around physical training in the CMTC’s programs of instruction illustrates dominant philosophies about prehabilitation’s need and nature within the US Army. In the Red Course manual, the physical training chapter opened with an infographic map of the United States in which each state’s shade corresponded to its percentage of drafted men who had passed entrance examinations during the last war. Some basic analysis accompanied the map, pointing out differences such as the relatively better health of rural populations, native-born youth, and the Midwestern states.99 Though the manual’s authors did not use the language of crisis when discussing draft rejection rates, they did make a point about the cost of wastage using a bit of sensational napkin math—a population of one hundred thousand native-born youth would yield thirty-five hundred more soldiers than an equivalent population of foreign-born youth, and a thirty-five-hundred-man regiment “stopped the last German drive on the Marne.”100 The logic may have been shaky, but the implications were clear: improvements in the American public’s general fitness meant more soldiers for the battlefield, and even marginal change could make all the difference. The CMTC’s textbook also echoed many ideas and much of the language from a small book from 1920 written by the textbook’s lead author, Col. P. S. Bond. In that book, Bond made an even greater claim about the value of military prehabilitation: the nation’s “wealth, . . . strength and . . . happiness” rested on the health and vigor of its citizens.101 Physical training and health education for martial service therefore laid a foundation not just for national military power but for America’s basic social, political, and economic well-being.

Comprehensive prehabilitation called for more than exercise, however, even if its promoters limited most of their rhetoric to the virtues of physical training. The CMTC and other prehabilitation efforts appear to have taken this into account. After all, many of the defects that had disqualified men from service during World War I were not remediable by way of exercise. A close examination of draft statistics reveals that at least 47 percent of all defects concerned sense organs, “disease-groups” such as tuberculosis and venereal disease, developmental and metabolic complications, nervous and mental issues, and diseases of the nose, throat, skin, or teeth.102 Even defects of the “mechanical sort,” which comprised the plurality of defects at 39 percent, often had little to do with a lack of proper exercise.103 The problem seemed to be chiefly one of health and hygiene. The CMTC’s health program addressed these issues in several ways. For instance, attendees received examinations to identify problems that might otherwise have gone undiagnosed. Many also received treatment for those problems.104 Additionally, the CMTC curriculum included preventative health training on issues ranging from basic oral hygiene to venereal disease. Daily life in the camps also taught healthy habits such as smoking cessation, eating in moderation, and keeping to a regular sleeping routine.105

Although one could argue, given draft rejection statistics, that health and well-being issues constituted the primary problem a prehabilitation program needed to address, the CMTC’s curriculum chiefly emphasized physical training. Explaining this apparent gap between statistical reality and the persistent desire to sculpt young attendees’ bodies through exercise requires a return to the definition of and value placed on physical fitness within the Army’s prevailing physical culture. Since at least the 1880s, advocates of systematic training claimed several functions for exercise. First, it strengthened and improved bodies. In this, there were assumed corollaries with the remediation of physical defects, even if the linkages were not explicit. Second, training developed qualities beyond the physical. Koehler’s and Raycroft’s cultures intersected on this, even if they differed on the qualities to be improved and the specific means to do so. Members of the Army therefore saw physical training as a potentially crucial tool in achieving prehabilitation’s broader goal of making better citizens. The CMTC’s overall mission was to develop young men “physically, mentally, and morally.”106 Physical training, as expressed and understood in the Army’s physical culture, could address all three.

Beyond informing the purpose of physical training in the CMTC program, the Army’s physical culture also informed the CMTC’s system of physical training. That system largely mirrored practices in the Regular Army, though it differed on time allocation and some points of emphasis. Similarities included twice-daily sessions most days, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. As in the Army, morning sessions concentrated on calisthenic exercises and longer afternoon sessions afforded time for games or applied physical training. Morning calisthenics in the CMTC system simply combined the basic setting-up drill from Koehler’s earlier manuals executed in formation with, if the instructor wished, quick-time marching. This corresponded with the Army’s “Recruit Course,” which was an introductory series of exercises that prepared soldiers for more advanced work.107 Though the morning calisthenics were supposed to “accomplish an all-round development in which each muscle is properly developed,” the CMTC curriculum allotted just twenty minutes to morning drill.108 In reality, only minimal gains in muscular strength and endurance could be expected from such sessions. However, the stated object of physical training included three other goals that physical training simultaneously addressed: building mental alertness, filling candidates with “enthusiasm,” and providing discipline.109 These latter goals accorded with the aim of training candidates for good citizenship, which CMTC authorities associated with discipline and “habits of obedience, dependability, [and] respect for proper authority.”110 Koehler labored for decades to inculcate these qualities in soldiers and cadets. As he had often asserted, and as the authors of the CMTC textbook continued to assert, physical training was a means to those ends.111

Afternoon mass athletics and group games differed sharply from the practices of the Army’s earlier physical culture. However, this unabashed embrace of sport aligned with Army life in the interwar years. A plethora of stadiums, gymnasiums, and playing fields sprouted at US Army bases in the 1920s and 1930s. Sports featured prominently in most soldiers’ lived experiences.112 Daily life in the CMTC was no different. In contrast to the twenty-five minutes allotted for calisthenics, the standard CMTC schedule included at least three hours of athletics daily when not on the range conducting target practice.113 Off-duty recreational events offered even more opportunities to compete. According to the recollections compiled by historian Donald Kington, athletics were a highlight of many CMTC candidates’ time in the camps—more candidates recalled their time on the playing field than in the morning drill formation.114 The CMTC’s leadership also seems to have viewed sports as an effective tool for marketing the program to potential candidates. For example, the vast majority of illustrations in Bond’s promotional book Your Boy & the Other in Universal Training featured uniformed individuals playing sports or posing with sports paraphernalia.

In contrast with contemporary Army practice, diversity typified the opportunities available in these afternoon sessions. Many activities were of the sort organized by the CTCA’s wartime athletic directors. In fact, the CMTC textbook directed instructors to use Raycroft’s Mass Physical Training section on group games.115 Such activities included variations on tag, relay races, and ball-throwing games. Mass athletics were even more popular than these group games. Units within each camp organized teams for baseball, volleyball, and other games that competed against one another in tournaments and, on occasion, against local civilian teams. Sports involving one-on-one competition were also available. Former candidates recalled boxing being the most popular, though more enjoyed spectating than fighting. Beyond its programs of instruction, the emphasis placed on athletics within the CMTC was also apparent in the large amount of space sports occupied in camp yearbooks and in the numerous medals and awards distributed at graduation to recognize accomplishments on the playing field.116

The privileged place of sport in the Army’s premiere prehabilitation program deserves some extra elucidation, especially given the concurrent disaggregation of training activities in the Army’s physical culture. One explanation has to do with timing. Movement toward creating the CMTC began in World War I’s immediate aftermath. Its creators drafted much of the program’s curriculum in 1920 and 1921 when Raycroft’s training system still existed in institutional memory—Mass Physical Training was published in 1920 and the Physical and Bayonet Training Course at Benning had recently graduated two classes of instructors. Clearly the CMTC’s creators knew of Raycroft’s new manual because they cited it as a reference in their own text.117 In its conceptual integration of athletics and other activities into a comprehensive system of training, the CMTC curriculum reflected the Army’s prevailing physical culture at the time of its creation. Objectives sought by the CMTC program also provide an explanation. Because recruitment was an immediate concern, the CMTC’s promoters used sports as a means to entice young men into the program. Sport’s prominence also helped smooth concerns some parents felt about sending their sons to military training. Athletics haloed sites of combat preparation in a softer summer camp glow. As an officer familiar with the program observed, one of the CMTC’s goals was to assure the American public that “military training does not mean militarism.”118 The CMTC’s core mission of providing training in citizenship was more significant, however. The desired product was a good citizen eligible for service, not a soldier. Given prevailing ideas in military physical training and civilian physical education, sports were considered better able to cultivate the desired characteristics of a citizen than was drill, bayonet training, or gymnastics. Sports could make physical activity attractive in a way that drill could not. Athletics were more likely to encourage healthy lifelong habits, even after candidates returned home. Also, physical educators maintained that sports developed qualities beyond the physical. Through participation in organized athletics, candidates might also learn social skills and how to put their leisure time to wise use. According to this line of argument, “the man who goes in for sane, healthful and clean recreation is always a good citizen” because he “works the same as he plays—fair, clean and above-board.”119

Beyond the CMTC, other prehabilitation efforts and citizen-making initiatives arose in the 1920s and 1930s that focused on different populations but pursued similar ends. One in particular responded to the ravages of the Great Depression, which created grounds beyond World War I draft statistics for concern about the health and vitality of young American men by the mid-1930s. The effects of the Great Depression were devastating for many Americans. Malnutrition and sickness took a heavy toll on the many unemployed families. The effects were so severe that even when given work through New Deal programs and other sources, many men had difficulty performing that work.120 Perceiving simultaneous economic, masculinity, and ecological crises, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) by signing Executive Order 6101 on April 5, 1933.121 Over the following nine years, more than 2.9 million single and unemployed young men in the CCC would plant trees, build roads, fight fires, construct bridges and dams, and stock streams.122

Although explicitly founded as a civilian agency sensitive to the period’s dominant mood of antimilitarism, the CCC became an unintentional site for martial prehabilitation. In large part, this owed to the War Department initially taking a lead role in organizing and administrating CCC camps. The Roosevelt administration tasked the War Department with inducting hundreds of thousands of CCC enrollees, screening them for medical conditions, and moving them to camps. Initially, Regular Army personnel also served as the camps’ leadership cadre. By July 1933, more than three thousand officers and five thousand enlisted men of the Regular Army served in these capacities.123 Subsequent concerns about this mission’s impact on military readiness later led to a sharp reduction in direct military involvement. Within two years, officers of the Organized Reserve Corps acting in a civilian capacity had mostly assumed duties as camp commanders and CCC enrollees themselves took over the roles once held by Army noncommissioned officers and enlisted men.124 Despite the War Department’s declining involvement, the CCC bore many marks of military influence. For instance, enrollees learned to maintain neat uniforms and living areas, and to live in a regimented organization. The model of masculinity endorsed by the CCC was also highly compatible with military service.

At root, the CCC was, to borrow a term from Christina Jarvis, a “man-building agency.”125 Because the period’s dominant form of manhood encompassed several ideals, man-building proceeded along multiple lines of effort. First, man-building taught the value of productive work and equipped men with the skills necessary to find such work in order to realize a bread-winner ideal. As the organization’s second director remarked, when an enrollee planted twenty-five thousand trees, he “feels like a man.”126 Second, man-building taught proper social behavior and instilled desirable character traits. This line of effort’s primary goal was to fashion better citizens and prepare men to become husbands and fathers. Traits targeted for cultivation included strong work habits, discipline, a love of clean living, self-reliance, tolerance, and attachment to family and religion.127 Third, man-building involved health interventions and self-care education. For example, enrollees received immunizations and physical exams in addition to being taught good dental hygiene practices and how to avoid venereal disease, among other lessons. This emphasis on health education aligned well with concurrent trends in civilian physical education. Finally, man-building involved building up and sculpting men’s bodies. The CCC celebrated changes in enrollees’ physical appearances time and again through both text and photographs. Where more than 75 percent of enrollees entered the CCC at weights below Army standards, only 4 percent left a year later at substandard weights.128 A year of hard work, clean living, and good eating sent men back into society with “more weight on their bones, more strength in their backs and arms, and more hair on their chests.”129

Man-building in the CCC contributed to the project of prehabilitation desired by physical training advocates in the Army, even if direct Army influence on the CCC waned rapidly after 1933. As a site of prehabilitation, the CCC was less explicitly designed to prepare young men for military service when compared with the CMTC. Yet the CCC did seek to improve the physical, mental, and moral fitness of potential future soldiers along lines advocated by Army officers in prehabilitation programs. The CCC’s physical culture differed from the Army’s in the interwar period in that it put less emphasis on cultivating discipline and obedience. Instead of the hour of drill and physical training soldiers were supposed to experience daily, CCC enrollees performed for only fifteen minutes.130 CCC enrollees were strongly encouraged to participate in afternoon athletics, however, much like CMTC attendees. This, combined with the strenuousness of their work, hardened bodies and imparted lifetime fitness skills.131 Health education and character development similarly seemed to promise a way to raise more men to basic enlistment standards, thereby reducing draft rejection rates in a potential future conflict.

The Army’s physical culture underwent change in the two decades following the First World War, but not necessarily in the way that its wartime athletic directors had hoped. In general, the Army’s physical culture reverted to its prewar form as the dual pressures of institutional inertia and cultural memory squeezed out the CTCA-developed body of theory and practice. However, wartime experience had confirmed the value and utility of both systematic physical training and athletics. No longer did Army officers question whether or not soldiers should exercise. No more accusations of dangerous faddishness turned up in the discourse about physical fitness within military circles. Instead, conversations reoriented on new bodies outside the military in need of conditioning. New programs manifested in part from that discourse to export the Army’s physical culture in the name of prehabilitation for potential soldiers.

Inside the Army, physical training remained a part of the daily experience for most soldiers during the interwar years, but the form it took hearkened back to prewar practices. The movement toward aggregation central to Raycroft’s physical culture reversed course. While a central school at Camp Benning run mostly by former members of the defunct CTCA Athletic Division kept their pedagogy alive through 1919, it proved unable to survive the harsh budgetary environment in an era of normalization and antimilitarism. Even Raycroft’s book, Mass Physical Training, succumbed to these pressures and failed to achieve official standing within Army doctrine. Though the Infantry School continued promoting an integrated system of physical training through the 1920s, neither it nor the Physical and Bayonet Training Course exercised sufficient influence to effect permanent change in the Army’s physical culture. Instead, control of that culture’s central texts reverted back to West Point, where Koehler’s influence persisted even after his retirement in 1923. The resulting physical training regulations of 1928 echoed the Manual of Physical Training of 1914 in a remarkable example of organizational inertia’s power. As a consequence, emphasis returned to drill and discipline. Athletics remained a major part of most soldiers’ lives, but they were no longer integrated with drill and other activities into a coherent, overarching training system. In place of the individual warrior, the disciplined cog in a military machine returned as the physical culture’s ideal product.

In contrast with the reversion to earlier philosophy and practice, prehabilitation was a new feature in the Army’s physical culture and the discourse surrounding it. Prehabilitation seemed vitally important because of anxieties about the fitness of American men that spun out of unexpectedly high rates of draft rejections between 1917 and 1918. The seeming need for prehabilitation grew over time, fueled in part by beliefs held by members of the military and the civilian physical education community that the military had succeeded in sculpting fit bodies and minds where the educational system had failed. Warfare in an age of industrialization and mass conscription compelled states to maximize the percentage of their male population eligible for conscription. Especially within the military, citizenship came to be defined chiefly by the obligations one owed, especially military service. Given this schema, every male citizen had an obligation to become fit and healthy because every male citizen was theoretically liable for combat duty on short notice. Calls for universal military training to ensure that men met this duty withered on the vine in the years immediately following World War I, but other sites for prehabilitation emerged. One, the CMTC, connected directly with preparation for military service. Another, the CCC, was less explicitly militarized, though it touched the lives of many more men and ultimately served as an unintentional paramilitary training agent in the 1930s. The Army’s physical culture influenced physical training in both. However, both emphasized athletics at the expense of more formal training in the interest of developing qualities associated with good citizenship and instilling a lifetime interest in healthy activity.

By the close of the 1930s, the men most responsible for shaping the Army’s physical culture had jettisoned or forgotten most of the lessons learned through experience in World War I. Many military and civilian authorities had turned more attention to building up the bodies of American men in both real and symbolic terms, especially during the Great Depression’s ravages. Yet as war once again loomed in 1940, concern resurfaced about the adequacy of Army physical training and the Army’s organizational capacity for the production of trainers. That year, Brig. Gen. Lewis Hershey, director of the Selective Service, warned Regular Army officers to be prepared for an influx of draftees whose physical quality would be lower than that of the recruits they had been receiving.132 A familiar challenge returned. In the event of a mass mobilization, could Army physical training prepare men for the demands of expeditionary warfare on the modern battlefield? Would the Army’s physical culture and its associated system prove adequate?


Herman Koehler, pictured in 1904 as a captain, became known as West Point’s father of physical education. Arguably, he was also the US Army’s. Courtesy of the United States Military Academy collection.


The light-work gymnastics system Koehler created for cadets appeared in his Manual of Calisthenic Exercises, published in 1892. This page is typical of the diagram-text pairing used to explain exercises.


This recruiting poster from 1919 depicted and linked three virtues essential to American masculinity and soldiering. In the Army’s physical culture, training supposedly cultivated character and physique. It addressed overlapping projects of man-, citizen-, and soldier-making.


Princeton University’s Dr. Joseph Raycroft led the Commission on Training Camp Activities’ Athletic Division during World War I. Under his leadership, the Athletic Division’s civilian members reshaped the Army’s physical culture along functional fitness lines. Courtesy of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University.


The Citizens’ Military Training Camp program was an early prehabilitation effort that responded to the high draftee rejection rates during World War I due to physical shortcomings.


Basic Field Manual 21-20 of 1941 visually depicted the Army ’s concept of fitness for the first time, but it differed little from Koehler’s. Discipline was the foundation of fitness. Intangible mental qualities followed from physical exercise.


During World War II, the University of Iowa’s Dr. Charles McCloy pioneered the use of individual physical performance standards derived from statistical analysis. Permission from Mr. William McCloy, grandson of Charles McCloy.


Mass testing in 1942 revealed specific fitness needs. Theodore Bank, Charles McCloy, and their team addressed them with a revised system in Training Circular 87, published in 1942. Guerrilla drills were among the additions. Raycroft’s manual of 1920 included similar exercises.


Grass drills, introduced in 1942, stressed soldiers’ cardio-respiratory systems and trained them to move under fire.


Calisthenics remained fundamental in TC 87. Soldiers executed most of the same exercises in the same formations as had their forebears fifty years before.


Efficiency testing did not exist in the Army’s physical culture apart from in Raycroft’s system. That changed in 1942. TC 87’s authors labeled testing an “integral part” of any training program because it enabled leaders to diagnose shortcomings and prescribe remedies.


WAAC and WAC service members challenged the Army’s physical culture because it centered on combat readiness and masculinity cultivation. This poster series made clear that a “woman’s place in war” had nothing to do with combat or physically demanding labor.


The Victory Corps aimed to improve the fitness of potential service members while in high school. This manual for educators offered guidance on systematic physical training and athletics.


Overweight and obesity were new problems in the 1950s. Consequently, nutrition and body composition became components of fitness. For officers, new policies required physical fitness evaluations in efficiency reports.


Technical Manual 21-200, published in 1957, framed fitness as readiness for infantry combat, deemphasizing athletics.

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