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Frequently Asked Questions

Princeton during the Korean War

As early as August 1950, Princeton University personnel, who were reserve officers or who had entered the Selective Service System, began to be called up to military service for the Korean War. To ensure cooperation with the government and plan for instruction the Dean of the Faculty, J. Douglas Brown, circulated a request for information needed in a national emergency. Dean Brown later opposed the universal military training advocated by Harvard University president James B. Conant and other educators. The “Conant Plan” called for all 18-year-olds and all high school graduates to serve a two-year training period. Brown quibbled with the plan because he felt that the induction ages should not be rigid. Brown summed up his position in The Daily Princetonian on November 15, 1950, saying, “I believe that all able bodied young men will need to give two years of service to the Armed Forces at some time in their career, but the necessity for an uninterrupted flow of men trained in medicine, science, and engineering is such that we will need to defer certain men for eventual service.” Princeton students enrolled either in the Navy or Army ROTC programs were eligible for draft deferment through their reserve unit status. In 1950 the Princeton campus had 746 men who served in the ROTC—272 in the NROTC and the remaining 474 in the Army's organization.

In September 1950 University president Harold W. Dodds met with the undergraduate members of the 1950-1951 Committee of Fifty to discuss the war and its effect on the University. The committee examined not only the situation in the fall of 1950 but also analyzed future repercussions for the University. This included the increased return of students to campus in 1953 and 1954, serious manpower shortages for 1951, and future athletic and non-athletic extra-curricular activities. While Dean Francis Godolphin '24 hoped that the programs could remain as normal as possible, he knew that it would be impossible to maintain all activities at a high level.

Before the beginning of winter break 1950 President Dodds wrote a lengthy letter to all Princeton students to address his concerns over the war, particularly the state of the students and the future of University policy. Dodds called for a “calm reappraisal of the future and preparations for probable readjustments.” Putting the needs of the students at the forefront, he charged that “the guiding principle for faculty and administration will be flexibility and adaptability. . .” Dodds reiterated that he was more concerned with the student's well-being than the overall curriculum. He also cautioned against rumors regarding modifications in University policies and government developments. While the letter warned of challenges, it also focused on America's strength and power.

As the war escalated throughout 1951 and 1952, the main concern for students remained the draft. Many students wondered how their liberal arts education factored into a draft deferment if the war continued. A small number of students enlisted in the armed forces rather than being drafted later. In reaction, Dean Brown warned against making hasty decisions and stressed the importance of continued education. Students were asked to consult the Military Service Information Bureau, then in Nassau Hall, to assist in their final decision.

In 1951 President Dodds supported Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall's plan for a new draft. The plan proposed calling up young men of 18, or upon completion of high school. Dodds agreed with the plan because it called the men up to service when it was least costly to them. While Dodd's stand differed from Dean Brown's, the two men were able to see the student body through a tumultuous time. In January 1951, Marshall announced that students could complete the academic year and would not be called to duty until after that time. Then in March, a presidential order deferred students on class standing or scores received on a test prepared and administered by the Educational Testing Service, which then had headquarters in Princeton. General Lewis B. Hershey, director of the U.S. Selective Service System, later announced the specifics of the class standings. The deferment status would eventually be made by the local draft boards. Dodds and Conant both disagreed with the Hershey plan on the grounds that the program was undemocratic. However, Dean Brown and Dean Godolphin sustained the plan. Nearly all students who took the aptitude test, either passed or were in the portion of the class necessary for deferment. Nonetheless, even a passing score of 70 or higher did not guarantee a deferment, it was only a suggestion to the local draft board.

For many the situation felt similar to events that occurred during previous war times, such as the increased interest in officer training programs, enlistments, and expected curtailment of extracurricular activities. The decrease in student enrollment caused retrenchment in most areas of student aid in the fall of 1951. This included scholarships, loans, and jobs. Minot C. Morgan '35, director of the Bureau of Student Aid and Employment, proposed the adoption of using student waiters in the eating clubs, which eventually caused a controversy among the clubs. To address these and other issues concerning the state of the University, Dodds drafted a letter to alumni and parents in March 1951. He outlined five major categories that were of imminent concern for the upcoming year: general retrenchment, the drafting of college students, the question of acceleration, faculty problems and plans, and the future of liberal arts at Princeton. These continued to be the major concerns until the end of the war in 1953.

In total, 29 Princetonians died in the Korean War. Their names appear on the war memorial in the entrance hall in Nassau Hall.

Related Sources

The Daily Princetonian (Student newspaper)

Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, c. 1850-1996

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005

Office of the President: Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup, 1746-1999. See Harold Willis Dodds Records, 1896-1990.

Office of the Secretary Records, 1853-2002

Jennifer Walele (2003)

Last modified: Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 14:05:16 EDT