HARTFORD, Conn., Thursday—There is one thing I have been meaning to write about for a good many days. It is the bill of rights before Congress to extend to the men of the Merchant Marine certain rights that now belong exclusively to the men in the naval service.
It seems unfair that these merchant seamen, who were all volunteers and who, in proportion to their numbers, lost more men in the war than any other branch of our fighting services, should not have the same benefits that sailors in the regular Navy enjoy. Over 1500 merchant ships were lost and over 6,000 merchant seamen were lost or taken prisoner during the war.
According to a poll taken by Dr. George Gallup, I understand that, on the whole, the voters are in favor of doing more for the Merchant Marine men. One of the reasons they gave was: "The Merchant Marine boys are not going to have any easier time than the rest in finding jobs after the war." And again: "They risked their lives for their country, and they are volunteers, too."
Many a man who could not get into any of the other services finally got into the Merchant Marine. Many men who sailed in the Merchant Marine were old sea-dogs, far over draft age. I think, as do the 60 percent of the citizens who voted "yes" in Dr. Gallup's poll, that they are entitled to the benefits under this bill. Their needs, as well as the needs of the men in the naval service, should have full consideration and protection through our Government.
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It is something of a jump from the men of the Merchant Marine to the production of a play. The connection is hardly obvious, and yet, if you read or see "On Whitman Avenue," you will see that a question of justice is involved in this play, just as it is in the case of the merchant seamen. It took Canada Lee and Mark Marvin a long time to raise the money to produce this play, and I hope very much that, after it has played Buffalo and Detroit, it will come to New York and have a long enough run to repay those who had faith enough to produce it.
It deals with a question which is very vital to us at the present time, since the eyes of the world are on us just now. Our fight for democracy and justice, when all the various elements that make up our citizenship are concerned, is an essential fight to give that sense of strength and confidence in democracy which has to permeate the world. This play, through its portrayal of day-by-day incidents in an average community, makes one alert to the dangers that may defeat democracy and justice if we are not on our guard.