Socialism Supports the Troops… So Why Not the Rest of Us?

This year a number of candidates for state and national offices are running as democratic socialists. Many of these candidates are women and minorities. AND they are being successful in the primary elections! It appears that younger voters are looking for real solutions to our problems and are not as susceptible to meaningless attack ad labels.

Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist. But Bernie does not intend to change the structure of the economy. Rather he simply advocates making the economy work better by being more inclusive. His support for universal healthcare, affordable college, regulation of Wall Street, and increasing the minimum wage are about managing the capitalist economy better. It is about making it more fair and making it work for everyone instead of the few.

Calling your opponent a “socialist” is a common political slur. The public has been programmed to equate socialism, or any deviation from pure, free market capitalism with being un-American. The Constitution, however, does not say much about organizing the economy. Capitalism is NOT established in the Constitution. Neither is it synonymous with freedom or democracy. It is entirely possible to have a socialistic, or even communistic, economy and a representative democracy consistent with our Constitution .

In light of this attitude toward socialism, it is ironic that our most revered American institution – the U.S. military – is highly “socialistic.” The Pentagon operates extensive social programs for its people that fit the inaccurate, but common, definition of “socialism.” The military has more cradle-to-the-grave entitlement programs than any other organization in America. Our brave defenders of “freedom” enjoy many of Bernie’s “socialist” policies plus a lot more.

We often denigrate public employees as lazy and overpaid with excessively generous benefits. But military personnel are also public employees. Their benefit package is better than other public employees receive. Military benefits are much sweeter than the private sector provides. And there is no concern for the troops developing unhealthy “dependency.”

In fact, the military leadership deems these benefits necessary for recruitment, the well- being of the troops, their families, and for the success of the military mission.

I can talk about this hypocrisy because I have lived it and, as a military retiree, still receive some of these benefits. Let’s look at how “socialism” works for the troops.

Socialized Medicine. All active duty military personnel and their families get free healthcare at military medical facilities. There are no premiums and no, or few, co-pays. It is a universal, tax-supported health care system, provided by government owned facilities. In addition military families and retirees are eligible for TRICARE, an insurance program for using private sector medical providers. VA medical facilities provide another option for former military personnel with varying eligibility.

Public Housing. All active duty personnel have free government housing available in barracks or base family housing. If housing is not available on base, personnel receive a housing subsidy to help pay for off-base housing (Basic Allowance for Quarters or BAQ). Because I was married, I received BAQ when on active duty including when I was at the annual two-week reserve training.

Communal Restaurants. All military personnel have access to government owned and operated dining facilities (mess halls). Meals are provided free to service members. Family, guests, and retirees can “dine” at very reasonable cost.

Collectivist Shopping. All military bases have department stores (called the PX or BX), liquor stores, and grocery stores (called the commissary) for use by military personnel, families, and retirees. Although they are usually operated by private contractors they use government owned facilities.

Government Owned Recreation Facilities. Military bases have a host of free recreational options. They include recreation centers, bars (the EM or Officer Clubs), movie theaters, libraries, golf courses, gyms, motels, and churches.

Education. The Department of Defense is a huge provider of education. As recruitment incentives the DOD provides the GI Bill, student loan repayment programs, tuition assistance, and on base education opportunities. On overseas bases the DOD operates free public schools for military children. ROTC and other educational enlistment incentives help many people get college degrees. Years ago on active duty, I attended community college evening classes and the tuition was paid for by the Army. I attended FREE!

Family support services. The military is very concerned in the welfare of military families. DOD believes that the well-being of families can impact the effectiveness of the troops and thus affect mission accomplishment. So they provide a number of support services such as day care centers, marriage counseling, legal services, support groups, and alcohol and drug counseling. All military personnel have annual briefings on domestic abuse, race relations, and sexual harassment to promote good behavior and domestic harmony.

Paid vacation, sick leave and maternity leave. All active duty personnel get 30 days of annual paid vacation. You do not accumulate “sick days” but your pay is not affected by being sick. Neither are you docked for time off to have a baby.

Equal Pay. There is no wage discrimination for women or female dominated occupations such as clerical, food service, and nursing. There is no discrimination for minorities or your age. Pay is based only on rank and years of service.

Retirement. You can retire after 20 years of service. Retirement pay is guaranteed and based on your rank, accumulated retirement points, and years of service. You do not contribute to this account and there is no employer “match.” There is no worrying about your nest egg disappearing in a stock market meltdown. A person joining at 18 and doing 20 years of active duty service could retire at 38. He or she would have health care and a monthly income for the rest of their life. It is a tax supported entitlement. No other employer, public or private, provides this sweet a benefit.

If the benefits given to our troops are considered necessary for their well-being and for national security, why do we deny similar benefits to the rest of us? If “socialism” is good for the troops shouldn’t it also be good for all citizens?