Daily Beast: ‘The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise’

Free health care.

Free health care.

Often, when talking to people who are horrified, appalled, mortified at the notion of a single-payer health care system — or who show contempt for the very notion that the government can do anything constructive — I speak of the way I grew up as a Navy brat during the Cold War.

I spent relatively little time in the cocoon of the military base — a couple of years in the run-down old Navy base in New Orleans (few amenities; most of the WWII-era buildings were boarded up), a couple more at MacDill Air Force Base, a place I only ever had to leave to ride the bus to my high school (my brother attended an elementary school on-base). The Army and Air Force, with their large garrison communities, always seemed to have the best recreational facilities and other amenities. The Navy’s focus was at sea.

But whether I lived on- or off-base, I had access to certain basics, such as free health care. My Dad gave his service to his country, including going to war, and in return he and his were taken care of. It made sense, and it worked.

Well, I see that Jacob Siegel at The Daily Beast has taken it to another level, with a piece headlined, “The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise.” An excerpt:

It probably comes as a surprise to many, but the army may have more in common with Norway than Sparta.

The U.S. military is a socialist paradise. Imagine a testing ground where every signature liberal program of the past century has been applied, from racial integration to single-payer health care—then add personal honor, strict hierarchy, and more guns. Like all socialist paradises, the military has been responsible for its share of bloodshed, but it has developed one of the only working models of collective living and social welfare that this country has ever known….

It’s not a terribly original idea, and I think he takes it a bit far. And does pure socialism have, as he notes, a strict, chain-of-command hierarchy? Is it informed by personal honor and devotion to duty? I suppose it could be, but those concepts suggest something other than an economic system to me. And there’s a good bit of Sparta in the life, for the active-duty people.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the proposition with you…

11 thoughts on “Daily Beast: ‘The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise’

  1. Silence

    There’s a few differences between the military and the theoretical socialist paradise. In the military, if you don’t work, or fail to perform, you will get kicked out. All of the members of the community work, from the lowest private to the highest general. There’s a very heirarchical structure, and either you advance, or you hit your high year tenure and are forced out. If that’s before you retire, it could be with nothing. Just a thank you, and a see you later.
    In a socialist paradise, you can lolligag and slack off all day long, and you still receive support from the state. There’s no way to eject the deadwood and takers.

    Another big difference is that the military lives in a relatively unconstrained budget environment. Even so, it is forced every few years to downsize and make tough decisions. Healthcare and retirement benefits eat up a larger portion of the DOD budget every year.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      But you’re describing socialism in the real world, from the perspective of a detractor.

      I think a person who BELIEVES that such a thing as a socialist paradise is possible probably assumes that everyone would pitch in willingly and pull their share of the load. It’s based in a huge faith in the proletariat….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        But I agree that the willingness to give your life for the larger society and its aims and ideals sounds more like Sparta than socialism…

        1. Silence

          Socialism might work for a while if everyone was able bodied and worked. The military does a great job of providing for the needs of the service-people and dependents, it truly coddles folks from cradle to grave. A 43 year old E-7 in my office is getting ready to retire and just got a rude wake-up call as he tries to transition into the civilian work force. His military pay and benefits package is worth well over 100k, he’ll have some retirement pay coming, maybe 25k, but the job offers he’s getting in the civilian world are 30-40k jobs, and that’s in a higher salaried area than Columbia, SC.

          Go to the DFAS website and look at all the additional pay and bennies available:
          Basic pay
          military clothing allowance
          Hardship Duty Pay
          Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay
          Assignment Incentive Pay
          Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay
          Arduous Duty Pay
          Career Incentive Pay
          Accession Pay
          Retention pay
          Responsibility Pay
          Skill conversion pay
          Transfer between services pay
          Basic Allowance For Housing
          Secondary Dependancy Pay
          Adoption Reimbursement
          Family Separation Allowance
          Temporary Duty Pay
          Moving Pay

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Um, in the military, the government controls the means of production. Sounds text book to me.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    I’m sure that socialists/leftists love the non-fighting aspects of the military life — the collectivization of people into a single body with one shared purpose. As an aside, the idea of a shared purpose is often craved by those with a religious impulse but who reject actual religion. (See, Environmentalism).

    Socialists/leftists are very open that they wish to be turned into a single cell of a much larger, much grander, much more transcendent body as their form of government and they are pretty casual about admitting that they would like a military-like society, with orders flowing down from those of superior rank to those of lesser rank. I guess they just think they’ll be the higher-ranking ones – the inner party.

    And it’s true: the military has these attributes, as it must. But people in the military are largely conservative-leaning, and opposed to collectivization generally.

    This guy at the Daily Beast implies this is somehow a contradiction – except in truth it’s not. A soldier might accept that he will give up certain rights of expression and choice for purposes of an undeniably grand purpose (defending the country) and only for that purpose.

    The simple fact that a solider will accept that he is not permitted to criticize his superior officers or while acting as a soldier does not suggest he believes that such rules apply to civilian. That’s because a soldier criticizing superior officers or refusing to follow orders could get himself or others killed.

    For instance, when the soldier leaves the military — most soldiers aren’t lifelong soldiers, after all, he may be completely averse to such a situation in his civilian life. As most do, of course.

    But the left seems to believe that if it works for the military, then by gosh…it really ought to work for society overall. And dystopian literature often hits on this. You get everyone involved in the war effort, making civilians just another (mostly bottom) layer in the military hierarchy. It also explains why there must always be some enemy out there to fight. Some end must be so important, so grand, that the means no matter how terrible may be justified

    It’s a creepy idea. It’s a totalitarian idea. The military is different from civilian life in many ways, and foremost among those is that the military obeys rules that regular civilians are not required to obey, nor even to recognize. The military isn’t an economic system, nor is it a complete society in itself, so the whole concept being pushed is ridiculous.

    But the left does see a well-functioning society as resembling the military, minus some aspects.

    But otherwise: March in formation, act as a single unit, sublimate individuality into shared purpose decided upon by your superiors, and so forth.

    And so they’ll keep on insisting on this point, claiming it reveals something about conservatives, without realizing it reveals far more about themselves.

    Silence also points out the accountability difference. In the military, You mess up = people die = your butt. They don’t want that part, but everything else sounds awesome.

    Or maybe this guy at TDB is just trolling everyone.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You don’t have to be a socialist, or even a liberal, to want your life to be about something larger than yourself.

      The military provides that, possibly better than any other institution in our society.

      There are other situations where you get some form of it. We had it on the editorial board at The State. I definitely had a sense of mission, and I experienced it through a group effort. I still have that sense of mission; I just don’t have the group any more.

      I’ve mentioned that I’ve been watching “West Wing” nightly while working out, and loving it. It’s probably not good for my mental health, though, because I’ve become so very jealous of those characters and what they have together. I don’t always agree with the things they’re trying to do, but that’s beside the point. The fact is that they get to do it as part of a group of people just as committed to serving their causes as they are, that what they do actually has an effect on the world around them.

      I mentioned that Ainsley, the young Republican lawyer who joins the staff, is possibly my favorite character (my second favorite may be Toby, although I really like Leo, too). She disagrees with this bunch of Democrats even more than I do, and is a wonderful foil for them. But she, too, is a member of the group; she feels the sense of mission perhaps more purely than they do — because she is there solely in order to serve her country, rather than the president’s party or anything like that.

      It’s no accident that the most powerful episode I’ve seen so far — the season 2 finale, which I watched last night not once but twice — used Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” to such effect. That’s the appeal of the show. These people are all brothers in arms, in a cause greater than themselves…

  4. Barry

    it only goes so far

    I have several military friends- they choose to live off-base – even though they could live on base.

    Why? More options, more choices, nicer choices, more variety.

    it might be a socialist paradise in that many military families qualify for public aid, and don’t make much money – while higher ups seem to do just fine.

    It’s not a socialist paradise if you are hurt – say in basic training – or they discover you have a medical conditon – they’ll boot you if you don’t pull your own weight.

    1. Silence

      Barry, that “military families qualify for public aid” stuff is outdated, or utter BS. You’d have to have a slew of dependents to do that.
      For example an E-2 stationed at Fort Jackson. He’s a private, not even a private first class, E-2 is pretty much an automatic promotion at 6 months of service. His annual salary would be $20,602. I agree, that’s not much, but it’s pretty good for an 18 year old. If he’s single, he’d live in a dormitory on base. If he’s married, he’d get $1413/month in untaxed housing allowance. He’d also get $323.87/month in untaxed BAS (meal money). If his family is large enough, he’d qualify for up to $1100/mo in untaxed FSSA (meal money). The FSSA is expressley to keep them off of SNAP or other public assistance.

  5. bud

    Is the alternative to pure socialism pure capitalism? If so then give me the socialism. Pure capitalism will eventually result in extreme income inequality to the point that 99.9% of all the people live at subsistence level merely to serve the capitalist masters. Thanks but no thanks.

    But I don’t think this is the case. Capitalism is like fire. It can do great good or great harm. It must be tended and restrained in order to work properly. If left un-regulated capitalism will burn brightly on the flesh of the lowly laborer who has few choices and little hope. Eventually the labor fuel will die out and only the embers of a misguided 1984 style “campfire” will remain. But if a strong, thoughtful, and active government regulates capitalism with adequate oversight it will keep everyone warm and light the way for hope, progress and a brighter future for all.

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