Socialism in the the U.S. Military

Phil Anderson

Calling your opponent  a socialist is a favorite American political slur. The public has been programed 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 synonymous with freedom or democracy. It is entirely possible to have a socialistic, or even communistic, economy and a representative democracy.

Bernie Sanders is unique in openly claiming to be a democratic socialist. He does not intend, however, to change the structure of the economy. Rather he simply advocates making the economy work better by being more inclusive. His proposals 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.

In light of this aversion to socialism, it is ironic that our most revered American institution- the US military- is socialistic. It is the most cradle-to-the-grave collectivist organization in America. Our most holy of sacred cows is full of entitlement programs. Our brave defenders of freedom enjoy many of Bernie’s socialist policies plus a lot more.

Military personnel are public employees. And their benefit package is much sweeter than the private sector provides. It is even better than other government employees receive. This is deemed necessary for recruitment, the well being of the troops, their families, and to mission success.

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. Keep in mind that socialism is an economic system in which the “means of production” are owned in common, often by the government.

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 with varying eligibility. As a military reservist retiree, I pay no premiums for family TRICARE coverage.

Public Housing. All active duty personnel have free government housing available in barracks or base family housing. If housing is not available personnel receive a housing subsidy (Basic Allowance for Quarters or BAQ). As a married reservist, I would receive this subsidy when I deployed to a two-week summer camp.  

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 (the PX/BX), liquor stores, and grocery stores (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 pubic schools for military children.

Family support services. The military is very concerned, at least rhetorically, 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.

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. 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 market meltdown. It is a tax supported entitlement. A person joining at 18 and doing 20 years of  active duty service would have health care and  a monthly income for the rest of their life.

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 civilians?