This column first appeared on Latino Rebels.
Gina’s 21 and has just downed her third shot of Don Julio. Now her eyes are watery and she wears a big goofy grin. Earlier she split 56 ounces of mimosa from a foot-high plastic glass with her boyfriend and another girl, Lucy, whose going-away we’re marking with a group brunch at this joint in Spring Valley, two miles west of the Vegas Strip. The restaurant is literally around the corner from The MadHouse Coffee, where I came to see the South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg speak almost a year ago.
“Anybody but Bernie, right!” she says in the creaky voice that’s become a nationwide pandemic in the last two decades—too many people trying to keep up with the Kardashians, I suspect.
“What makes you say that?” I ask.
“We can’t afford Medicare for All!” she says bewilderedly, as if I should know that. “Or free college for everybody!”
I ask her why she thinks America, the richest country in the world, can’t afford to provide its citizens with health care and a good college education—like other countries manage to do, from Sweden to Cuba. Gina launches into a wild theory that free tuition at state colleges and universities would lead to lower standards at such schools.
I point out to her that, under the current profit system, it’s in a school’s best interest to keep standards low enough to attract the most number of customers—I mean students—and that, as it stands, it isn’t necessarily the smartest people who go to college, so much as the people who can afford it in the first place. There are plenty of smart people who should be studying at college or university as we speak, gaining the knowledge and skills which could boost our economy and lift society. But those people aren’t in school, for a variety of reasons: either they flat out can’t afford the tuition (plus room and board, books, transportation… ), or they need to spend their time making money to either help themselves or their families—maybe one of their parents has medical bills past-due.
Gina says nothing to this.
Later I come to find that Gina, who’s half-Japanese and half-white, was born on a U.S. base in Okinawa.
Must be nice to grow up pink and still be a patriot.
Because if not essentially then at least in function, “The US Military Is a Socialist Organization”: so reads the title of a recent article in The Nation written by a military spouse.
“Since my marriage at 23 to a career Marine officer,” the wife writes, “I have never had to exist in the messiness of what we in the military community refer to as living ‘on the economy.’ I have benefited from a tax-free housing allowance; the ability to shop for wholesome, subsidized food at the commissary; nearly free health care; and generous tuition assistance, which my husband and I were able to use to help pay for our master’s degrees. When my husband retires from the service, he will still have income in the form of a pension. This is the very definition of social welfare.”
Along with all those socialistic goodies, servicemembers are granted 30 days of paid leave every year, and they and their family members get to fly at little or no cost to nearly anyplace in the world. According to the page “Military Benefits At a Glance” on Military.com: “Servicemembers and their families live in well-designed and modern on-base housing communities that emulate what civilian communities offer, including schools, church facilities, gyms, libraries, banks, commissaries, theaters, restaurants, shopping and many other community support services.”
“Military bases are as close to a U.S. Government sanctioned socialist paradise as we’re going to get,” writes another spouse on the same website. “And that’s the way I like it.”
The only feature which keeps the military from being completely socialist—besides existing under a capitalist corpocracy—is that the military is an all-volunteer force, whereas socialism, according to that second wife, “generally leads to tyranny.”
That there’s no tyranny in the U.S. military is news to me. I know I’m a lowly civilian, but I’m sure I’ve heard something about a “chain of command,” “following orders,” and “doing one’s duty.” Aren’t freedom-loving soldiers punished for “disrespect” and “insubordination”? And in spite of policy changes, aren’t women and gays still non gratae in the armed forces?
Sounds pretty damn tyrannical to me.
And a man or woman with no money, no access to health care, or food, or housing, or higher education, and no real chance of ever getting such access—thanks to an economic system that treats workers like slaves and has gutted the social safety net—such a person can hardly be considered a volunteer when he or she joins the military. When my mother joined the Navy, and when my brother joined the Marines almost two decades later, they did so mainly because they had no other options.
I would’ve joined, too, but I was too stubborn. But even now, not having had a decent-paying gig in years, I still wonder.
Of course, members of the military earn their bit of socialism by risking their necks. The U.S. government needs bodies for its corporate wars over oil and other resources, but at least being human fodder comes with benefits.
The rest of the citizenry, however, get squat—something veterans and anyone kicked out of the military quickly learns. There are something like over 50,000 veterans sleeping on the streets of America the Beautiful. These are men and women who risked their lives for what they thought were “the blessings of liberty,” only for many of them to realize too late that they had actually joined a security force for Wall Street abroad—just as police departments act as security forces for Wall Street here at home.
And all they get for time served and a leg or arm blown off is a cold patch of concrete under some dank overpass, plus an empty belly. They spend much of their days begging for change from assholes who didn’t serve—assholes like yours truly—who drive by in brand new BMWs, on their way to some overpriced meal they’ll half-eat.
But “anybody but Bernie,” right? Anyone but the candidate who wants to provide every citizen with the benefits only given to Wall Street’s hired guns. Anyone but the man who wants to give you the right to a good-paying job, a decent home, a good education, a bit of food, and the right to see a doctor—without the risk of becoming yet another corpse for capitalism.
Anything but human rights!