Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The New GI Bill (and let's bring back the draft)

In a column in today's New York Times entitled "Doing the Troops Wrong," op-ed writer Bob Herbert discusses the "New G.I. Bill" introduced by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, which would expand benefits for returning soldiers and has received bipartisan support--but which also is, surprise surprise, opposed by the Bush administration and John McCain. I will leave it to you to read Herbert's customarily cogent arguments in favor of the bill. But I want to zero in on one of several arguments the Bush administration has made against it: Expanding benefits would make it more difficult to keep soldiers from leaving the military after one round of enlistment, the so-called "retention" problem. A recent article in USA Today quoted Thomas L. Bush, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense, as follows: "Attracting qualified recruits using large, across-the-board benefits incurs the risk that many who enter for the benefits will leave as soon as they can use them."

In other words, rather than a way of rewarding brave young men and women for service to their country, the Bush administration sees the G.I. Bill primarily as a come-on to entice them into the military, with all of its risks in time of war, in hopes of a better life later on. And the idea is clearly to make the inducements just tempting enough to get them in, but not so good that they will want to leave anytime soon. I know that what I am saying is pretty obvious, but is this not the most cynical possible attitude towards those who now are bearing the burden of the Bush administration's blunders in Iraq? (the key blunder, of course, being starting the war in the first place.)

I should mention that I personally benefited from the G.I. Bill back in the Vietnam era. I spelled out the circumstances of my Army service in an earlier post on this blog (basically, I went into the Army to organize against the Vietnam War.) When I left the Army in 1971, my father and I were pretty much estranged and I received no financial support from my parents when I wanted to return to college. Without the G.I. Bill, I never would have been able to do graduate work at UCLA and my life would certainly have turned out differently than it has--maybe for better, maybe for worse, but certainly differently!

Back then we had a draft. I have argued elsewhere that we need to bring back the draft, make it permanent in both peace and wartime, and this time there should be no exceptions other than for legitimate medical problems (and even those unable to serve in the military should be required to engage in other kinds of service.) Why? Because only when all Americans, without exception, are required to equally share the risks and burdens of decisions about going to war, will Americans think twice, three, and four times before they enthusiastically endorse disasters like the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, etc. etc. It's as simple as that.

Comments welcome!

Update: Fred Kaplan does the math today in Slate and concludes that the US can't send more troops to Afghanistan unless it pulls them out of Iraq. No wonder the Bush administration is so worried about "retention." By the way, the big elephant in the room is that the U.S. has no better chance of "winning" in Afghanistan than the Soviets did, something that neither Obama, Clinton, nor the mainstream media want to discuss.


GM Roper said...

Michael, good to see you blogging because it gives me a chance to help the left see the light and come over to the enlightened conservative side.

All kidding aside, my only problem with Charlie Rangel and his original bill was that it was intended solely as a way to gin up support for an anti-war movement. Can't convince them otherwise, so we'll draft 'em and make them squirm.

Actually, a universal draft is a great idea. Military or national service. If the military, three years and lots of rewards. If national service, 2 years lowish pay and no benefits afterwards except knowing you helped someone.

No exceptions means medical excuses only, no college deferment, no marriage exclusion or baby exclusion (I'm old enough to remember that) or any other including no exclusion if you are female.

I too joined the Army, though not to protest, I was intending to be a hospital administrator in the Medical Service Corps - basic and AIT and OCS at Fort Benning. Didn't finish OCS but that is a different story - and got my masters and 30 additional grad hours on the GI bill. It's our debt to our soldiers and we damn sure ought to pay it or feel ashamed.

Good post... I think I'll be back and I'm adding you to my regular reads blogroll.

Michael Balter said...

Good to see you here, GM. I agree with you that the draft should not be a bludgeon to make folks oppose a particular war (I was opposed to Vietnam and Iraq, but in favor of the intervention in Kosovo.) But WWII showed that when Americans thought the cause was just, they didn't need a draft to do their part. With a draft, everyone will have to think about it first before they start shooting; let the thoughts fall where they may.

I have added you to my Blogroll too, we need conservatives with brains.

GM Roper said...

Wow, what a compliment Michael. Thank you!