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Is Our Leftist/Socialist Military Setting an Example That Many of Us Don't Want to Admit?

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What follows here is my summary and interpretation of a NYT column by Nicholas Kristof.

In many ways, our armed forces live by an astonishingly liberal ethos -- and it works.   Our military helped lead the way in racial desegregation, and even today does more to provide equal opportunity to working-class families -- especially to blacks -- than any social program.   It has been an escalator of social mobility in American society because it invests in soldiers and gives them skills and opportunities.  

In a way that America does not, the United States armed forces knits together whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics from diverse backgrounds, invests in their education and training, provides them with excellent health care and child care.   And it does all this with minimal income gaps:   A senior general earns just 10 times what a private makes, while CEOs at major companies earn more than 300 times as much as those cleaning their offices.   So let's not pretend otherwise:   the military ethos leans way to the left.  

"It's the purest application of socialism there is," Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, has stated.

"It's a really fair system, and a lot of thought has been put into it, and people respond to it really well," he added.   The country can learn from that sense of mission, he said, from that emphasis on long-term strategic thinking.  

The military nurtures camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees.   It features a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it follows that up with a veterans' health care system that is socialist in every sense of the word -- a system that has much lower costs, per patient served, than the American system as a whole.   And patient satisfaction with the service they get is much better than it is among health care recipients as a whole.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military is not its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are.   Rather, it's the military day care system for working parents.  


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While one of America's greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty and keep it from replicating one generation after the next), the military manages to provide superb child care.   The cost depends on family income and starts at a very affordable $44 per week.  

"I absolutely think it's a model," (to be followed) said Linda K. Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, which advocates for better child care in America.   Ms. Smith, who used to oversee the military day care system before she retired from the Defense Department, said that our military understands that good child care is a strategic necessity to maintain military readiness and to retain highly trained officers.  

One of the most admirable things about the military is the way it invests in educating and training its people.   Its tuition-free universities -- the military academies -- are excellent, and it has ROTC programs at other campuses around the country that are superb.   Many soldiers get medical training, law degrees, or Ph.D.s while in service, sometimes at the country's finest universities.   It's common to hear bromides about investing in human capital, but the military actually shows that it believes in this kind of investment.  

Partly as a result, it manages to retain first-rate officers who could earn far higher salaries in the private sector.   And while the ethic of business is often "Gimme," our socialist military inculcates an ideal of public service that runs deep.   In Afghanistan, for example, soldiers sometimes dig into their own pockets to help provide supplies for local schools.  

As America gropes for new directions in a difficult economic environment, the tendency has been to move toward a corporatist model that sees investments in people as woolly-minded sentimentalism or as unaffordable luxuries.   But our US military shows us otherwise.

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So, as the United States armed forces try to pull Iraqi and Afghan societies into the 21st century, maybe they could do the same for America.  



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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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