Occupy the Military

In recent years, both the civilian government and the military leadership have made a serious effort to elevate the cultural station of military personnel from that of citizen soldiers to the loftier and more separatist “warrior.” They’re all warriors now, and heroes. The end result is that both soldiers and civilians increasingly view the former as a breed apart.

That’s not a good thing. For obvious democratic reasons, one wants the military to identify and empathize with the populations whence they spring. Identifying common experiences is one way to do that, and one experience a lot of military personnel have in common with a lot of civilians is that they’re making crap money and the people signing their paychecks don’t seem to care much about them. Another is that if they lose their jobs, they’re in deep trouble almost instantly.

I ran across a couple of items yesterday that suggest an avenue for amplifying the Occupy protests within the U.S. by involving military personnel. One was a comment by my pal Schmutzie over at his place about a plan announced by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain to inflict some serious Bad upon veterans benefits, and the other was the first truly useful Twitter message I’ve received during my limited relationship with the service.

For whatever reason, congressional Republicans particularly but congressional persons in general like to support our troops by screwing them and, more dramatically, our former troops. Veterans benefits have been under steady assault for decades; once someone is mostly out of uniform and no longer heavily armed, their primary utility is as an occasional prop. The AP story Schmutzie found (in his local newspaper, hurray!) details the latest, and most frenzied in recent memory, example.

Republicans and Democrats alike are signaling a willingness — unheard of at the height of two post-Sept. 11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — to make military retirees pay more for coverage. It’s a reflection of Washington’s newfound embrace of fiscal austerity and the Pentagon’s push to cut health care costs that have skyrocketed from $19 billion in 2001 to $53 billion.

The numbers are daunting for a military focused on building and arming an all-volunteer force for war. The Pentagon is providing health care coverage for 3.3 million active duty personnel and their dependents and 5.5 million retirees, eligible dependents and surviving spouses. Retirees outnumber the active duty, 2.3 million to 1.4 million.

Combined with the billions in retirement pay, it’s no surprise that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said personnel costs have put the Pentagon “on an unsustainable course.”

Possibly there are other expenses that have put the Pentagon on an unsustainable course, as illustrated in the Powerpoint graphic at left excerpted from the country’s Quadrennial Defense Review, but those pale in comparison to the threat posed by the incessant whinging of our veterans. “But I want an education, but I’m sick, but the place where my leg used to be hurts, but I have PTSD, but I need to eat …” Well, wah, wah, wah. Crybabies.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, members of both parties are lining up behind this one. Levin and McCain are the most prominent ones because they’re the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but a lot of others are squeaking about it as well. Sometimes veterans groups and their congressional supporters manage to forestall or minimize the damage done to veterans and their families at particular moments, but with the economy down, recruiting up and the urgency of Iraq behind us, at least for the moment, it’s a relatively safe time for Congress and the administration to be kicking veterans to the curb.

Which brings me to the second item on today’s agenda. A while back I signed on to follow one among the numerous Twitter feeds claiming to represent the hacker collective, Anonymous. I don’t visit Twitter often and when I do it’s usually to find barrages of stuff from a few of the people I follow drowning out the rest. A few hours before I read the story about Congress going Darwin on veterans, though, I happened upon the Anonymous tweet you see to the left.

The link leads to the full-sized version of the photo displayed rightward. It’s the only photo I’ve seen of someone in the military participating in the protests so one can’t draw any conclusions from it, but the uniform and the Guy Fawkes mask—currently a favored symbol of Anonymous supporters—work well together.

Turning the attention of military personnel from their about-to-be-concluded work of occupying Iraq on behalf of sociopaths and profiteers to the more useful work of occupying Wall Street and the other Occupy sites in solidarity with their fellow citizens could dramatically increase the degree to which the protests are taken seriously by policy makers and the larger public.

There is a vast stand of common ground: Among the many stories representing the 99%, few are more expressive of the contempt our rulers feel toward us than the one about the soldier whose family is living off food stamps while he or she is overseas occupying some hapless land and killing the people who live there on behalf of the 1% and the political class who represent it, and who is discarded and scorned by the same classes when his utility is ended. And for women, things are worse: In addition to all the other drawbacks, the risk of sexual assault is much higher than in the civilian population.

That’s on the harshest end, but service members who don’t go overseas struggle with the same issues of pay while they’re in the service and the continual assaults on their benefits once they’re out. As with most workers, they’re valued much more in the abstract—the work ethic of the common man, the sacrifice of the soldier—than in the concrete.

Reach out, organize, occupy. And spike the guns in advance.

NPR’s money show, Marketplace, came up with one of the more bizarre turns on the Occupy protests in a show last week. The host noted the general puzzlement about the Occupy agenda and then said that “there’s starting to be a push for something called the Robin Hood tax: a 1 percent tax on financial transactions and currency trades.”

After that, we learn … nothing. A Marketplace correspondent turns in a report featuring a few seconds of the protesters chanting something, presents two consultants who oppose the idea and nobody, from the protests or elsewhere, who supports it, and then closes with this:

“The Robin Hood tax has its own website as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account. But despite its populist appeal, few economists think it will happen in the U.S. any time soon.

In New York, I’m Heidi Moore for Marketplace.”

Journalists! As Samuel Clemens may or may not have said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

6 thoughts on “Occupy the Military”

  1. Another take was published in a Tribune column by Ron Grossman (mysteriously absent from the online version) in which he said it amounts to college graduates finding that their degree means nothing and their wanting to avoid permanently sleeping on their parents’ couch. That might actually have some political traction. Nobody listens to veterans. Remember the WWI vets camping out in Washington for their benefits until McArthur attacked them with active duty troops?

    1. Student debt seems to be an increasingly urgent issue. It’s funny how the press notice stuff when it’s their kids. There are a lot of opportunities to expand the base. Recent veterans can reach out to their active duty buddies. The Machinists Union was doing a “Union of the Unemployed” thing, which could be helpful. The October 2011 people got preempted by Occupy Wall Street, but their coalition is somewhat more broad, so they’ll chip in when they get over being miffed.

      I don’t actually remember the MacArthur thing, and I’m heroically refraining from age-ist jokes here, but yeah, the Bonus Army has been on my mind the past year or two.

  2. Probably not the case with Ron who is older than you imply I am. He might be worried about his grandchildren I suppose. He is a onetime history professor who took a wrong turn and went into journalism.

    Interesting piece by Clarence Page today reporting on Obama starting to get heat from Latinos about immigration and deportation policies. I have a friend who was at a Latino fundraiser for him in Los Angeles day before yesterday and reports that he did indeed take a lot of heat.

    Maybe he’ll finally get past Rahm Emmanuel’s terrible advice to not worry about his base because they have nowhere to go.

    1. Jack, not with Grossman in mind, just your mention of his story reminded me of the increasing number of student loan stories I’ve read during the past year or so.

  3. Consider Panetta’s comment. I have no other way to read what he’s saying except that he’s blaming the “unsustainable course” on the cost of the people in, or formerly in, the military. It’s a human problem. He’s actually telling us that minus the increasing cost of taking care of retired troops, the Pentagon’s budget, …it’s course, would be sustainable? No problem finding $700billion in the federal budget to keep on building shit like this . Oh sure, they’ll argue a little with Lockheed Martin, all the while making sure that we hear them arguing, but when all is said and done LM will get their dough, the pols will get their campaign donations, and the gears will keep on grinding along. But boy oh boy, an extra $22billion to cover benefits for the people who used to be our boots on the ground? Whoa whoa whoa, let’s not get carried away. Sure they were patriotic hero warriors and all that other rah-rah crap, but business is business and we’ve got to cut costs somewhere…


    1. No, you’re right, I don’t think there’s any other way to interpret it than “veterans are ruining the military.” It’s just bizarre. I mean, I can sort of understand the bigfoots just ignoring veterans, but I don’t understand what appears to be this active resentment of them.

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