23 November 2010

The military and the new "middle class"

I should know better than to get into a Facebook conversation with a low-rank enlisted person. I didn't grow up in a military family AND I have strong feelings about militarization and the American military, even though I  have very close friends, who are retired military. They are by far the most financially stable women I know. They were lifers. And as retirees, they're drawing military pensions and using military health care, while working in second careers. They have always shopped in subsidized shopping malls and have never had to worry about being laid off, or going without basic healthcare.

I don't begrudge them at all; we understand each other. But with the neoliberal and -conservative nincompoops, who argue for free-market policies and against things like universal healthcare, I've realized that there's no point in suggesting that our military is "socialism". And it's fruitless to point out the tragedy of young people in the United States having so few options to earn a  decent, stable living, that the military becomes an attractive one.

Two young family members of mine are military now. One through marriage and the other through joining up. The military-through-marriage family member posts regularly to FB cheers and slogans for our soldiers at war, while my family rallied around the other's graduation and subsequent deployment to the far east, proud of our new soldier. The back story: both moved back home for personal and economic reasons. One had major school debt from a for-profit trade school, the other couldn't seem to follow through with community college. Floundering in dead end jobs, with no passion or perspective to speak of, and completely bored, they met some military people stationed nearby their rural, middle class town, and voila.

It's no longer primarily the working poor who see the military as a vehicle for economic and social mobility and stability. In her talk on the Coming Collapse of the Middle Class, Elizabeth Warren traces the economic conditions that chronicle to my family story. The social and economic mobility my parents' generation benefited from, began deteriorating in my generation. Families like mine, with immigrants 1 to 2 generations removed, and few if any college degrees had opportunities, this generation does not.

What's the most distressing is that military training educates people to conform. It normalizes warfare and   the business of it. It creates in society a demography of citizens with economic and political power who don't dare dissent.