As if you needed another reason not to join the military

Yesterday MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that, due to the government shutdown, surviving families of US servicemen and servicewomen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq would have to wait until later to receive the $100,000 death benefits to which they were entitled.

Within hours political pundits and politicians from both parties were howling that this was an outrage. Yet neither of them proposed to do anything meaningful to ameliorate it.

This post is directed to those of you who are 17 or 18 years old, and who might have a passing thought to join the US military: don’t. This is why.

Not only is becoming a paid – low-paid – assassin for the US military immoral, it is stupid. When they’re done with you, they throw you away. That’s why the rates of poverty and suicide among veterans is sky high and going up all the time.

At bare minimum, you have the reasonable expectation that they will take care of your family if you pay the ultimate price for your role as a cog in the imperialist war machine, but no. Even when you think about it, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to even a working-class American’s lifetime expected earnings. But when push comes to shove, they don’t even pay that out.

Frankly, there really isn’t any excuse anymore to claim ignorance about this sort of thing. The US military has cheated its veterans going back to the Revolutionary war, when land grants that were promised in the then developing West didn’t materialize. World War I veterans cheated of pay formed the famous Bonus Army in the 1930s, which was wiped out by federal troops as they camped out on the Washington Mall. And anyone who lives through the 1970s and 1980s saw the detritus of the heroes of the Vietnam War littering the streets of New York City and other major metropolises.

Don’t be an idiot. Don’t sign up.

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About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at, editor-in-chief of, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

13 thoughts on “As if you needed another reason not to join the military

  1. Having decent people join up with a rigid, hiearchical, authoritarian, immoral, and malicious system won’t change that system for the better in and of itself. You’d have to have huge numbers of anti-authoritarians join up; otherwise, anyone, no matter how decent, would conform. The military doesn’t crush righteousness, it squirrels it away into dark, dry corners where it cannot grow nor affect anything of substance.

    Then there’s the fact that anti-authoritarians would suffer, even be killed, once they join up, until they make up a good chunk of the officer corps. No picnic, that.

    But even if you could get anti-authoritarians to join up en-masse, the military would just change the rules to preven that. White supremacists are fine, but hardcore populists or anti-authoritarians will be kept out with relative ease. They’ve done it before.

    We don’t have a draft because The Wrong Kind of People were joining the military. And that only took a few.

    I believe we’d be better off bum-rushing city council than the corps.

    Or we could split the difference and get decent people to join the police force. Compromise?

  2. aaron:

    None of those benefits make the risk of being at the front reasonable. That’s why I specified going in an officer. It’s not the pay, as it were, but the probability that you’re not going to have to spend a lot of money — or your life — on the privilege of receiving that pay. Then, of course, once you get out — well, Susan covered that.

    As to rape:

    You’re wrong. Horribly wrong.

    The standards you quote are bullshit. Complete and unadulterated.

    You cite de jure standards. I am referring to de facto practice.

    You are aware that the vast majority of Jim Crow laws and policies were illegal long before the Supreme Court struck them down, yes? And you should be aware that NAFTA is blatantly illegal under the most banal readings of the U.S. Constitution. And while it’s illegal for police to murder unarmed black men — y’know what? If I need to drop links on that, that’s a problem that, I’m afraid, you have.

    So now that we’re clear that de jure << de facto, we can be clear:

    The military tolerates rape. Period.

    This is the most obvious, painful example. Go on and get through the first ten pages of googling U.S. military rape. Go on. Be my fucking guest. And get back to me with the proof that those worthless regs you cite mean anything, because without that, I'll point out that the U.S. circa 1945 presented no racial discrimination under the same standard.

  3. @Aaron

    I think you’re missing the point, and that is that veterans are not treated well. Notice I said “veterans”, not active duty personnel. By focusing on active duty military, you are actually changing the subject and practicing obfuscation. Please don’t do that.

  4. Sekhmet,

    When you say that the military is “perfectly okay…with rape” you are, of course, wrong. I can only assume that you are being overly dramatic for effect.

    Official military policy details the position clearly. Sexual harassment and assault are forbidden. All military members are required to attend sexual harassment/sexual assault prevention training at least once per year. There are 1-800 whistleblower numbers clearly publicized if a member doesn’t feel that they can go to their chain of command directly.

    Certainly there have been many highly publicized cases of abuse and assault.

    I don’t remember any where the perpetrators were not punished though.

    Here is the army’s policy document on the matter:

  5. Sekhmet,

    I wanted to focus my comment on the pay and benefits side, because that is a simple black and white issue that I know enough about to speak to. If folks can be persuaded by facts, then it is clear that for the average east bumfuck high school graduate, military pay and benefits are good.

    On that front, you contend that enlisted base pay is shit. I think you can only draw that conclusion if you don’t take into account the other benefits I mentioned such as the free medical and dental, the tax free shopping, and the foreign service and hazardous service bonuses. Also, I left out a big piece, which is free room and board. Enlisted personnel can live for free in base housing and eat for free at the chow hall.

    So if you are getting free room and board, and free medical and dental, and 30 days of paid vacation per year, you are already living pretty good for an 18yo with nothing more than a high school diploma.

    But the pay is not terrible either. Absolute rock bottom starting out pay is $1403 per month for the first 4 months, and then goes up to $1516 per month for the next 20 months. That money is all yours to keep, because as I’ve said, you have no living expenses. How much would a private sector kid have to earn in order to bring home a comparable amount of post-expense profit each month?

    See the pay chart here:

  6. Yes – We are exceptional. Exceptional in our treatment of the old, the needy and let’s not forget that we have imprisoned the highest percentage of our populationa than any other country in the entire world. Now we have a small group of the most radically exceptional holding the country’s economy as a hostage to force more a exceptional mandate. More news at 11.

  7. aaron:

    I mentioned getting a B.A. for a reason: you want to go in an officer. If you’re not, isn’t it likely you’re going to the front? Isn’t your chance of injury high? And enlisteds don’t make shit for that base pay you’re talking about.

    Then there’s the stress. That suicide rate isn’t something you want to screw with. Does that math work out, from even a modestly selfish perspective?

    And let’s not forget military culture, which some may find disagreeable — I’m less absolutist on this because it depends upon your posting.

    But also let’s not forget that the military is perfectly okay, despite the controversy, with rape.

    How does the thought of potentially being raped, or killing (or at least beating down), a potential rapist factor into that math? Keep in mind, your attacker will probably have superiority over you, so you’re facing down the hiearchy itself after the attack. Sure, not everyone in gets raped, so what odds do you lay down on that?

  8. You can make the moral argument, and you may be right on that one, but you are dead wrong about military pay and benefits.

    The military offers outstanding benefits, including:

    -30 days of paid vacation time per year, in addition to paid federal holidays and family emergency time if needed.

    -free medical and dental.

    -salaried base pay, plus many bonuses for hazardous duty and foreign deployments, and income-tax free while abroad.

    -retirement with a lifetime pension after 20 years of service. (retired with a pension at 40yo? yes)

    -the GI Bill: for a $2,000 buy in you can potentially get back tens of thousands in education benefits which not only cover tuition and books but also gives a stipend so you don’t have to work while going to school.

    -VA home loans which have no money down options and pay for your mortgage insurance.

    -tax free and discounted shopping at base grocery and retail stores.

    -access to VA medical, mental, and substance abuse care if you find yourself in dire need down the road. (pretty strict income restrictions for this though)

    -the 100K death benefit, which you mention, which is free to the member and the family, but also the option to buy much more than that in life insurance at discounted rates.

    This is just a quick list, and I’m sure I’ve left many things out, but even so, from a purely economic/employment perspective, military service is an outstanding option. If only we had benefits this good in the private sector.

  9. Ted, you forgot Shay’s Rebellion, where our soldiers revolted, just after the Revolutionary War, because the U.S. refused to pay them what they were owed. I know you implied it, but it’s important to mention it by name. Why? Two reasons.

    First of all, this rebellion is why the 2nd Amendment exists: to increase state power. Yes, that’s right motherfuckers, all that shit about the 2nd Amendment protecting your rights is just that: shit. It’s been reinvented so that modern dumbasses can have their toys, but at the framing, the point was to put down rebellions, not enable them.

    Which brings us to the second reason: that new government, new constitution, and new 2nd Amendment were soon put to use in the Whiskey Rebellion where a sainted Washington slaughtered his own citizens who had the temerity to rebel after they had — get this — been taxed without being represented.*

    It has always been thus.

    I will say that there is a good reason to join the military. It’s the same reason you join the mob. If you’re clear-headed, reasonable, unethical, ruthless, and have your B.A., the military can be a decent choice. In this case, you are fully aware that you are joining the enforcement arm of a murderous criminal organization and can make decisions accordingly.

    Unfortunately, I believe that there are many terrible people making the above choice. And I strongly suspect that they are doing well.

    *N.B. — To the best of my knowledge, it never occured to any leader to simply give the rebelling persons representation.

  10. This is sage advice. Anyone thinking of joining the US military should see Errol Morris’ documentary “Standard Operating Procedure” about the Abu Gharib torture scandal. All these low-level yokels from the sticks were just following orders, direct orders in a war zone, on what to do with the prisoners at Abu Gharib. And when the shit hit the fan, all of those low-level yokels were hung out to dry while the generals not only walked away unscathed, they were promoted. Why? They handled the crisis efficiently, got some easy scalps, kept the powerful insulated, and moved on. Those that were scalped? Their lives were ruined. They not only got booted from the military, they did jail time, have felony records and can’t even get jobs at a 7/11 now.

    To quote Bill Hicks: “Anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military, should be allowed in”.

  11. Most don’t listen to the veterans. No one wants to believe terrible things about their country or society. It doesn’t even occur to most people to think at all. Yeah. We have to think, to realize, to decide to start thinking. These things aren’t worth more than a cursory glance to most people. What matters as always, are appearances. Pols talk a good talk and fools buy yellow stickers.

    I wanted to join the military for the experience and the skills. I had no illusions about patriotism or duty. Two things stood out among all the negatives about such a choice. I would hate the animals with whom I served, and I realized after all those Seals died on a Chinook, that I could not trust my commanders with my life.

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