SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Service is for Suckers

Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.

As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”

Excuse me while I puke.

Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.

It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.

The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.

What you might not know is that this isn’t new.

The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.

During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”

For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.

Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.

Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.

Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.

In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.

Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.

Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”

Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)


22 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Service is for Suckers

  1. Oh, come now, Ted, you know full well that “Support our troops” is newspeak for “support the war”

    But anyway, take some young men, train them to kill indiscriminately, put them in an untenable situation for years, bring them home and ignore their problems. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Liberal Lie follows:

      If: The War is bad, but the Troops are good.
      Then: Support the troops.

      So: Support the good troops that support both good and bad wars.
      Means: Support the war whether the war is good or bad.

      So: “My country right or wrong” rears its ugly head again, with a linguistic twist.

      • For years my car sported a bumper sticker:


      • A liberal lady scolded me for not supporting the troops.

        I told her I didn’t support the troops when I was one, so why should I start now?

        Support the troops only means saying “Thanks for your service. Now go away where we won’t be bothered with the sight of you.”

    • Standing up when your country calls is a good and honorable thing to do. What our country did in ‘nam and is currently doing in the Muddle East is neither good nor honorable.

      Some of our troops enlisted because they felt they had no other option. Those people have my sympathy. Some enlisted because they bought the bullshit – okay, I have sympathy for the eighteen-year-olds who didn’t know any better. I remember being eighteen, and I realize that I wasn’t near so wise as I thought I was. Our MIC survives by exploiting those youngsters.

      But some enlisted because they just wanted to kill people. Brown people, pink people – doesn’t matter so long as they can be killed. Those sacks of shit would never get my sympathy even if they weren’t out there making the world hate us even more.

  2. A Vietnam-Era veteran, I had to enlist the assistance of my Senator to get the VA to acknowledge my eligibility for benefits. They still insist that I need to show up to have my photograph taken, even though I reside in Mexico. Copies of my papers, including passport, won’t satisfy them. Go figure. 🙁

      • Believe it or not, the bitch with whom I spoke, when I suggested emailing a copy of my passport, said: “We have no way of knowing that you didn’t steal the passport.”

        Isn’t that a great way to honor veterans?

    • My dad fought in WWII (for the allies ;-)) But he couldn’t get a birth certificate, citizenship, a passport, or a voter registration card until the 80’s.

      “Hey, we’ll let you die for the country, but we won’t acknowledge your existence without the proper paperwork.”

      • That puzzles me.
        Didn’t he have to have a birth certificate to enlist, in order to prove his age?

      • Nope. He was born in the backwoods near the Canadian border – nobody was ever sure which side of the line it was. I think there was some restrictions like he could never get a security clearance,but the US Army was happy to have another warm body.

  3. This will be quite unpopular, but so be it.

    I don’t support the troops. Go through the list of places the U.S. has put troops. Korea? Vietnam? Laos? Cambodia? Grenada? Look at all the places we’ve sent weapons to prop up — truly — the most monstrously bestial goons imaginable. And what backs it all up? Good cornfed ‘Merican boys ready to “do their patriotic duty for White Jesus and Country.”

    You want to serve your country? Stop allowing the murderous goons to get away with it.

    Goring said it during the Nuremberg trials: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; … But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along … All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

    Christ wept. How hard is this to comprehend? The wars are never against enemies; they’re for profits.

      • CrazyH,

        Not “blame the victim” exactly. Yes, these young people are dupes. But after a certain point, dupery becomes an inadequate explanation for participation in wholesale slaughter.

        The victims are the people minding their own business right up to the moment a bomb powerful enough to wipe out a whole village gets dropped on them by “one of our boys.”

      • @ alex_the_tired –
        But those aren’t “people” — they’re “collateral damage”!

      • Hey, Alex – I’ve been trying to formulate a reply w/o sounding snarky. Apologies if it comes through that way – it’s not intentional.

        I remember the end of the Viet Nam “war” – the people were fed up with it, and a lot of people took it out on the returning soldiers. They treated them all as if they were baby-killers, when in fact very few were.

        The thing is, soldiers don’t get to decide where & when to fight. The politicians do, they give guns to these damn farmboys, drop then into hostile territory, and let them decide whether to shoot back.

        The draft lottery was the first lottery I was happy to lose. If I’d been called up, I probably would have served. TODAY, I understand what bullshit nam was, but at the time I believed what my government and my parents told me to believe.

        Today, we’ve got young, eager boys raised in the bible belt to believe in ‘God, Guns, and Country’ They hear form their parents, their clergy, and of course their dear old Uncle Sam that we’re fighting for our very existence against the devil incarnate.

        Many of ’em sign up on their eighteenth birthday – one day earlier they were still considered children. They simply don’t have enough information to make an informed choice. Sure, that info’s available, but I know I was still pretty superficial at eighteen. I didn’t bother to look behind the curtain, and in fact hadn’t yet come to the realization that my government was capable of wrongdoing, let alone lying to its citizens. I’d been brought up to believe that my country had never, ever, done a bad thing to anyone.

        So, from that standpoint, yeah – the troops are victims. And yeah, they’re responsible for their own actions – as soon as they start conspiring to rape a sixteen-year-old and kill her family they become war criminals. I got no sympathy for them.

      • (Shaking fist at Ted’s fakakta reply system): You made some very good points. I want/need to think about them to give you a response that is considered. I don’t think you were being snarky. Clearly, you’re responding competently and intelligently, and I want to do the same. But it might take a day or two. Keep watching this space (or whichever one I sneak it into if this disappears off the front page).

        And thanks.

    • (Stupid “reply” key!)
      The wars are never against enemies; they’re for profits. And all these mostly young men carrying guns and dropping bombs and all the rest never seem to ever pull back from it and say, “Hmm. Why exactly AM I doing all this? Why am I destroying this entire village with a weapon barrage? Who, EXACTLY, is making a fortune off of this?”

      A few of them start asking those questions after they’re wounded, when the thrilling adventure turns out to involve them having to relearn how to wipe their ass with a prosthetic hand or go through life with a burned off face.

      No. I don’t support the troops.. When they start doing something other than acting as the enforcers for a bunch of thugs, we can revisit the notion.

      • After ‘Nam, America’s bankster oligarchs fixed the slave/soldier mutiny problem that developed during that conflict by resetting the civilian enlistment obligation as an all “voluntary” endenturement contract (You know, it’s always much easier to get volunteers out of economically devastated communities).

        Nowadays, they plan a war, then they target certain low-rent communities for depressed economic conditions, AND THEN they assault the community while advertising just how fantastically a young recruit can “get ahead” (or otherwise dig out of a hole) with all kinds of signing bonuses and education benefits.

        Ultimately, at least half of those recruits will never get the opportunity to exploit their recruiter-promised benefits. In the long run, all that need be done at the functional end of all those low-rent enlistee tours (or if a cannon-fodder get invalided out) is to find (or otherwise cause) some excuse to separate them under less-than-honorable circumstances.

        Hell, they’re even using “PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS” nowadays to deny benefits.


      • In response to CrazyH:

        You made some very good points. Points so good that I had to walk them back and forth for a couple of days.

        You’re correct to raise questions about how fair it is to expect an 18-year-old nonsophisticate to know how the world is made. You are correct: it is unfair of me or anyone else to expect a kid to walk into the bad part of town and not get caught in one of the many cons that are run.

        Your most compelling points were when you pointed out something I hadn’t considered sufficiently: all these young people are lied to by their parents/role models/etc. either due to lack of knowledge on those mentors’ part or for other reasons (i.e., the mentors were naive themselves).

        So I’ll modify. Whatever blame I throw at the feet of the people who do the actual murdering:
        1. Sometimes, people can be tricked into murdering, and in those cases, their blame is diminished.
        2. The people who tricked them into committing the murder–the older, wiser heads we all hear so much about–should take even more of the blame.

        But I’m not willing to let the soldiers off scot-free, because, even for a teenager indoctrinated all the way through life on Jesus, Elvis and Coca-Cola, there ought to be some moral imperative that says, “Whoa. Look at what you’re doing!”

        CrazyH, you are right in that these youngsters, in that they’ve been duped all the way through their young lives, should get some special consideration.

        I’d be more willing to give greater dispensation but, although I see ads on occasion trumpeting the military “code” of leaving no one behind and all the ads about how the veterans are getting shat on by a heartless public and how noble and good the military is, I never see ads from veterans telling me: “I was a soldier, and I killed children. And I want to tell all the young people thinking about enlisting … DON’T. They will lie to you, and they will turn you into a killer, and when you finally have that moment where you look back at what you’ve done, it will fill you with shame and regret for the rest of your life, and you will never be able to eliminate the feelings it will cause in you.”

      • Alex,

        They trap the young with fantastic-looking toys and almost abusively bravado images — ‘A Few Good Men’ — they train’em with a bunch of other young dumb-down punks who’ve been raised on Jebus, Elvis, and Coke, AND THEN they throw these sad sacks into a meat-grinder and instruct them simply … “Either you kill or get killed, Japs/Krauts/Gooks/Slopes/Raghead/Towelheads … it’s the same slaughter of you and your buddies if you refuse to perform.”

        “SO, here’s your 21st Century armor and sausage-making machines, have fun.” In a combat zone, NOBODY abandons a buddy. I don’t cut’em too much slack either, but you’ve gotta’ have an ounce of compassion at least. It really is the rest of us who’ve made them who they are from a system of cultural neglect we’ve made for ourselves.


  4. Why do you think that recruiters just LOVE young candidates? Mostly because our militarized society has instilled a “World-of-Warcraft” mentality in the cleverist of them. They sell the adrenaline high, but never tell the ignorant punks about the morning-after hangover until after they’ve signed the endenturement forms. By that time, they secretly know that they’re fucked for an enlistment, so ultimately, it’s less painless to pretend a patriotic fantasy.

    The vast majority of these little shits didn’t sign up for patriotism, instead, they signed up to take a super-exciting ride. It’s a Darwin moment where the most likely enlistment-denial survivors KNOW that becoming a corporate soldier/slave is tantamount to suicide. Fast or slow (bullet or poisoning from their own weapons systems), its just a death march.