Monday, June 02, 2008


History Lesson of the Day: Consequences of the 1944 GI Bill

The original GI bill of 1944 is a landmark piece of US welfare legislation.... Because 7.8 million men – the ruling class of the next generation – benefited from the GI bill, its drawbacks have been ignored or denied. It had no impact on the bottom of the US income pyramid. It drove female students out of universities. It was the channel through which the hierarchical, macho culture of the military spread into boardrooms and town halls. Its cultural legacy includes the three-martini lunch, Playboy and a lot of soulless public architecture. —Christopher Caldwell in a column for the Financial Times, "Military makes its sacred claim"

The writings of Christopher Caldwell, who has über-Conservative credentials as a senior editor of the Weekly Standard, can also be found in the op-ed pages of the New York Times and Slate.

Caldwell attempts here to establish an historical basis for rejecting Senator Jim Webb's "21st-century GI bill" that was just passed by the Senate in preference to John McCain's stripped-down proposal.1 (McCain wants to offer the veterans something more in line with the generosity of Bush-Cheney and the Pentagon.)

According to Caldwell, the 1944 GI Bill—

Who knew we'd live to see the day when a conservative columnist would present neo-Marxist arguments against educational benefits for veterans? I felt as if he were trying to tempt me.

But assuming that Caldwell's conclusions are correct (which we shouldn't), there are notable differences between 1944 and now—

With these factors in mind I have to support the increase in veterans benefits. But I have a great idea for cutting their costs and for freeing up the money to pay for them: Get the military out of Iraq. Today.

6/3/08 – The LA Times has issued a correction to the material quoted in the footnote below:
GI Bill: A May 30 Op-Ed article about the GI Bill said the 1944 bill offered full benefits to any veteran who served 90 days. The bill paid for 12 months of college or vocational school if a veteran served 90 days, with additional benefits, up to 48 months of school, for each month of military service.



1The increase in veterans assistance represented by Senator Webb's bill is still a more modest plan than the original GI bill. Edward Humes, who has authored a book on the effects of that bill, writes

Before the Senate voted on Webb's GI legislation, McCain offered what he called a compromise bill, but it was rejected. Webb pointed out that there really was no compromise in McCain's proposal because it would have excluded most veterans by offering full education benefits only to those with multiple enlistments, even though 70% to 75% of enlistees leave after one tour.

Compare McCain's stingy standards with the original GI Bill: Any veteran who served 90 days during World War II, in combat or not, earned full benefits. [See correction above.] It is Webb's bill that represents the reasonable compromise between the gold standard set for the "greatest generation's" original GI benefits and what is doable in today's economy: a GI Bill that will truly pay for a college education after three years of service, without the onerous payroll deduction.

Humes also gives a helpful summary of McCain's recent votes on veterans issues—

* On Webb's GI Bill, he expressed opposition, and he was AWOL when it was time to vote on May 22.

* Last September, he voted against another Webb bill that would have mandated adequate rest for troops between combat deployments.

* On a badly needed $1.5-billion increase for veterans medical services for fiscal year 2007 -- to be funded through closing corporate tax loopholes -- he voted no. He also voted against establishing a trust fund to bolster under-budgeted veterans hospitals.

* In May 2006, he voted against a $20-billion allotment for expanding swamped veterans medical facilities.

* In April 2006, he was one of 13 Senate Republicans who voted against an amendment to provide $430 million for veterans outpatient care.

* In March 2004, he voted against and helped defeat on a party-line vote a $1.8-billion reserve for veterans medical care, also funded by closing tax loopholes.


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