There was a time when we didn’t send our kids off to kill and risk being killed without the quid pro quo of a hearty and generous “Thanks, fella!” It was called the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the “GI Bill.”
William Atherton was a lawyer and leader in the American Legion and is principally regarded as the author and leading champion of the GI Bill. Atherton wanted to create a comprehensive program to prevent a repeat of the Bonus Army debacle from 1932, when 17,000 Great War veterans marched on Washington D.C. in the midst of the Depression to demand payment for the Service Certificates they received in 1924 which weren’t due to mature and be redeemed until 1945. Atherton didn’t think the bill as it was proposed by FDR went far enough and worked to have the bill expanded to cover women and African-Americans (for all his progressive legislation, FDR had a blind spot when it came to the Negro, like a lot of white men of his generation–excepting Harry Truman, of course).
As social legislation goes, the bill was a big hit with its beneficiaries and did wonders for the U.S. economy for decades to come. Veterans received money to survive while they looked for work and were offered low-interest, no-down-payment home loans, in addition to generous full-ride educational benefits. This is the kind of Communist social welfare that gives up-by-the-bootstraps advocates like Sean Hannity low-level strokes.
Nonetheless, the GI Bill was essentially responsible for the prosperous middle class of the 1950s and 1960s, and estimates are that every dollar invested in the GI Bill returned $7 to the United States economy in human productivity and industry. I’m no economist, but I believe that’s what the green eyeshade types call “a good ROI.”
Congress and the Ford Administration started to gut the GI Bill in the mid-1970s, arguing that men and women serving their country didn’t deserve GI Bill benefits when they weren’t being shot at. This was at a time when the American military was perceived–and to some extent may have been–a motley crew of drug-addicted goldbrickers. It’s been increasingly eviscerated ever since.
And in any case, the days of the birth of the GI Bill were a much more Pollyannish time. We’ve got two wars to fight now, and we don’t know where the hell our enemies are at, except for the 850 or so that are in Iraq, and the young men and women voluntarily subjecting themselves to IEDs and mystery illnesses from exposure to depleted uranium are doing so of their own volition. And, in a recessed economy, they’re quite frankly lucky to be gainfully employed. So, your country thanks you for your service, but if there’s nothing else on your mind, please shut up and get back to work. When your tour is done, we’ll give you a few Benjamins for textbooks.
One of the last Senatorial races to be settled in 2006 was the campaign in Virginia between Senator George “Macaca” Allen and former Reagan Secretary of the Navy turned Democrat Jim Webb. Jim Webb won that race and met George Bush at a November 28, 2006, reception for newly-elected Congressional members. He declined to have his picture taken with the President, as he had a young son in the war in Iraq and had run on an anti-war platform. The President managed to corner him at one point. “How’s your boy?,” the President asked.
“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President.”
“That’s not what I asked you,” said the President. “How’s your boy?”
“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President.”
On his first day in the Senate after taking the oath of office in January 2007, Senator Webb introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, or a “GI Bill for the 21st Century.” While not nearly as far-reaching as the original GI Bill, it does a lot of good and says a lot of thank yous for our kids risking their lives for the War on Terror.
It’s gained wide support in Congress. So far, Webb’s bill has 51 co-sponsors, including nine from the GOP side of the aisle, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is just good politics, and everyone who’s a good American and supporting our wars will be on board.
Except for one conspicuous absence from the list of co-sponsors: Our All-War-All-The-Time Presidential Candidate, Senator John McCain.
J’excuse? There must be some mistake. This is the ultimate friend of the doughboy. This is the man who spent five years getting tortured by the Viet Cong even though his captors gave him a Get-Out-Of-The-Hanoi-Hilton-Free card when they discovered that his father was an Admiral in the Navy.
Nope. Senator McCain is not only not signing onto the bill, but he’s rejected it outright for one very simple and clear reason: It’s going to jeopardize “retention.” In other words, our fighting men and women are going to be so enamored of the educational benefits promised them for their service putting their lives on the line for the United States that they’d rather choose those benefits than re-enlist for another tour or two or three or four. God forbid they might not re-enlist and provide us with more bodies to put on the front lines of this moronic war (I mean the one that we’re fighting; not the real war we should still be fighting but that we gave up on looking for the man who is responsible for 9/11).
I’ll say one thing for McCain: We can’t tar him with the same brush we use for Bush and Cheney, who have no idea what it’s like to be in a combat zone fighting for your life. He’s more familiar with that than any Presidential nominee we’ve had since Bob Dole in 1996. And that makes his refusal of this bill all the more despicable.
This is all an enormous disgrace. I don’t care about John McCain’s service if he isn’t willing to walk his talk and support his fellow veterans. It’s not a dick-swinging thing–that they didn’t endure as much as he had to. I don’t understand his reticence to support this bill. I could understand it if there was a large or monied constituency he was selling out to–he’s certainly sold his soul on tax cuts, extreme religion, and torture, just to name a few–but the only serious constituency against this bill is the Pentagon. There aren’t that many votes there in the grand scheme of things.
He claims he’s going to come out with his own version of the GI Bill, but there’s been nary a hint of it. He continues to talk the talk about respecting the veteran and rewarding their service, but his refusal to support Webb’s Veterans Educational Assistance Act is a two-fingered poke in the eye.
I hope that Barack–yes, Barack; goodbye, Hillary–beats him with this as if with a cudgel come fall. And he surely will. My hope is that in the first days of an Obama Presidency you’ll be able to do a Google search for “petard, hoisted by own” and see John McCain’s hapless debate photo with a link to a YouTube video of Obama handing him his ass in a gunny sack. Bad soldiering, John. You’re on the verge of losing what little you haven’t sold of your soul.