22 April 2014

Is the Army a Socialist Paradise?

Naturally, when a major news site poses the above question, I get intrigued. 

Now, as a Soldier on active duty, I can assure you that it most definitely not a paradise. Either that or the word coupled with the modifier "socialist" takes on a completely different meaning.  

But my hat is off to Siegel for writing about it. In fact, he probably got the idea from me:
The Paradox of Military Ideology
Siegel's piece is of a different flavor from mine, though. Whereas I was being sarcastic and a bit satirical, Siegel seems dead serious. His argument, if it can be called that, is that modern leftism is almost completely fulfilled, surprisingly, in the US military: single payer health care, government housing and food, and a rigid hierarchy that is task-focused and community-centered. 

At least he knows of what he writes. Siegel, whose bio in the Daily Beasts notes that he is an Iraq and Afghanistan War Vet, decries so-called experts comment on military life without a proper frame of reference.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of contrarianism, I must raise some objections. 

First, Siegel asserts that every liberal program has been instituted successfully in the military. Well, not quite. Unionism, for example, is anathema to the military way. The military also maintains strict gatekeeping, famously relaxed during the height of the Iraq war, which is now getting much stricter. Drugs, sexual assault, mental illness, physical shortcomings-- all will keep you out or get you kicked out. 

There are parallels between military standards and socialist states eliminating reprobates, gays, free thinkers, the sterile, capitalists, and other various "enemies of the party," but even the most hardcore liberal wouldn't dream of categorizing those phenomena as indicators of paradise.

The piece also called the military "one of the country’s last engines of social mobility." Siegel claims that "A young enlistee from a poor background with no higher education can rise through the ranks," which is true to a point. Even for NCOs, though, it is getting tougher to advance in rank without college. So though it may sound like a quibble, it raises the larger issue that the military is not as insulated from the larger population and culture as some think or would hope.

That last bit raises a larger misrepresentation. Siegel implies that the strengths of military communalism come from its members' shared ethos and sheer bureaucratic efficiency. While I certainly agree that an organizational ethos is important, it misses the fact that the military is competing with other employers in a vast labor market. 

Many men and women join for the material benefits, not because of some allegiance to a cause. The military understands this well and continually adjusts its compensation packages to meet the demands of the marketplace.

In all, Siegel's piece is provocative and insightful. But maybe he should have just read "My Public Affairs" and let well enough alone. 


  1. A perfect socialist organization: everyone gets overpaid and only two of of ten people work.

  2. Oh yeah, cool shirt where can I get one.