July 13, 2006

The welfare state includes the military

I had a discussion with a doctoral student this afternoon about a directed-reading course for the fall, and I was explaining that the welfare state reached across different organizations and sectors. When financial advisors explained about the three-legged retirement support structure (Social Security, pensions, and private savings), they're talking about welfare. When we say that education is a way to address poverty, we're talking about a welfare state.

In many ways, the military has functioned as part of the welfare state. Patrick Kelly's Creating a National Home: Building the Veterans' Welfare State 1860-1900 (1997) lay the groundwork for that analysis after Theda Skocpol's work, Penn State historian Jennifer Mittelstadt is researching the All-Volunteer Force as a welfare-state component, and Barbara Ehrenreich has critiqued the military from a welfare-state standpoint, and there's Tristram Coffin's The Armed Society (1964, I think?), which discusses militarism as a welfare state.

But I don't know of anyone (other than Ehrenreich, and she only in a cursory way) has raised the question of how the attack on the various parts of the American welfare state has affected the military. As Joel Spring argued 30 years ago, military policy from WW2 through the late 1960s was a de facto national education policy, given the structure of deferments, G.I. benefits, and the changing training and education requirements. But G.I. benefits are no longer as generous as they once were, the activation of the reserves for the last few wars and the Iraqi occupation has drained the resources of thousands of families, and I wonder how many soldiers' families are eligible for food stamps. A great study for someone who wants to take it on: How have the last five years reshaped the military's role in the American welfare state? And for the rest of the citizenry, it's a fairly important question, too.

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Posted in History on July 13, 2006 5:36 PM |