The Most Socialist Aspects of the Military Are No Paradise

by Patrick Brennan

Over on the Corner, Jonah makes a number of key points about the bizarre bit of liberal trolling — recently indulged in by Jason Siegel of the Daily Beast, that the military is a “socialist paradise.” Yes, in important senses, it is, and that’s because warfighting is nothing like civilian life.

But I’d also point out that some of the U.S. military’s socialist attributes are also its worst: The military’s compensation and personnel structures are bloated and nonsensical, and drive a lot of our best officers out of service altogether (an issue Reihan has discussed in this space). Siegel praises, for instance, the system of military commissaries with below-price goods sold to soldiers on base, which is a hugely inefficient fringe benefit most military experts think should be eliminated.

And as we all know, the military’s procurement and technology systems, while we spend enough on them to get them to work, come at exorbitant cost. It’s not easy to see a way around this in a lot of cases, but one of the less socialist parts of the military, the Special Operations Command, bypasses a lot of typical military procurement procedures and puts together technologies from the private sector, developing advanced capabilities at remarkably low prices. (That’s the same SOCOM that’s a favorite of President Obama and Secretary Hagel.)

Last, on the other extreme, there are even more socialist militaries than America’s — like China’s. And for all the strength China has gained militarily of late and the threat it poses in the Pacific, “party armies” — those run by socialist states — are notoriously incompetent because, like the rest of a socialist state, they are easily distorted for private benefit.

(I see that one of Jonah’s Twitter followers, blogger Bryan McGrath, just made a similar point: that a lot of members of the military prize these benefits and don’t recognize that they’re both a bad idea and in some ways, yes, socialist. Fixing the weird ways we do military compensation will mean upending existing arrangements, but it should ultimately serve soldiers better.)