Why Does "Lavish" Bother Us Now?


Two months ago, Pulitzer Prize winner David Wood published a story on Huffington Post about the rising cost of military personnel. Wood wrote,

“For more than a decade, Congress and the Pentagon have lavished money on the nation's 1.3 million active-duty troops and their families. Salaries and benefits soared far above civilian compensation, military bases and housing were refurbished, support services like day care, family counseling and on-base college courses were expanded.”
That paragraph is lighting up the blogosphere this week:  How dare you call our military life lavish!!!

Spouse bloggers are writing about military families on foodstamps. About military housing with mold infestation. About the limits of Tricare and MyCAA. About the five American soldiers killed in a helicopter crash this week and how nothing can ever compensate for that.

Their indignation is real.  These family members know exactly how that “lavish” money was earned. They also know there isn’t a get-rich-quick book in the nation that advises military service as the path to great wealth.

I understand that, too.  But I also find myself wondering why are we military folks so angry about that old news story now?

My guess is that two months ago when the story was written, a lot of us never thought sequestration would really happen.  I know I didn’t.  I thought that there would be the big drama and then the big save.  Not this time.

Maybe some of the upset comes because now we are facing the nation’s implacable message:  this is cutting time.

No matter how valiantly the war was fought, no matter the personal cost, no matter the impact of the war on our own families, it is now draw down time. It is time now for the traditional, national, post-war gasp as the bill for war comes due.

That gasp -- that gasp that seems to imply that the laborer was not worthy of his hire -- is hard to tolerate.  It is especially hard  when servicemembers (including my own husband) are still deploying.

That gasp is the reason why all those people on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon “lavished” money on the military in the past ten years.  Those people knew that there would be no gratitude money for the military as the war dies down -- there never is.

Instead those money guys knew to ask for the money as the war was building. They knew there would be money to attract war fighters while they were desperately needed. They knew the nation would bleed money on re-signing bonuses and benefits designed to retain experienced combat warriors.

Those money guys knew there would be money at the peak of the war to do much needed, overdue repairs on bases and to replace WWII era housing.

They knew that there would be money at the peak of the war to replace facilities like Ft. Belvoir’s grotty little hospital and the ancient Walter Reed with new medical centers -- especially if they would be serving wounded warriors.

Compared to what was spent before, compared to what was spent in the private sector, I guess I can see how what was spent during the war might look “lavish” to some.

But to me, it looks like catch-up spending.  To me, it looks like back payments.

And to me it looks like that kind of spending on the military has come to an end -- even though it doesn’t cover everything that is owed.

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