By Jay Kirell
If you find the following sentence confusing, I do not blame you.
In early 2003 I marched in the streets of New York City to protest the impending war in Iraq, while seven years later I fought in the war in Afghanistan.
When I was in the army I was asked all the time why I was there if I was a liberal. Liberals, everyone knows, hate war and some would even say [looking at you Fox News] that liberals don’t support the troops.
I would have told them about George McGovern and how he was considered the most liberal presidential candidate of the modern era, a guy so liberal he made the word liberal a bad word. I would have told them how he was a pilot on bomber planes that attacked Germany during WWII. I would have told them that, if I thought (a) they knew who George McGovern was, and (b) they would have cared.
So instead I often replied that I was more surprised they, as conservatives, would join the military. This made them pause. Why wouldn’t conservatives join the military? Most military members are conservatives, or if not conservatives, they’ve certainly voted Republican for years.
Then I asked them if they considered themselves Socialists.
What, no? Why would you say that, they’d reply, before the anger set in.
Because, I explained, right now we’re living in the closest example to classic socialism in history.
They did not look convinced.
Look at all the welfare we get —
Welfare! I work for a living, a sergeant once said to me.
I said, yes, sergeant, you do work for a paycheck like everyone else, like everyone inside the army and in the civilian world.
So how’s that welfare?
Well, in the civilian world, when someone gets a job they get a paycheck just like you, and maybe if they’re lucky they get health insurance like we do. But they don’t get money for food. We get a Basic Allowance for Substance, which is basically food stamps for single or married soldiers – that is the one’s that aren’t already getting food stamps to go along with the allowance. Plus, we get money for an apartment and money to move all our stuff into the apartment. Then once a year we get more money to buy new uniforms. And then once we’re out we get college paid for plus a housing stipend!
All of this is on the government dime, and everyone in the military gets it, whether you’re the guy humping 100lbs up a mountain or a pencil-pusher sitting behind a desk all day. Now, I’m not saying we don’t deserve these benefits and entitlements, because we sure as hell do, but don’t deny what they are.
And by then I had convinced most of them I hadn’t joined a conservative enclave, but that they had joined a secret Socialist organization.
And that, I said, is why a liberal joined the army.
Okay, that really wasn’t the reason I joined the army, that was just what I told them. I had no idea how much the military literally takes care of almost everything (short of better pay) for a service member. It’s rightly deserved, but part of my ideology, and part of what makes me a liberal, is that I want the rest of the country – or at least the part that needs it – to have the same safety net that I did.
Yeah, I fought for my country and all that. I risked my life. I But what was I fighting for when people in my country are still struggling?
Now that I’m out of the army I’ll be set up for success thanks to all the benefits I have coming to me. And that security is a feeling that I was unprepared for. It left me feeling guilty.
And that guilt about my own privilege and what I have, even if it’s meager by normal standards, is what makes me a liberal.