Friday, January 12, 2007

The GI Bill Returns

Sara Robinson

This morning, Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) introduced a fully-restored version of the original GI Bill, which will guarantee tuition, books, fees, and a $1,000/month stipend to soldiers who have completed their service with an honorable discharge. It's about time.

My father and stepfather were both the first men in their families to attend college, thanks to the GI Bill. Both of them were lifted out of families that did farm and factory work into the professions by this opportunity. The difference in their fortunes -- and mine -- as a result of this is hard to overstate.

That's a story that can be told probably 40 million times over. The great rising middle class of the postwar era -- and most of the preposterous wealth of the Boomer generation -- was created, almost entirely, by this one act.

My only concern about it is that, as long as the military culture remains so hostile and dangerous to women, this is going to be a huge social benefit that will be allocated almost entirely to men. If we were a truly functional social democracy, everyone who had the chops to go to college would get a free or subsidized education (as happens in many other, poorer countries: if Costa Rica can manage this, why can't we?). Making college help contingent on military service -- and then creating a military environment that subjects up to 80% of its female service members to harassment, violence, and rape -- means that the men of this generation now have access to a huge financial benefit that will not be accessible to most women unless they consent to endure criminal behavior without complaint.

As a result, we're going to end up twenty years from now with a lot more educated men than women -- and growing gender wage and career disparities as a result. If we don't want to perpetuate gender inequality this way, we need to make damn sure to protect our female soldiers' rights to this perk by accompanying it with a thoroughgoing cleanup of the military's bad attitude about women.

Senator Webb, can we count on you to make sure our servicewomen get a fair shot at their educations, too?

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