The Military and the Welfare State

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 2:10 PM
Washington Room 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jennifer Mittelstadt, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
From World War II through the end of the twentieth century, the military cultivated an elaborate apparatus of support services that did not include war fighting – what I call a military welfare state. The programs ranged from expansions of traditional commissaries and Post Exchanges to dry cleaning, housing, janitorial services, social work, and family research units. They encompassed health care, food preparation, childcare, and recreation facilities. Though they emerged out of WWII and grew slowly in the 1950s and 1960s, the switch to the volunteer force accelerated their growth and development markedly. The goal of the support structure was to recruit and retain military personnel by providing a full compendium of social welfare to military personnel and their families. The costs of military social welfare rose high, and by the early 1970s manpower costs exceeded fifty percent of the defense spending. The military welfare state rose to its apogee under the aegis of Ronald Reagan, whose baroque defense budget fueled the expansion of existing military welfare programs and the creation of dozens of new ones. In the 1990s, however, the military welfare state underwent a dramatic transformation and decline. The elaborate system of supports was increasingly contracted out to the private sector. And the US Army introduced programs aimed at “encouraging independence” and “self-reliance” among soldiers and families.

My contribution to this roundtable will be to contemplate the seldom-acknowledged shared ground between the welfare state and the warfare state. The military welfare state arose after the New Deal, but it at first shadowed the New Deal welfare state. Its architects in the services and congress purposefully mimicked the New Deal’s social provision, seeking to provide as much security to soldiers and families as the early postwar civilian welfare state provided to its white and male citizens.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation