Allan Carlson (May 1990) observes the self-serving inclination of certain parts of modern society to free families from the anxieties that modern society itself places on the family. “What,” he asks, “have been the results?”

As part of the answer, he posits the rather preposterous notion that Cold War military families are part of an American experiment in socialist family policy. This unfortunate idea seems to be based on some rather fundamental misconceptions.

Carlson apparently believes that service families receive subsidized food and consumer goods in their Post Exchanges. Actually, there is nothing in the military exchanges that is subsidized, and tax dollars are not involved in their operation. Food and goods are procured on the open market and marked up before being resold to customers. The markup is used to pay wages and operating expenses and to procure more food and goods. Operating profits, not tax dollars, are used to construct or remodel exchange facilities. Profits are also used to fund base libraries, theaters, swimming pools, clubs, and similar activities.

Even military commissaries, which are built and operated with tax dollars, do not subsidize food. Sales are, in fact, at cost plus a surcharge.

Some of Carlson’s other points are likewise difficult to reconcile with his socialist experiment idea. For instance, that military officers in the 60’s were more likely to marry and much less likely to divorce than their civilian counterparts may be explained by factors that have nothing to do with socialization at the Officers’ Club. And the fact that wives were less likely to be employed may be attributed to frequent changes in duty stations, many of which are in isolated areas where there are few jobs or in foreign countries that prohibit American wives from taking jobs.

Military personnel tend to reflect the ideas, tastes, preferences, and attitudes of society. Hence, any changes in military family policy more than likely mirror the changes that are already taking place in the civilian community. It is absurd to attribute these changes to some sort of socialist experiment.

I do agree with Carlson when he says, “There are independent and compelling reasons for social conservatives to support a sharp reduction in the size of our standing military force.” I do not, however, agree when he says, “this action would represent a traditionalist liberation from the misshapen socialism that has recently taken root in the services.

        —Stephen M. Nutt
Duncanville, TX

Mr. Carlson Replies:

Stephen Nutt offers a fair correction concerning Post Exchange operations, although he overlooks both the hidden subsidies enjoyed by the PX system as well as the more complicated history of Army/PX cooperation (e.g., among the Army daycare centers created in the 1950’s, the Army provided the buildings and land, while operating funds came from PX profits and daycare fees). Concerning his objections to the more central points of my essay, I hold to the contention that military families are demonstrably different from civilian families in the degree to which their functions have been directly assumed by government. From the military health care system and base housing to child care and youth activities, military “dependents” are part of a system that is objectively socialist in its operations, effects, and—increasingly—intent.