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Page 31
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<< 30. Someone Else's Recollection 

Who Deserves Pay Raises?

By Sandra J. Fulton

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This is my commentary on some of the shrill right-wing responses to those few journalists who are questioning the need for military pay raises. I'm a Navy veteran (1957-1968). When I was commissioned ensign in 1957 and sent from Newport to NAS North Island, Coronado, California, the military was genuinely underpaid. If I recall correctly, I got a grand total of $3,200 in salary my first year in the Navy, from May through December, pooling together my OCSA (seaman apprentice) and ensign salaries, but because it was so paltry it was tax free and I didn't need to file 1957 income tax. In most places where I was stationed, women officers had to live "ashore," and to make life affordable you needed at least one roommate. BAQ was a whopping $65 a month in those days, although rentals in upscale Coronado started at about $175 a month. There was an enlisted women's barracks but women officers were forced to rent outside the base since there were no bachelor officers' quarters for women at the Naval air station. In fact, my office building didn't even have a ladies' room! We finally got a Port-A-John for our building - but nothing else improved. During my eleven years' service, women were stuck commanding LMDs (Large Mahogany - or Metal - Desks) and therefore could not obtain flight pay, submarine pay, or hazardous duty pay. I was the first American woman to undergo full-vacuum training in the spacesuit, along with the jet ejection seat and partial pressure mask, each of which was hazardous. Somehow women officers got by, and it taught me to be fiscally prudent.

When I resigned in 1968, no longer being able to stomach the Vietnam War, I was living in expensive New York City and was a lieutenant (O3) in charge of all Navy women's recruiting, except nurses, for the Third Naval District. Although my salary of $9,000 a year before taxes doesn't sound like much, it must have been more than adequate since I was living without a roommate and salting away $500 a month into savings. I had a big nest egg in the bank by December, 1968, when I was finally let go.

In the service I knew a lot of fine people I was proud to call colleagues, from senior officers I worked for and admired, to friends I palled around with - including two women officers who became founders of NOW. I knew plenty of bright, ambitious and wonderful enlisted men and women looking for ways to improve their lives and faithfully serve their country. At the same time certain officers and enlisted were merely time-servers and a few were downright dangerous - racist, war-happy, many of them despising the Bill of Rights and our American way of life. If my years of service taught me never to have a "short-timer's attitude" in any job, a minority of service people are a negative influence on their branch of the military and/or on American society. This is not disillusioning - merely a realistic assessment of human nature. It's no different in private life.

All the build-up is just to warn all of us never to salute and jump through hoops whenever someone writes glowing prose about Our Boys (and/or Girls) in Uniform. Those of us who have served are no better or worse than civilians. You want bravery? Go thank a fireman. Firemen protect you and me, and lay their lives on the line every day of the year. The military can indeed support decent and progressive policy - I would have entered the war against Hitler in 1939 and supported our operations in Somalia - but it also has been used badly and clumsily during the Cold War and post-Cold War years, to protect American "interests" overseas (read: MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS), the Vietnam War being only one of many such examples. Under certain circumstances the military can be a grave danger to both constitutional government and people in other countries and in our own. So can any police force that serves the Establishment.

The whole point is that our civilian policy must be progressive in order to keep the appropriate checks on the military. Please, let's not swallow superpatriotic jargon to question the "Americanism" of those who may genuinely question the need for pay raises in the services. Remember that the word "patriot" was invented by the English revolutionaries of the 1640s - to describe themselves! One person's patriotism is another's treason; and the only government worth supporting is one that allows full and open freedom of belief, expression, and movement to persons of all points of view. It's true that I am always rather suspicious of government pay raises in general, especially in a time of high deficits and voodoo economics, and I doubt that officers and senior enlisted personnel need a pay raise. They've received many big raises over the past 25 years. The lower ranks are quite another matter. I have no objection to pay raises for the junior enlisted ratings, but in order to pay for them our first order of business should be to ABOLISH THE BUSH TAX BREAKS TO THE SUPER RICH!

It's laughable to think that our American pseudo-conservatives should ever be able to manage money. Because they've always had money, they think it grows on trees. (Actually it seems to grow on "Bushes"!) Therefore we should thank anyone who is trying desperately to preserve our more-than-200-year-old Constitution and Bill of Rights against the Bush administration's jingoist "patriots" who are actually proto-fascists. Beware an open-ended "war on terrorism" without clear goals and with no legal checks to runaway power. Beware invented differences between "terrorists" and "prisoners of war" and destructive secret tribunals. Beware rhetoric that implies that there can EVER be an "end" to terrorism. Whoever makes such an absurd claim knows nothing about history or human nature. Remember FDR? "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Wise advice.

I detest this administration for many reasons, but especially for its eagerness to lock people up, in some cases without proper trial. There are still genuinely courageous souls in this country, although (sadly) fewer than at any time I can remember in almost 66 years. It is much easier, safer and lazier to turn into one of those timid persons who sing "God Bless America," bow to authority, salute the flag regardless of what it stands for, and prate on about holy fetuses, mom and apple pie. It ill-serves the innocent victims of the tragedy of September 11 to use their memory to encourage American fascism. Many of them, if they were alive, would be the first to tell us that only constant doubt and protest will keep us free!


Sandra J. Fulton has been a member of VVAW since 1969 and reactivated in 2001.

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