The Christian Science Monitor picks up a thread Bill Kauffman has recently discussed: how his experience as a military brat shaped John McCain’s worldview. The Monitor‘s Todd Crowell, a brat himself, writes:
What makes a military brat different?
For one thing, we brats have very little sense of our roots, although perhaps as a way of compensating, we do seem to have a greater sense of the nation as a whole and, to an extent, the world. The easiest way to flummox a brat is to ask the simple question: “Where are you from?”
Usually we stammer out something like, “Well, um, I moved around a lot as a kid.”
Kauffman draws out the implications of this rootlessness in his Counterpunch article and in his new book, Ain’t My America. He quotes a study by sociologist Janice Rienerth, “Separation and Female Centeredness in the Military Family,” which found, “moving often places inordinate demands on the individual to adapt and raises continued challenges to identity” — challenges enough for adults, let alone the children of empire. Not only does the military life displace families and children from normal social environments, however — it also creates an artificial socialistic milieu, as Crowell explains:
Few civilians realize that growing up in the military – not to mention serving in the military – is the closest to pure socialism you can come in America.
Nationalized healthcare? We’ve had it from Year 1. As a teenager living on an air force base in Japan, I even had my teeth straightened at US taxpayers’ expense. Housing is provided free of charge – and it’s pretty nice for admirals – or, if we have to live off base, it’s subsidized with a housing allowance.
Food is also subsidized. Well into retirement, my parents found it worthwhile to drive 50 miles from their Florida retirement home, past multiple civilian supermarkets to McDill Air Force Base to stock up on groceries at the commissary.
Crowell believes this kind of upbringing has had a profound effect on McCain. “Conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh were quick to condemn McCain for his egalitarian instincts,” he notes, but “it’s good to remember that the military does not only inculcate conservative ideals.” Crowell, who true to his un-roots now lives in Japan, thinks that’s not entirely a bad thing. Traditional conservatives, if there are any left, might disagree.
One has to avoid reductionism here — I grew up in a military family myself, though not usually on bases, and McCain’s possible libertarian opponent Bob Barr is also a military-industrial brat — but anyone who has lived the mobile military life knows that there’s a lot of truth in what Crowell and Kauffman, from their different perspectives, write. McCain seems especially defensive about his background, and he’s proud of the fact that that the military (and government) has been the only world he’s ever known. I think Kauffman is right, “Senator McCain’s loyalty is not to any particular American place but rather to a bureaucratic institution (the military) and an abstraction (the American Empire).” And that’s so by choice, not just by upbringing.