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Total Army Family, The

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06/01/1998Allan Carlson

The Free Market 16, no. 6 (June 1998)


I was one of only two non-socialists who managed to gain an invitation to Hillary Clinton's "White House Conference on Child Care." As I entered The Presidential Palace, it was like entering a carnival house-of-mirrors, a place where all was not as it seems, where reality grows distorted in grotesque ways.

For example, the star panelist at this event actually wore two on each shoulder. Major General John G. Meyer, until recently Commanding General of the U.S. Army's Community and Family Support Center, captivated an audience of institutional child-care enthusiasts with tales of military triumph in the nursery.

Under his leadership, he proudly reported, 85 percent of the child-care centers run under the Army's Child Development command had received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This compared to the national average of only 5 percent. "Commitment, Standards, and Funding," the General declared, were the lessons to be learned.

General Meyer expanded on the new military gospel of social parenting. "Child care is critical to the Department of Defense's bottom line," General Meyer said, and added: "Supporting the care and development of children is a responsibility the military readily assumes in exchange for the loyalty of their parents in uniform."

Meyer emphasized the "new reality" of America's fighting forces: that 1.4 million active duty personnel have 1.3 million dependent children under 18 years of age, 345,000 of whom are under age three; 60 percent of this force is married (compared to only 30 percent during the supposedly family-friendly 1950s); and 68 percent of spouses are employed outside the home. Indeed, nearly 10 percent of this force were "service couples," with both husband and wife in uniform.

Accordingly, in the words of the 1987 Army Family Action Plan, "quality child developmental care" has become "a crucial [military] program." While the number of combat divisions has been slashed by half over the last decade, direct and indirect military expenditures for child care have tripled. Among the three services, 800 child-care centers, some offering 24-hour-a-day service, serve 200,000 little Americans, making the U.S. Department of Defense the nation's largest child-care system.

The First Couple recently ordered the military to proselytize the civilian world on behalf of safe, affordable, and accessible substitute child care, using propaganda videos, booklets, and DOD seminars for corporate employers lagging behind in the child-care race. As the President explained in his April 1997 Directive: "I believe that the military has important lessons to share with the rest of the Nation on how to improve the quality of child care for all of our Nation's children."

Or as the First Lady recently told reporters at Quantico Marine Corps Base: "I think, as in many areas, the military provides a good example [for substitute child care]. What we're hoping is that this model will be applicable in the civilian sector."

The sentimental, collectivist tone heard here is no accident. Since the first Army Family Action Plan, issued ominously in 1984, the focus has been on dissolving real, autonomous families in the DOD's employ and blending the human parts into "The Total Army Family." This vaguely totalitarian notion actually assumes the primacy of post-family or non-family bonds. As one Army document explains: "We want soldiers, of all ranks, feeling they belong to a " family'.... Building the family' requires a professional sensitivity toward and caring for one another."

Obviously, such use of the word "family" masks the inversion or deconstruction of the term, much like Governor Mario Cuomo's famed use of the phrase, "The Family of America," by which he meant the welfare state. And unfortunately, these maudlin expressions of military socialism have borne concrete results.

To begin with, the high rate of early marriage is matched by abnormally high rates of family turmoil and divorce. Indeed, these young service couples are 64 percent more likely to be divorced by age 24 than comparable civilian couples. Second, an early appearance of children does not apparently translate into increased completed family size, which we would expect to see if these were healthy families. Just as the Communists discovered in East Germany during the 1970s, state "birth bonuses" can affect the timing of when children appear, but not the total number.

Moreover, the birth of military children increasingly occurs outside the bonds of matrimony, with "The Total Army Family" assuming the roles of both "breadwinner" and "caregiver" for the unmarried service mom and her children. While sexual statistics are closely guarded military secrets, it appears that up to 40 percent of military pregnancies occur among unmarried soldiers, sailors, and "air people." Indeed, since uniformed personnel with children receive preferred access to military entitlements such as housing and medical care, and since unwed military mothers are not required to identify their mates, the Total Army Family actively encourages illegitimacy in the ranks.

In sum, contemporary military families are neither autonomous nor strong, the true measures of family health. All are heavily dependent on special subsidy. And while our military women, whether unmarried or in fragile formal liaisons, do reproduce, they do so increasingly to give their children over to a system of collectivized child rearing.

Now, it is true that our military social engineers have not quite yet achieved the grand sweep of the Lebensborn program of National Socialist Germany, where state child-care workers tenderly raise the illegitimate offspring of SS troopers. But our military planners have achieved something very close to the family policy goals of Swedish socialism.

Back in the 1930s, the Swedish theorist Alva Myrdal showed how radical feminism might be reconciled with a collectivist vision of "the family": women must be employed alongside men in the same jobs; marriage must be transformed from a social expectation into a mere "choice"; the costs of children should be subsidized by the state; and the very young should be raised collectively. Some commentators argue that American military family programs are mere parallels to civilian benefit plans. In fact, their whole logic rests on this model of Scandinavian socialism.

In imitation of Third World militarism, the American armed forces are becoming agents of social change, instruments of social engineering committed in particular to eradicating belief in differences between the sexes, and building new family forms under complete control of the state. As Americans, we cannot claim that we were never warned about this. The patriots of the late 18th century fretted continually over the dangers posed to moral order by a large, peacetime standing army. As Sam Adams explained to another Son of Liberty: "I always look'd upon a Standing Army especially in time of peace not only [as] a Disturbance but in every respect dangerous to Civil Community."

The early 19th-century historian Mercy Otis Warren wrote in her popular book, The American Revolution: "Whenever an army is established, it introduces a revolution in manners, corrupts the morals, propagates every species of vice, and degrades the human character."


Allan Carlson is president of the Howard Center.

FURTHER READING: Allan Carlson, "What Has Government Done to Our Families?" Essays in Political Economy, (Auburn, Ala.: The Mises Institute), Allan Carlson, "The Military as an Engine of Social Change," in The Costs of War (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1997).


Cite This Article

Allan Carlson. "The Total Army Family." The Free Market 16, no. 6 (June 1998).