Veteran shares struggles in returning to individualistic society

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We always say that we “miss the people,” and that is most certainly true. Yet, I find myself missing something else: I miss the barracks communism. 

I remember when I would wake to the sound of rolling waves. I lived communally and would stumble over the drunken bodies of my comrades en route to the hatch to start my day. My breakfast was typically an omelet with some beans. I would sit in a large cafeteria, hearing shouts and laughter as I would eat. 

I showed up to work at 7:30, would have lunch from 11:30 to 1:00, then head home around 5:00. From 6:00 to midnight, my comrades and I would drink, sing and dance. We would endlessly complain about our workday and smoke until our lungs turned black. 

We had no bills. Our food was free. Our housing was free. Our healthcare was provided free at the point of use. If we got sick, we did not lose our job. If the stock market crashed, we still got paid and we continued to work. We had one month of vacation time annually. All of our income was disposable, all of our needs were met. 

Graphic by Kieron Kessler.

The only problem we had was our boss, but at least he was not taking our surplus-value. Nobody owned the property in which we lived, ate, or worked. We were diverse, but we all loved one another. We espoused the ideology of camaraderie, the root word of which is “comrade.” 

Am I describing my experience in the former Soviet Union? Cuba? Mao’s China? What sort of socialist society am I describing? 

Marine Corps Base Smedley D. Butler, Camp Kinser, Okinawa, Japan. 

There is a running joke among members of the U.S. military and their spouses that they “live off of the economy.” They do not stress about the job or stock markets. For U.S. citizens, they live in the closest thing to socialism an American can. 

I left the Marine Corps after four years of service. We always say that we “miss the people,” and that is most certainly true. Yet, I find myself missing something else: I miss the barracks communism. 

In the U.S. there are thousands of homeless veterans and far too many daily suicides. PTSD and other ailments play a role in these atrocious statistics, but I believe there is more to it than that. The values instilled within me as an enlisted Marine are fundamentally incompatible with capitalism. Individualism is a concept destroyed in my mind at boot camp. All I know is teamwork and cooperation, camaraderie and loyalty. For my peers, it is largely the same. 

The “dog-eat-dog” mentality of capitalism is a hostile, new world for many veterans that enlisted at young ages. Many of them will start paying bills or applying for a job for the first time at the age of 23 or older. Some fail to understand that loyalty is not always a common virtue. For the first time, veterans are tasked with traveling the world alone after years of doing so cooperatively. 

This jarring transition must be recognized by the Department of Defense and Department of Veteran’s Affairs. To better assist veterans, the powers-that-be must recognize that capitalism is alien to the millions of troops. We must better prepare veterans for reintegration into the immoral economic system they were tasked with defending. 

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Caleb Sprous
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