Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Army Retirement Is Racket for Officers

(12 January 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 2, 12 January 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“And they lived happily for ever after” is an ending realistic people don’t expect in life but only in fairy tales of the Grimm and Hollywood variety. Realistic people especially will now have to revise this idea somewhat. For the investigation of Maj. Gen. Bennett E. Meyers has not only pointed up the grafting and crookedness in a business way among the military gentry, but has also cast a beam of revealing light on the retirement racket. Thousands of top ranking officers of the army and navy, thousands of whom never saw combat duty and have no more combat or service injuries than a civilian, have been retired on tax-free “disability” pay. As far as economic security and comparative good health can bring happiness, these spongers are in the process of living happily forever after.

First, here is the over-all picture. World War II army and navy officers on the retired list number 36,798. Of these a mere 2,531 or only 7 per cent have been retired for old age or length of service. The other 31,267 or 93 per cent have been retired for so-called disabilities. How many of these “disabled heroes” were actually injured in combat? Of the 34,247, less than one-fourth or 7,781, have injuries caused by combat. But there are injuries and injuries.

The army and navy have a way of cataloguing injuries by percentage of total disability. Of the 7,631 retired officers injured in combat less than, one-third, less than 2,560, are 50 per cent or more disabled.

According to the United States News, from which businessmen’s magazine the information in this article has been taken, the rest of the retired officers “disabled in combat” are so little disabled that they can take and are taking all kinds of civilian jobs, for which of course they get payment on top of the retirement pensions.

Now we’ve accounted for 7,681 ranking officers on the retired-disabled list. How about the other 25,586 “disabled heroes”? The United States News tells us “most of such disabilities have been civilian-type ulcers or nervous disorders.” There are rumors that “the army and navy at war’s end were inclined to give ranking officers the benefit of any doubt in applying for tax-exempt retirement through some sort of physical disability.” A nice racket – and it certainly pays off!

Impose on the People

Generals and admirals, few of whom have been close to combat, receive tax-free disability checks each month, in most cases amounting to $550. The United States News figures this tax-free income entailing no effort or expense for the recipient, as equal to a taxable salary of $8,500 a year. Officers of lower rank, army colonels and navy captains get from $275 to $412.50 monthly, the higher pay being equivalent to about $6,000 taxable income yearly. These World War II army and navy officers “retired for disability” collect a total annual stipend of $128,501,000, and “they live happily forever after.”

In informed circles in Washington it is expected that Congress will next investigate this retirement racket. What must be borne in mind is that the same facts mean different things to different political groups and social classes. For instance, Republicans see an opportunity to show up the favoritism and loose financial morality of the Democrats. Again, capitalists feeling that accelerated militarism is the order of the day and that they can’t get away from it, want to reduce the cost as much as possible so as to ease the tax burden on business. No doubt that is why the United States News has emphasized the taxpayers’ angle in this retirement racket. To the working people the situation adds up to something else again.

It is unjust that these do-nothing retired officers, the disabilities of most of whom cannot be compared with the wear and tear on the miners, the steelworkers, the farmers and other toilers, live off the fat of the land on taxes taken in such large measure out of wages. Militarism in all its facets, made necessary by the conflicts of capitalism, is an unfair imposition on the working people who pay for it. The retirement racket, we might say, is part and parcel of the whole crooked, profiteering, criminally wasteful, anti-social business of militarism and war. What else can be expected?

However, at this stage, the exposure of the officers’ retirement racket emphasizes a very special point for working people. The extension of militarism in this country can no longer be doubted. The pressure for universal military training, a pressure which goes on behind the scenes until Congress is ready to take the matter up, will probably succeed unless the people prepare to fight to defeat the plan. The exposure of the officers’ retirement racket has brought to view one of the outstanding dangers of militarism, namely, that it creates a rigid caste system, with privileges at the top and suppression at the bottom, a caste system that would penetrate the whole of society if universal military training should become a fact.

Not So for GI’s

How is this iron-bound caste system revealed in this very retirement racket? As stated above, army colonels and navy captains, generals and admirals get “disability pay” ranging from $275 to $550 a month according to rank. What do enlisted men collect for disability? In the first place, the extent of physical disabilities are more carefully checked in the men at the bottom of the military caste system. Partial disabilities are carefully evaluated. For total disability an enlisted man rates $138 a month, against the general’s $550 for ulcers or nervous disorders. But that $133 for total disability is not handed out so freely. Better find a 10 per cent disability, which rates only

$13.80 a month pension, and so on along the line. Loss of an arm or a foot involving total disability will, to be sure, add $38 to the $138, and the loss of both legs by an enlisted man could bring his monthly pension up to $200, still a far cry from the general’s $500 – for no injuries!

In a word, arms and feet and legs, stomachs and nerves, are worth more when they belong to generals and admirals who never go into combat, than when they belong to the officers of lower rank and to the enlisted men who face combat and are injured in combat.

Of course this differential between the upper and lower military castes is only a reflection of the differential between the capitalist class and the working class in society as a whole. The flesh of the capitalist and his family who live off the labor of the workers, is assumed by capitalist tradition to require more careful nourishment and tender treatment than that of the worker and his family. But the caste system of the military concentrates in itself the very worst features of capitalist society. It bases itself also on unsavory military traditions of the ages. The military places itself above society and beyond democratic processes. The stratification is made concrete by uniforms and titles, both of which are exploited even in retirement.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 February 2020