Monday, May 26, 2008

May 26, 2008

Memorial Day is, of course, a time to think about those who die in our country's wars, but it's worth thinking about the veterans who survive them, too.

America did that most successfully at the end of World War II when Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights. Thousands of returning vets who could never have afforded college suddenly could. I went to college starting in 1948 and the campuses were still crowded with vets. The Bill paid full tuition and a living allowance. It did other things too--vets bought houses under liberal mortgage plans funded by the bill, and so on. It was a piece of social legislation which, in fact, transformed the country.

WW II was a war we had to fight, of course. The Japanese attacked us and, as Bill Mauldin, the cartoonist whose Willie and Joe were the best known soldiers of the war, once told me, "We had to kill Hitler." I agree. Now we are fighting in Iraq, a war I've never thought we needed to have. I have absolutely no idea why President Bush invaded Iraq and I'm not sure he does either

But vets are coming home from that war, now in its sixth year, longer than WWII, and Congress is considering a new GI Bill. Its Senate sponsors are two Vietnam vets, Jim Webb of Virginia and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. It would do pretty much what the WW II Bill did, pay full tuition and other expenses at a public university for veterans who have served in the military for at least three years since 9/11.

The President? He's against it on the grounds that, according to the New York Times, it "is too generous and may discourage reenlistment...." Well, Mr. President, so what? These veterans volunteered in wartime, knowing that they risked their lives. You, sir, don't hesitate to ask more and more billions to continue the war you started, so why not some benefits for the people who've had to fight it?

The House and Senate have passed slightly different versions of the bill, but both by margins large enough to override a presidential veto. So, its chances are good. Happy Memorial Day, Mr. President.

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