Problem from Hell

Samantha Power reading at Stacy's

Samantha Power reading at Stacy’s (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

Republicans want a big military but they don’t want to send it anywhere.

Democrats want a small military and the want to send it everywhere.

I don’t know which wag wrote those words years ago, and they aren’t particularly true words, but I think they reflect the views of many Americans. On the other hand, there are those like me (I like to think) who don’t see things as black or white and are somewhere in the middle on this subject. 

My son, who works for the Navy, has been concerned about the budget sequester now affecting all federal agencies. He deals with mundane matters such as structures on the military installation he serves. Too frequently when the cuts occur, the chiefs cut his budget. While he needs to fix potholes, the Base Exchange (BX) and grocery concessions remain untouched.

The misdirected cuts would not be so bad except metro areas, have stores like Shoppers Food Warehouse and Wal-Mart, which offer prices that are competitive with those in military stores making them a redundant and unnecessary tax-payer expense.

This would not be so bad except the vast majority of taxpayers do not have the perks and pay of the military. The combination of military retirement pay and benefits, especially for officers, is obscene when compared with those of the civilian tax-payers who support them after they retire. (Washington Post this week)

Military who have been in combat and risked life and limb certainly deserve what they get, but only about ten percent of the military ever see combat. Most career military personnel fly a desk or work on a computer. The others, like a mechanic I know, work on military vehicles or serve in other support services, but not often in combat zones.


Yesterday, Mr Obama nominated Samantha Powers for the job of US UN Representative. I knew who Powers was because she made a nasty comment about Hillary when Hillary was seeking the nomination six years ago. I also knew who Ms Powers, an Irish immigrant to the US, was because I had read her writing.

One of the graduate history professors at my school who taught ‘Europe Since WWII’, assigned Ms Powers’ Pulitzer-Prize winning book, A Problem from Hell for his course. I have the book on my Kindle and am reading it again along with FDR and the Jews. 

As varied aspects of different jobs I held over my career, beginning with the development of a report on US Immigration I helped prepare for the US House of Representatives in the 1970s, and ending with reports on the US foreign-born in the 1990s and 2000s which I co-authored for the Census Bureau, I have read extensively on genocide in the twentieth century…. many books on the Cubans and Castro, Jews and the Nazis, Vietnamese and the Red Army, Armenians in Turkey, Tutsi in Rwanda, Bosnians, Cambodians, Chechnyan and others. My interest exists mostly because I have a concern for the welfare of refugees, but also because many displaced people became become US immigrants.*

Like John Burns of The New York Times, Samantha Powers was a war correspondent who reported from Bosnia. Her experiences led to her book, a powerful indictment of the US and its failure to act on behalf of the victims of genocide during the twentieth century.

Powers accusations beg questions such as: Should the US act? When should it act and why?  When is interfering in the events in a foreign country in the US national interest?

The US Constitution says, “provide for the common defense.” We have a Department of Defense. When is interfering in a civil war in which one side is dismembering the other in our national interest? These are all vexing questions Ms Powers will have to address before Congress.

*Since 1947, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has tracked international refugees. Many have immigrated to the US.


10 thoughts on “Problem from Hell

    • The very lowest levels of enlisted do not make enough money to support a family, although they often marry and have children. If they are on food stamps it is because they married before they could afford to.

      However, if they marry all military receive a housing allowance. I see no reason to subsidize officers with this perk. Also when military are overseas I am fairly sure they pay no taxes. My oldest son saved enough money to buy two new Volvos and make a downpayment on a house in CA when he returned from 10 years overseas.

      He had a “difficult” assignment in London and the Navy provided living quarters on Harley Street near Regents Park…and he was a civilian.

      I’m happy he had the perks, but not sure the US should provide such accommodations for its personnal.


  1. Unlike my son and husband who have definite opinions on these matters, I am ashamed to say that I don’t know enough to make an informed comment. I’m in awe of your expertise in so many areas and how you’ve got so much knowledge in various facets of all these problems. I thank you for always trying to teach us, Dianne.


  2. Your career put you at the center of important questions and your passion for historical research was a good match. Both enrich and inform your readers’ perspectives on today’s world issues.


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