Archive for Saturday, December 30, 2000

Unexpected consequences

December 30, 2000


The World War II GI Bill merits high ranking among the greatest pieces of legislation in American history.

Recent lists have attempted to rank the U.S. government actions with the greatest impact on the nation since World War II. We find numerous notable items that are, and should be, included.

Lacking so far, however, is what President Bill Clinton, a student of history, in 1994 termed "arguably our greatest piece of domestic legislation" the GI Bill of Rights.

It was a Kansan, American Legion leader Harry Colmery, who was the author and the driving force behind this program which had "unexpected consequences even more beneficial than its intended purposes," according to Micheal Bennett who wrote the book "When Dreams Come True The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America."

Consider the amazing effect of this federal venture. The key elements:

1. Education expenses for military veterans based on length of duty and assignments. These people soon doubled the enrollments of American colleges and universities and totally transformed the status of higher education.

2. Vocational-technical educational training for veterans not inclined toward college. The nation badly needed such people.

3. A GI Bill home loan program whose clout is inestimable from the standpoint of how it jumpstarted the postwar economy and set new standards for our economic welfare.

4. The 52-20 Club, a program that helped job-seeking veterans with $20 a week for a limit of 52 weeks, so they could get back into the labor market after service.

All of this cost the nation a total of $20 billion or, some think, even less. Think of the taxes generated by the program, scholastic funding, all the spinoffs and trickle-downs. Experts say the GI Bill paid for itself over and over. It did, indeed.

Colmery of Kansas drafted the basics of the legislation and worked closely with members of Congress to get it passed. There were doubters and opponents. Educational elitists felt they would have to deal with military riff-raff on college campuses. Even President Franklin Roosevelt was an early foe.

Wrote author Bennett: "The GI Bill was the legislation that made the United States the first overwhelming middle-class nation in the world. It was the law that worked"

Adds Bennett: "Enacting the GI Bill was certainly one of Congress' finest hours because World War II veterans did not just pass through the American system of higher education; they transformed it. College enrollments doubled under the infusion of 7.8 million veterans who largely 'hogged the honor rolls and the Dean's lists,' ran the student governments, challenged professors, refused to wear freshman beanies, began raising their families, and some veterans did something that was seen as rather unusual they went to school year around.

"The rare and simple truth is rarely rare and never simple. The unassailable truth is that America's post-War motivation was fear: fear of another Depression and fear of what might happen to the country when we dumped 12 million demobilized troops on an economy potentially on the edge of bankruptcy when the mills of war stopped grinding."

Our new White House people and Congress should reflect on how wise legislation can work and concentrate on providing the nation with the kind of vision, production and refinement the incomparable GI Bill gave us.

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