USAA and the Decline of the American Military
I’m a big fan of USAA insurance, but I think it’s significant that USAA now needs to advertise, when previously it tried to limit policyholders rather than attracting them. In the old days USAA insurance was only available to military officers. Because of patriotism and the draft, a lot of excellent people became military officers. Many of them did not become career officers, but left after their initial period of service to return to civilian life, where they often became successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and other prosperous members of society.
Vietnam destroyed respect for the American military, but because of the draft during the first part of the war, there were still a lot of good people who became officers. With the end of the draft and rising disrespect of the military, particularly by “good” families, fewer and fewer people who were destined to become community leaders served as officers. As a result USAA’s pool of excellent customers has been shrinking. Now, instead of having a favorable opinion of former officers, Americans tend to have an unfavorable opinion, making it more difficult for former officers to rise to prominence in the civilian community.
As an example, look at recent Presidential elections. The last military officer to serve as President was George H. W. Bush. He was defeated for his second term by Clinton, who avoided service in Vietnam. Clinton defeated Bob Dole, a World War II hero, to win his second term. Al Gore, Clinton’s Vice President, served in Vietnam, probably because as the son of a senator, he inherited a now antiquated family tradition of national service. When he ran for President, however, he was defeated by George W. Bush, who did not inherit his father’s tradition of national service, and who avoided service in Vietnam by joining the Alabama National Guard, where he seldom did anything, even in Alabama. For his next term Bush ran against Sen. John Kerry, who served in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart medal. The Republican Swift Boat veterans ridiculed Kerry’s service, in what to me was the most egregious attack on veterans by a major political party. In order to win Bush a second term, the Republicans defamed all veterans by attacking Kerry for being a veteran. In a turnaround, the Republicans nominated a veteran, war hero John McCain, in the next election. McCain was defeated by Obama, who is not a veteran but is too young to have been influenced by Vietnam and the draft. Although he did not serve in Vietnam, Bush II was probably eligible for USAA insurance under their old rules, although none of the other Presidents would have been.
The Presidential elections illustrate how Americans have turned against those who serve in their country’s military. The result has been a significant downgrading of the USAA customer base, from leaders of American communities to those relegated to a lower social and economic status because of their service in the military.