Why does the commissary take food stamps?

The Witches’ Pyramid is a saying about the steps to take action: to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent. I’ve said before that I believe this is a cycle, and that being silent means listening, paying attention to the outcome of what has happened so that you can gather new knowledge to shape your next actions.

The silence of the Witches is not passive. It’s the silence that comes from asking questions and then listening, really listening, to their answers, because those answers guide the knowing, the willing, and the daring to make real changes happen.

Today, I ask: Why does the commissary take food stamps?

Take a look at this story from the Washington Post about military members needing help to feed their families for Thanksgiving. They don’t mean that dad’s having trouble cooking his first turkey while mom’s away on deployment (although that’s an issue, too). They mean that many military families have trouble affording food. It’s not just at Thanksgiving; all year round, commissaries take WIC and SNAP and other kinds of “food stamps.”

What does it say about our society that the amount of money it takes to get someone to risk her life is less than the amount it takes to feed her family?

We have a story, in this country, about how anyone can get ahead through hard work and all the other good Puritan values. At times, that story has given hope to people, so much hope that they would come across the ocean to settle in a new land. It still gives so much hope that people struggle to enter the country without papers just so they can have a shot at that kind of success – or just enough to feed their families, maybe.

The military has traditionally been the bedrock of that story. “Look,” people say, “anyone can join the military and get three hots and a cot, and maybe even work for 20 years and then collect a pension afterwards.” After WW II, it was true that many, many people were able to get an education, get a job, and raise a family, largely thanks to the start the military gave them.

Today, that story is a lie.

This is what I learn from asking why the commissary takes food stamps.

People are enlisting in the military not just to have a chance at a college education and a pension. They’re enlisting in order to have their rotten teeth pulled and to get enough money that with food stamps and the commissary discounts and the help of a food bank they might be able to feed their kids.

There’s something that happens when the people with the guns don’t have enough to eat. It’s called a revolution. It’s not pretty.

Telling people to “get a job” when there are no jobs – and when those jobs, even at the risk of your life, don’t pay enough to feed your family – is a variation on “let them eat cake.” It’s the noise made by people who aren’t listening.

Today, as a Witch, I’m listening to the silence, and I’m trying to find the will and the daring to deal with the knowledge that comes from asking a simple question: Why does the commissary take food stamps?

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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9 Responses to Why does the commissary take food stamps?

  1. mmy0 says:

    Thanks for writing this Literata. When I read that piece in today I (without the least bit of exaggeration) felt chills running up and down my spine.

    Of course it is not right to pay the people who defend us so little that they cannot feed their families — but it is also STUPID . These are the people upon whom we depend to keep us free and safe. They are our last line of defense against chaos and the fall of civilization.

    If you read the comments on that piece (and similar pieces) you find a profound ignorance of (and even dislike of) the military. People look up what a general makes and say “wow look at all the money that person makes” and they have no idea what life is life to the “other ranks.” They have absolutely no idea of what if means to never, ever have full ownership of your own life. “Oh” people say “they have a comfortable life with a guaranteed job,” without the least idea of what duties go along with that privilege.

    As my dad said to me the other day–he knew of men who waved goodbye to their wives in 1939 and did not see them again until 1945. He knew of men who sailed off for a year’s deployment “somewhere over there” and came back years later haven lived through the type of conditions most of us cannot imagine.

    Sorry, this topic always induces a rant on my part.

    • Literata says:

      I don’t think your commentary, which is full of ethical insight, social awareness, and a deep sense of history, can be described as a rant. :)

      I do, however, avoid reading comments at open sites like that, in general, because the stupid, it burns. Guess I was right again.

      Your point about the “other ranks” is important, especially when there’s less opportunity to rise within the ranks than there was in the past. The military is less subject to some structural sources of inequality, but not free from them.

  2. bookloverlori says:

    This post makes me even more thankful that my hubby has a good job that is enough to feed us… and we are an expensive lot. I often complain that we live, essentially, paycheck to paycheck but when I stop and really look around, I have all of my needs met, most of my wants met, and a healthy, and generally happy, family. My heart breaks for the mothers of those families, who share their husbands with the government and still have to toil and struggle and worry about how they are going to feed their children.

    Today is Thanksgiving, and reading this has made me all that much more thankful for the blessings in my life (including, and especially, a wonderful siser-in-law!) : )

  3. Makarios says:

    “They’re enlisting in order to have their rotten teeth pulled and to get enough money that with food stamps and the commissary discounts and the help of a food bank they might be able to feed their kids.”

    When a country has a defence force that is composed largely of people who have enlisted out of desperation, there will be a price to be paid. The due date may be postponed for awhile, but eventually the debt will be called in. And if, even within the relative shelter of the forces, the members see their families doing without the necessities of life, the interest on that debt will be high.

    Unhappliy, most Americans believe that the US has nothing to learn from history or from the experience of other countries. This American exceptionalism is a dangerous mindset. What has happened in other countries can indeed happen in the United States if similar circumstances prevail. I hope what I hope, but I don’t see this ending well.

    • Literata says:

      As a historian, I agree fully. I alluded to the French Revolution in the post, but to take a less explosive example….I once worked on a project studying the British army in the Napoleonic Wars. With statistical analysis, I was able to show that enlistments were heavily influenced by the economy – specifically the price of bread. (We’ve seen that be an issue in the Arab Spring uprisings, too, by the way.) Enlisting in the British army at that point was a life-long commitment, where you left your family the way mmy described above, but you were probably never coming home, and in the meantime, you’d be subject to starvation again when the supplies or logistics failed.

      England avoided having a violent revolution, either to the left or the right, although they had plenty of upheaval in the 1800s and early 1900s. They managed to transform their society into something much more economically egalitarian while maintaining the nobility structure, in name if not in its historical form. They’re the exception rather than the rule, in terms of big European countries.

  4. Grafton says:

    I think, perhaps, that we are our last line of defense against chaos and the fall of civilization. When we can stand together and speak with one voice and say, “We will not stand for it any longer. There MUST be change!” then there will be, so long as the words precede action. If we wait for the ones with the guns to decide they’ve had enough and lead the revolution, not only may it be too late, but we may not get a say in what comes after. It IS wrong that military families in a first-world nation subsist on government aid, rather than government salary. It is wrong that ANY families in ANY nation are forced to so subsist and that there is a NEED for those programs even to exist. So, I ask this – what do we need to Know to give us the Will to Dare to eliminate the NEED? I have an answer, but I somehow doubt it is THE answer, so I’m listening and hoping and thanking the Powers that I am still free to think and speak as I do.

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