Since it was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about $77 billion in benefits authorized under the bill have flowed to 7.8 million veterans of World War II and 2.4 million of the Korean War, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. An additional 1.4 million post-Korean veterans and 6 million Vietnam-era veterans have used the GI Bill for education and training.
That snapshot, however, does not begin to explain how one law has touched generations of Americans. "It built a modern middle class. It propelled a generation of leaders," said Anthony J. Principi, the secretary of veterans affairs.
Phil isn't one to just link to a good story, though - he always has some interesting insight of his own to add. He comments:
The GI Bill is what enabled the veterans of WWII to flood America's colleges and universities -- previously bastions of privilege -- and subsequently become the scientists, engineers, lawyers, teachers, salesmen, managers and leaders of the 20th Century. The GI Bill touched off the greatest educational boom in this country, which according to many studies, is as much responsible for our economic boom during this period as anything. And today, the GI Bill remains the most important benefit for new soldiers choosing to enlist; it has given millions of Americans the chance to earn a post-secondary education that would not have otherwise had it.
It's worth noting that the educational legacy of the GI Bill also lay at the foundation of the civil rights movement and the women's rights movement. To that end, imagine the transformnative effect that a similar investment in education might make for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. In fact such a proposal has been made as part of a lengthy report on winning the War on Terror by Congressman Jim Turner - and at a fraction of the cost of the war on Iraq itself:
Most interesting, however, is part three, concerning what Turned describes as "the greatest challenge and most neglected problem we face": preventing the rise of future generations of terrorists. The centerpiece of this strategy is the welcome twofold proposition that the country, in conjunction with allies, commit substantial resources toward improving living conditions in the Islamic world.
In the first instance, this means improving education by directing $10 billion over 10 years "directly for operation of primary and secondary secular schools in Arab states that commit to doubling their investment in public education over the course of ten years." The goal here is to wean students away from the radical indoctrination of the madrasas, traditional schools where Islam is taught. But unless we want to be running Arab school systems forever, sustainable secular education is going to require local economic development, so Turner's second proposal is a Marshall Plan-like effort to provide $100 billion in aid over 10 years (to be matched by allies) that would be conditioned on recipient countries adopting a broad range of internal economic reforms.
Relative to the scale of the challenge, these proposals are actually rather modest. The invasion of Iraq has cost more than $100 billion so far, with $25 billion more requested in early May and no end in sight. (The $1 billion a year Turner wants for schools, by contrast, is less than the Pentagon's budget for a single day, though stopping terrorist ideology from spreading is clearly preferable to trying to combat its adherents later with cruise missiles.) The real Marshall Plan, undertaken by America alone, cost $200 billion per year relative to the present size of the economy, not $200 billion over 10 years with half the money coming from Europe and Japan.
This is a grand Neo-wilsonian policy of projecting American soft-power to achieve a mutually beneficial end. It's a compelling case and I am trying to track down a full copy of the report to study it in more detail at leisure. There is much food for thought here, but we only have to look at the fruits of investing in education and infrastructure after World War II in our home country to get a sense for the transformative power of ideas and knowledge upon society, and the potential such a course followed in the Middle East would have for Arab liberty and American security.