- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I asked myself that question as I was reading an oral history of jazz the other night.
The WWII GI Bill was very generous. Not only could you get an education, you could get a mortgage. And you could stay unemployed for a year while getting $20 a week.
John Graas, a French horn player, mentions in the jazz book that many musicians in Los Angeles used the GI Bill to study music theory. I remember reading also that some of the Beat writers found they could live on that $20 a week in Mexico.
It made me wonder if the GI Bill had two effects; First, giving American culture a boost (though I believe the injection of music theory into jazz didn’t do jazz much good, because I think that ideas began to elbow aside emotion). Second, it gave a lot of new veterans time to reflect on their experiences and absorb them.
In the book Over Here: How the GI Bill Transformed the American Dream, Edward Humes lists dozens of actors, artists, musicians, screenwriters, and others who learned their arts on the GI Bill, among them Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Elmore Leonard, Rod Serling, Robert Duvall, and Robert Rauschenberg. Not only did the money help the men, the influx of tuition fees also kept many struggling schools from closing.
I’d be interested in reading a study of writers and others who did time in combat (such as the poet Anthony Hecht) compared to those who did not.