Let Them Eat … Ketchup!


It’s National Ketchup Day! But why should you, er, give a squirt?

Well, you probably shouldn’t except that by pure stroke of luck this very first National Ketchup Day also happens to be just days after The Washington Post published this article and this equally incendiary graphic to make the case that military families are over-compensated and coddled. And they used ketchup — namely, that the Camp Lejeune commissary carries 15 brands of that condiment — as proof.

I was in the commissary at Eglin Air Force Base on Monday and snapped this picture. Looks like there’s only six brands here.

ketchupThe story makes the case for doing away with commissaries. But the larger problem with the story and the graphic, the thing that has many of us turning tomato red, is the implication that we are given too much, that we are pampered, that our compensation is somehow too heavy a burden for the country to carry. (Yes, please insert irony here.)

It seems so obvious to us: If our lives are so good, so easy and so privileged, why isn’t everybody signing up? And yet The Washington Post story doesn’t even address that.

Perhaps most maddeningly, the graphic states our military salaries have risen 90 percent since 2001 (wonder what happened that year?) but DOESN’T EVEN MENTION THAT TROOPS WERE DEPLOYED INTO HEAVY COMBAT FOR ALL OF THOSE YEARS —AND STILL ARE. In other words, that troops drew extra pay for being gone and being in danger and that the Department of Defense had to find some way to attract people to dangerous work that requires long absences from home. The story says enlisted service members now earn more (the horror!) than many civilians with two years of college, but doesn’t mention that service members as a whole are far better educated than civilians as a whole.

(So for those doing the math, that means the Post was comparing civilians with two-year degrees to service members with likely the same or better degrees, and with multiple years of service, and in an in-demand field, and deployed into combat for as much as a year at a time, but was SURPRISED to find that service members earn about the same when, presumably, the Post believes they should earn a lot less. Hmm, snobby much, WaPo?)

And, of course, the story also doesn’t mention the other ‘casualties’ of military life. Things like the fact that most of us live off only one income because frequent moves and frequent deployments (i.e, single parenting) make it all but impossible for military spouses to find and keep jobs and that very few of us live near relatives, meaning we have to pay a premium for child care. The story does mention our ‘subsidized’ daycares, but doesn’t note that for many of us the cost of sending our kids to a military daycare is no less than the cost of using a civilian-run one, and in some cases the military ones cost us more. Or that the vast majority of us don’t live on military installations, and so using those ‘subsidized’ child care centers is highly impractical.

But how would The Washington Post have known those things? That’s all insider information. You’d have to live this life, or be close to people who do, or (gasp!) interview a few of us to really understand those things — and I’d bet a 32-ounce bottle of Heinz there aren’t many in The Post’s newsroom who’ve ever taken an oath to serve. (And, eek!, talk to us? … we couldn’t expect the Post to do that… our lower class-ness might be contagious… but, tell you what, you bring the notepad and I’ll supply the hand sanitizer, WaPo — After all, I get it at “near wholesale prices” at the Commissary…)

Still, it’s National Ketchup Day! And you need some ketchup-y fun. So here’s a factoid:

* Didja know that during World War II ketchup was sometimes made from bananas as there was a shortage of tomatoes (and pretty much everything else)? And during World War II ketchup was one of many food items subject to rationing. (Rationing, for those who don’t know, was the process of only allowing people to buy a limited number of in-short-supply items so that troops fighting the war would have everything they needed. The government decided to ‘ration’ these items rather than just let the prices go up because they wanted all Americans to feel the pain of war equally. The novelty…Can you imagine?

*And speaking of World War II, didja know that just after the war about half of the graduating classes of Princeton and Harvard entered military service for a tour of duty? Today, less than one percent do. I don’t have a link for that because I got that from a book written by the prophets Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer, a book called “AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service — and How It Hurts Our Country.”

(Okay, so Kathy and Frank aren’t really prophets, but the book — published in 2006 — seems downright prophetic now. Also in that book: The draft was created during World War I because SO MANY sons from America’s elite families were volunteering to fight — and die —  that leaders worried there would be no one left to lead the country after the war.)

The main point of the book is that so long as those in America’s upper classes continue to believe that military service is only for the less fortunate, the gap between the civilian and military populations will continue to widen, and that gap is bad for the military and bad for the country. (The gap, by the way, is the ugliest form of NIMBY-ism imaginable, as it justifies letting those deemed less fortunate do the harshest, most dangerous and most deadly work for those more fortunate.)

But even Kathy and Frank didn’t predict the ugliness we’re seeing now: that when the fighting and dying seemed to be, er, dying down, the most fortunate would look for ways to duck out on the bill …Why, that would be like waiting until AFTER your immigrant maid sanitized your toilet to tell her you were docking her pay…

But that’s exactly the kind of thinking The Washington Post seems to be advocating. With several thousand words of prime newshole, The Post tells its readers: “Why are we paying them so much? They’re supposed to be LESS than us.”

Sigh… well, since those in The Post’s ivory tower newsroom covet our ketchup so much, I say, LET THEM EAT KETCHUP! In fact, I say, let’s give them some ketchup. Mail your bottles, jugs, packets or even just coupons (I sent 114 ounces of tomato-ey goodness) to:

Rajiv Chandrasekaran
1150 15th Street, NW,
c/o The Washington Post Company
Washington, DC 20071

And take to Twitter to send your tweets and ketchup pics. @rajivwashpost and @washingtonpost #ketchupgate #LavishMilFamCondiments