FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

War, Taxes and Democracy

The war in Iraq has raised serious fiscal, social, and constitutional problems. Politicians are generally unwilling to mention, let alone deal with them, but their urgency will require attention soon enough. A tax–one specifically tied to warmaking–may help all three problems. Offering such a solution does not come trippingly from me, for taxation, as is often and intelligently noted, can be destructive. But some things should be destroyed, and one of them is detachment from the realities of ill-advised and unwinnable wars–a detachment that undermines basic principles of American life. Ironically, constitutional principles founded on resistance to taxation may require taxation to counter dangers to important parts of them.

Prewar visions of a smooth transition to UN control and a timely US withdrawal have given way to an interminable guerrilla war that has thus far cost over 2800 dead, almost 20,000 wounded, and approximately a quarter trillion dollars. Many analysts see a US presence in Iraq for years to come. Amid these figures is the unsettling issue of who is suffering the casualties. Since the end of conscription in 1973, large portions of the middle classes and almost all affluent strata know nothing of military service, let alone combat, except as family lore passed down by fathers, more often by grandfathers. The military is not composed of the poor, as many critics (who rarely themselves have served) often contend, but clearly the upper-middle classes and above have not increased their contribution to the nation since the war began. Many previous wars had touched almost all Americans, either through civic virtue, conscription, or noblesse oblige, but the distribution of casualties today makes the Vietnam War, despite all its exemptions and evasions, seem almost egalitarian in contrast.

This leads to a critical issue, one with moral and constitutional importance. We have a protracted war with little if any cost–financial or personal–to large portions of the American people; a war that is no longer supported by a large majority of the public, but which has fostered only tepid opposition from the occasional politician and a motley assortment of protesters, who usually express greater concern for unrelated social causes than for the war itself. As disconcerting as this is, it comes after erosion of the constitutional principle of congressional control of warmaking, a process that has gone on steadily for several decades now. We face a morally troubling and constitutionally dangerous state of affairs in which, owing to the absence of apparent costs to the majority of people, a president can begin and continue a war despite widespread opposition to it.

Principles of constitutional controls and social justice call for remedy. A return to conscription might be one, but numerous problems come readily to mind. Inducting, training, and deploying a more representative range of American youth, including relatively privileged strata, would outrage parents, who don’t want their children placed in harm’s way, and appall military leaders, who could well surmise the deleterious effects on discipline and cohesion. Furthermore, conscription would do nothing to ease pressing fiscal problems. Nor would pay incentives aimed at drawing in the more privileged offer significant relief. Years would be required to attract sufficient numbers; youth would unlikely respond amid an unpopular war; and fiscal problems would only worsen.

Perhaps disincentives on warmaking would work where incentives to serve would fail. Taxation on privileged, largely aloof strata, structured to pay the looming war debt and written so as to end with a war, would have several benefits. Obviously, a war tax would help pay for our adventure in transforming the Middle East. Second, it would spread the costs of war more equitably throughout American society. Third, it would lead to formidable though not insurmountable opposition to warmaking that is not based on sound assessment of the nation’s security. Perhaps most importantly, a war tax would lead to greater public awareness of the costs of war, which in turn would yield greater public involvement in foreign policy, constitutional principles, and the decision to go to war in the first place.

Many will gleefully and spitefully seize upon the idea of taxing the upper strata with only notional interest in the moral and constitutional principles that frame the argument here. Similarly, others will denounce a new tax with little if any reference to or concern with those same principles. Without spreading the costs of war across the social system, the new century may well see, perhaps after short-lived respites (during which romantic views of war and America’s mission in the world will inevitably return), further ill-advised wars as well as continued destruction of constitutional controls on warmaking and democratic involvement in foreign policy. And perhaps all Americans will look upon our young soldiers as more than regiments of expendable sepoys and Hessians whose deaths are adequately appreciated by a few moments on the news.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is a veteran of the Vietnam War and author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

© BRIAN M. DOWNING

 

 

 

More articles by:

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of  The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com (Copyright 2015 Brian M Downing) 

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail