Like most other states, here in New Jersey, we have had a long-standing financial crisis – brought on by poor governance by both parties and exacerbated by the Bush financial meltdown. Last year, Chris Christie was elected governor on a platform of “shared sacrifice”; that is everyone in the state would be called upon to help dig us out of this hole. (This was a broken promise, but that's the subject of another blog.)
The crisis in New Jersey pales in comparison to the crisis in the Middle East. The Bush/Obama wars of choice have been going on longer than any of our previous wars, which for the most part were wars of necessity. But except for those have a loved one in the military, the wars are not having a significant impact back home. The reason is that, unlike in other wars, we are not being asked to “sacrifice” to achieve military goals. Any contribution to the “sacrifice” is being handled solely by the troops and their families, and by our children and grandchildren who will be paying the debt for these wars in decades to come.
War is horrible, and if a country decides to go to war it must weigh the benefits with the real and the hidden costs. If continuation of these wars is to be justified, then the entire country needs to be involved. Only then, by sharing in the burden of the wars, can the general population make the informed and rational decision on the wars’ worth.
Two things need to happen immediately:
Make the Wars a Pay-as-You-Go Proposition
The Middle East wars have robbed our treasury of one trillion (that’s a million million) dollars with no end in sight. We are spending one billion dollars a day – for what? More troops have been killed than the number of people who died in 9/11. Those who were injured will be (rightfully) covered for rehabilitation for the rest of their lives. Yet, the Republicans and some Democrats are so fiscally and morally irresponsible that they are promoting tax cuts. We should immediately impose a progressive tax surcharge to pay for the war so that all Americans are called upon to share in this sacrifice. The surcharge should be real but small for the lowest income wage earners and progressively increase to, say, 50% of incremental gross income for people earning over $500,000 per year. Similar surcharges should be levied on corporate taxes. Those who benefit most from our country’s economy should contribute more for these wars that are primarily benefiting corporate America.
Re-instate the Draft
The volunteer military is a good idea in time of peace. And if there is a justifiable war, like World War II, I have no doubt that able-bodied Americans would enlist in droves. No doubt, in today’s military, there are also thousands of enlistees who gladly volunteered believing they were avenging the horrors of 9/11. But there are also thousands of “volunteers” today who look at the military as employer of last resort. Yet, the services are so strapped for manpower, they are lowering their standards for enlistment to include ex-felons. And they are sending troops back to the front for four or five tours of duty with little rest between deployments.
We should bring back the draft, and include everyone. Men and women, rich and poor, gays and straights. Those who are not able-bodied enough to serve should be required to perform equivalent service at home – working with the poor, or doing other similar service. Deferments should be rare. And to reward those who do serve, generous college scholarships should be available upon completion of service. That’s a win-win situation.
By instituting war taxes and compulsory service, we move toward a “shared sacrifice” that any war must be conducted under. And if these shared sacrifices are too much for the country to bear, then the debate over the justification for these wars will become more relevant.