We Don’t Need a War Tax

MarinePlaysTaps_ANCI’m now going to respond to an op-ed piece in the New York Times, which I suggest you read first.

In the article, entitled “A Tax to Pay for War,” R. Russell Rumbaugh – an Army veteran and a former analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Budget Committee – argues that we need to install a war tax to cover the US defense needs in coming years.

I can give two reasons why we most certainly do not need a war tax: We don’t need more wars, and we don’t need more taxes.

Let’s start with the latter. We are living in an incredibly divisive time in the US. Multiple parties vehemently disagree about the way in which we spend and where our budget comes from. “Obamacare,” as some call it, has been named a tax by the Supreme Court.

That tax is, at least in theory, only supposed to save lives. And we all know how well people have responded to its cost. Imagine how prepared we are for yet another tax that’s directly linked to taking lives instead (more on that in a minute).

At the same time, we’re also in a recession. People are very tired economically. Even people who believe their taxes are going to worthwhile causes know it hurts to see their salaries decreased by a large percentage every pay period. We’re strained, and each new tax is getting more and more scrutiny – do we need it? Will it benefit us?

So let’s scrutinize this deep “need” Mr. Rumbaugh cites for more money put toward defense: Our annual military spending is measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars – $718 billion in 2011, not including veterans’ costs. In 2011, the US spent more on defense than the next 13 countries combined. Yes our military budget is being lowered right now, as two wars wind down and many Americans call for better fiscal policy. Still, those cuts aren’t exactly making us look weak.

Then there’s a second, more important reason we don’t need a war tax: we don’t need more wars.

As the daughter of a war veteran who saw the horrors in Vietnam and came back begging for non-intervention, I hope I can say what I have to say without offending my brave friends and their families who are serving and have served in our armed forces. The wars we have fought over the last half-century are tearing the world apart.

We are creating enemies, killing innocents, and destroying our reputation abroad. For anyone who wants to argue that last point, I’m overseas right now and it’s absolutely true.

In addition, our people are suffering from it. We are empire-exhausted, tired of the news reports. We’ve separated ourselves from it so it won’t melt our hearts anymore.

Surely we Americans aren’t as stupid as the rest of the world thinks we are. We know our taxes aren’t going to defense. We’ve figured out after enough decades of war that our taxes are going to offense.

Our security system today spies on, and in some cases kills, its own citizens. It attacks countries already reduced to rubble. It bullies other nations into sending their young people to places where they’re unwelcome for reasons wholly unrelated to their own national interests. We are giants, and ugly ones.

I don’t want to pay any percentage into that system. I don’t want to see a single dollar I earn writing about human rights and justice to be put back into a militant superpower that defends torture more than it defends its own people. Call me a Quaker, a pacifist, a thumb-sucker – whatever will get the IRS off my case on this one.

Rumbaugh says, “By tying military action to additional revenue, the president would actually have a freer hand in deciding when to use force.” Well, that’s obviously exactly what we need. Who are we kidding? The president already uses a nearly free hand through executive orders.

He says, “If the American people agree [new military actions] are worth it, the president will get both the political support and financing he needs.” But he’s talking about an automatic surcharge from “every American” – there’s no agreement involved.

And most sadly he closes with, “If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too.” This is where I turned from anger and defiance to a deep sense of sadness and loss.

The truth – as dirty and tragic as it is – is that most of our military action isn’t worth our troops’ blood. I know many of our troops, and their spouses, and their children. I am the child of a former Marine officer who lost dear friends and family to war. Their blood is actually quite precious.

I don’t want our armed forces gone, worlds away, finding trouble. I don’t want them coming back with emotional trauma and physical handicaps. I don’t want to hear stories of atrocities or see videos of massacres leaked to the internet. I don’t want to meet another refugee of a US-led invasion or see another photo of a military widow in mourning. I want them – my friends – at home, defending me and themselves.

With that in mind, Mr. Rumbaugh, it’s actually not worth my treasure. Not one penny of it.

And it’s not worth yours, either.

4 Responses to “We Don’t Need a War Tax”
  1. Dear Joanna,
    Many thanks for your blog reply to the NY Times Op-Ed calling for a “war tax” to support our military operations abroad and I might add at home.
    I agree that rather than a war tax we should be redirecting our taxes to nonviolent responses to international conflict that would be both sustainable and in the long term solve problems in our global village rather than increase them.
    Perhaps your readers would be interested in knowing about just such an alternative. There is a piece of legislation being introduced into the 113th Congress that would create a Peace Tax Fund within the US Treasury to which the taxes of conscientious objectors to war and militarism could have their tax dollars directed. The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act that civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis will once again introduce does just that. It would require that those of us who are opposed to war and preparations for war as a result of our religious, moral or ethical beliefs could state so on the Form 1040 when we file with the IRS. As a result our tax dollars would be prohibited from being used for seven differnet categories of the Federal Budget, including the Defense Department, the Nuclear Weapons category of the Department of Energy’s budget, the Star Wars category of NASA, the Selective Service System, etc. We would still pay the same amount of taxes that everyone else does but our taxes could only be directed to portions of the Federal Budget that would constitute life affirming activities. folks can read the bill in its entirety and find out about the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF) by going to http://www.peacetaxfund.org. Would you mind if I posted your essay “We Don’t Need a War Tax” on our website? Our office is at Quaker House on the campus of the Friends Meeting of Washington.
    Peace & Trust,
    Jack Payden-Travers, Director of the NCPTF

    • JCM says:

      Thank you for this well-detailed alternative, Jack! It would certainly be a good start. I love the idea of a “Peace Tax” to oppose the “War Tax” concept. Please feel free to post this anywhere as long as you link back here directly.

  2. Michael says:

    The idea would be really good if the war tax was the ONLY way to fund military activities, i.e., not taxes that are also used for other purposes and not borrowed money (or perhaps just a fixed percentage of military funding could come from borrowed money). If that were the case, our military involvement would have a huge and direct effect on the taxes people pay. If we stayed out of other countries, the tax would go way down. If we increased military involvement, it would go way up. Suddenly average people would have a huge incentive to keep the government from military activity unless they thought it was absolutely necessary to avoid some worse consequence.

    If you isolate all military spending and make it come out of one particular tax in this way, it might also make it easier to allow certain people to be excepted from the tax, such as religious/conscientious objectors, etc.

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