-- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
One idea that went nowhere recently was a proposal by two
legislators to slap a new tax on the wealthy to finance the war in
A pity, because if we citizens really wanted to end war forever --
or at least keep our wars short and sweet -- we would rise up and
demand that every American be taxed to pay for whatever new conflict
our president or Congress dreams up.
Crazy? Yeah, sure. But consider...
Its common knowledge that Americans hate taxes. Possibly, we hate
taxes even more than we love the sort of foaming-at-the-mouth
patriotic fever that kicks off every new war that comes along. So if
we knew in advance that going to war would mean an automatic tax
hike... well, you get the picture.
Overnight, youd find anti-tax conservatives transformed into
Most likely, Americans were angry enough in the wake of 9/11 to
have upped their own taxes to pay for the war in Afghanistan, but that
fight would be long over by now if we were still paying. And Iraq?
That war would have blown up on the launching pad if the Bush
administration had dropped the bomb on you that you were going to be
taxed an extra $1,000 to $5,000 per year to pay for it.
Can you imagine how popular our wars would be on talk radio if
Americans knew theyd have to pay through the nose for all of those
$30,000 smart bombs we toss around like candy at a parade?
Actually, in a roundabout way, that‘s how its supposed to work
under the U.S. Constitution, only the mechanism for paying for our
wars has been broken beyond repair by Washington‘s practice of
borrowing money to pay for them.
When Americas founding fathers wrote the Constitution some 220
years ago, they decreed in Article 1, Section 8 that only Congress has
the power to declare war, in addition to the responsibility of raising
the funds to pay for it.
The founding fathers stuck Congress with the task of paying for our
wars because they knew that our senators and congressmen would have to
drum up the money for all of the guns, ammo and troops from their
constituents. How? Through taxes.
Thus, there was a lot of incentive to end wars quickly -- not just
to avoid the death of family members -- but also to get the
governments war taxes off your back.
Consider that during World War II, the tax rate went higher than
90% for the wealthiest Americans, with the tax pain spread throughout
the population. World War II was the biggest shoot-out in history, yet
Americas share of it ran just a little over three and a half years.
By contrast, the war in Afghanistan is entering its ninth year and
well soon be heading into our seventh year with the war in Iraq.
That‘s because today, Congress simply votes to borrow more money to
pay for our wars, so no one has a care in the world... for the short
You can bet that Americans were a lot more motivated to end World
War II asap than they are Iraq and Afghanistan for the simple reason
that theres no sacrifice of any kind for most of us.
Recently, Rep. David Obey, D-WI., chairman of the U.S. House
Appropriations Committee, called for a war surtax to pay for our
additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. Each of those soldiers will
cost our country an estimated $1 million per year.
Before backpedaling on the idea, Obey said that a war surtax is one
of simple fairness. The problem with this issue is that the only
people that have to sacrifice are military families and theyve had to
go to the well again and again and again and again, and everybody else
is blithely unaffected by the war.
Similarly, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, (D-MI) chairman of the Senate
Armed Services Committee, recommended a tax on Americans making more
than $200,000 or $250,000.
But thats not fair: a war tax should apply to all Americans as a
civic duty. If youre a wealthy citizen who hates war, why should you
have to pay extra while some gung-ho, war-loving redneck of limited
means goes scot-free?
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, when youre in a war, you either
hang together or you hang separately. Only when every American has
to pay up to finance our wars will we ever muster the kind of
political backlash that ends them quickly... or stops war dead in its
tracks before the first shot can be fired.
So, this is a utopian idea that could never come to pass, but we
citizens should recognize that Congress has failed in its
responsibility to seek taxes to pay for our wars, thus prolonging them
and passing on the debt to our childrens children. We should
consider a constitutional amendment requiring an across-the-board
automatic tax on every citizen any time our president or Congress
hatches a new war plan.
If that ever happened, you can bet that Washington would be hearing
plenty of battle cries -- but those rebel yells would be coming from
the homefront before the cannonballs even started to fly.