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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/22/11

A Unified Theory of War and Taxes

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"You see those bombers in the sky?
"Rockefeller helped to build them,
So did I!"

In 1943 Congress overrode a presidential veto to shift the tax burden more heavily onto working people.  Corporations would never again to this day shoulder the share of public funding that they had in the early years of World War II. 

Taxes were reduced again after the war.  But again, they were not returned to pre-war levels.  The 1948 reduction was the only time taxes have been cut by overriding a presidential veto.  President Truman was envisioning a permanent military state while millions of other Americans were hoping war had ended at least for a while.

But in 1950 and 1951, Congress passed new tax bills, including an excess profits tax, to pay for war in Korea, and to return the tax system to roughly what it had been during World War II.  There was support for "sacrifice" in the air at the start of the Korean War that later fizzled.

The Vietnam War was a different story.  In the earlier years of its major escalation, President Lyndon Johnson avoided raising taxes, apparently largely out of fear that talking about the financial strain of the war would lead to cuts in domestic programs.  Or, as LBJ delicately put it:

"I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved.  If I left the woman I really loved -- the Great Society -- in order to get involved with that b*tch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home.  All my programs.  All my hopes to feed the hungry and the homeless.  All my dreams." 

Of course, he would also kill huge numbers of human beings, most of them Vietnamese, and destroy any dreams held by anyone in that country.  And he did so.  But the war grew unpopular at home, as did the idea of sacrificing financially to pay for it.  Nonetheless, the tax bill that was passed in 1968 was the largest single-year increase since World War II.  On March 25, 1969, just days after secretly beginning to bomb Cambodia, President Nixon began lobbying Congress for more taxes.

And then came George W. Bush.  War as a joint sacrifice was out the window.  Wars would be fought by the poor and the privatized.  Mercenaries and contractors would outnumber troops.  Massive spending would be dedicated to recruitment.  Those recruited would meet lower standards and be held for longer periods of "service."  Everyone else would benefit from war.  There would be patriotism, entertaining news coverage, and major tax cuts, instead of increases.  Out as well was progressive taxation, the notion that the wealthy should pay at a greater rate than those who actually need their money.  So, something new arose on the horizon of U.S. history: major and repeated regressive tax cuts during an immensely expensive pair of simultaneous wars.

This pattern has essentially continued during President Obama's tenure.  Military spending continues to increase, while taxes continue to decrease.  The result has been a huge budget deficit.  And the impact of these and related policies on the economy has been disastrous, leading to an even huger budget deficit.  A lot of ideas have been proposed to solve this problem: cut back or eliminate self-funding programs that are doing fine financially, such as Social Security or Medicare; or cut back or eliminate basic goods provided through our government, such as schools or healthcare or environmental protection.  The fact that over half of our income tax goes to the military and wars, and that a majority of us want those wars ended and that military reduced -- such obvious solutions are not discussed in corporate media. 

The fact that wars created the taxes, and that the taxes have now been cut back as the wars expanded -- such insights would require a knowledge of history.  One solution would be to give everyone a copy of Bank and Stark and Thorndike's book, "War and Taxes." 

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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