Who's Paying for all this Freedom?
January 29, 2005
By Darryl Cramer
we here at home contemplate our own duties, our own responsibilities,
let us think and think hard of the example which is being set for
us by our fighting men. Our soldiers and sailors are members of
well-disciplined units. But they're still and forever individuals,
free individuals. They are farmers and workers, businessmen, professional
men, artists, clerks. They are the United States of America. That
is why they fight. We too are the United States of America. That
is why we must work and sacrifice. It is for them. It is for us.
It is for victory.”
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A Call for Sacrifice”, April 28th, 1942
And sacrifice the American people did. Factories that otherwise
would have produced tin cans or toys were converted to manufacture
tanks and planes. More than six million women, in a time when most
did not seek employment, went to work in war-related industries.
As food became increasingly scarce, people began cultivating their
own gardens. Recycling developed importance for the first time and
Scrap Metal Drives were held throughout the country. In one way
or another, every American citizen was asked to sacrifice in order
to contribute to the war effort, whether that was rationing critical
goods, gasoline and food, as prescribed in “ration books” distributed
by the Office of Price Administration, sending themselves or their
loved ones into conflict, or both.
In spite of comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler,
it would be difficult to argue that the scale of the Iraq War is
anything close to approaching that of World War II. It would furthermore
be tough to argue that the stakes are anywhere near as high. Be
that as it may, we need to ask ourselves if every war, if it is
to be called such, should not demand at least some sort of commitment
and sacrifice from the general citizenry that is being represented
by the armed forces engaged in combat. If the war is worth fighting,
should not every last person on the home front be obliged to forego
at least some comforts while our brave youth are spilling his or
her blood? Modern American warfare would seem to indicate that this
is, in fact, not the case.
Roosevelt’s thinking is unfortunately antiquated in a time where
wars are fought with higher technology, fewer soldiers and less
citizen involvement. No one will deny the commitment and sacrifice
demonstrated by those in the armed forces and their families, but
the rest of us on the home front contribute virtually nothing to
the war effort beyond ceremonial displays of support for our troops.
Since there is no draft, non-military American families need not
worry about their sons and daughters being called for duty. Since
the Bush Administration seems quite unconcerned with the growing
deficit, the American taxpayer is not even called upon to pay for
the cost of the War; we will leave that for future generations.
Lastly, while even the President has openly conceded to the need
to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, particularly from the
Middle East, as a critical element in our War Against Terror, not
one single measure has been enacted in the name of energy conservation.
If it were not for reminders through news channels, many of which
could be more appropriately classified as entertainment, and a few
bumper stickers and ribbons, it would be easy for those on the home
front to forget that America was even engaged in a war.
After 9/11, the American people were willing, even eager, to do
their part, whatever that might be, to help defeat those who attacked
us. Having squandered that goodwill long ago, the Bush Administration
has correctly calculated that asking the general population to sacrifice
anything whatsoever would have a deleterious effect on public support
for the War. To that extent, the President, while waxing endlessly
about the need to fight for freedom, has not asked the American
public for even token sacrifice. As long as the War has absolutely
no impact on quality of life in the United States, he can hope to
continue to enjoy a certain level of support. Freedom is not free
– it just seems like very few people are actually paying for it.
Warfare, American-style, has been an industry all of its own for
quite some time – and a big one at that. Like all good businesses,
it seeks to increase profits, expand markets and drive demand. Demand,
as we know, increases when costs, at least to the decision-makers,
in this case voters, are driven toward zero. Various studies have
shown that there are certain price points below which consumers
will buy on impulse, transacting without critically thinking about
the perceived benefits given that the cost is moderate. Is there
a price point under which a nation will go to war on impulse? The
answer is, sadly, “yes.” No draft, no taxes, no rationing and no
conservation equate to very little cost, effectively lowering any
threshold of criteria required for military action.
The unfortunate consequence is a foreign policy driven increasingly
by military industrial interests, with a resulting proliferation
of military responses to political problems. Of course, every conflict
has a given rationale, and the propaganda machines are always running
full-tilt, but the United States has been engaged in a curiously
significant amount of military activity, all in the name of freedom,
naturally, in the 60 years since the end of World War II: four wars,
not including the Cold War, numerous invasions of foreign countries
and inestimable meddling and support for foreign conflicts around
the globe. The Cold War was quite a bonanza for defense companies:
enormous defense budget outlays without messy casualties. Alas,
it ended. The War on Terror, on the other hand, while entailing
regrettable military and civilian bloodshed, will continue as long
as people use violence against civilians to achieve political goals:
in other words, forever. It appears to be the gift that will keep
Dwight Eisenhower, in a speech
near the end of his tenure in 1961, warned against “the acquisition
of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military
industrial complex.” Interestingly enough, the other threat mentioned
in his speech was “the impulse to live only for today, plundering,
for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.”
With defense spending around half a trillion dollars, financed by
unprecedented levels of federal budget deficit, one has to wonder
if anyone was listening.
Darryl Cramer is a writer and activist. Other writings of his can
be found at www.darrylcramer.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.