Democratic Underground

Who's Paying for all this Freedom?

January 29, 2005
By Darryl Cramer

“As 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 on giving.

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 darryl@darrylcramer.com.

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