Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rich Man's War Is The Poor Man's Fight

Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen's new book The Casualty Gap: The Causes and Consequences of America's Wartime Inequalities (reviewed in The Nation here) proves that the age-old description of the American Civil War as a "rich man's war and poor man's fight"-- which may or may not have been true of the Civil War-- IS in fact true of every other American military engagement since World War II. Kriner and Shen, both political scientists, supply all the data necessary to back up soberly the otherwise rhetoric-and-vitriol-driven claim of people like Michael Moore: members of our country's poor, undereducated, politically-marginalized and opportunity-deficient social strata are disproportionately dying in battle.

In an serendipitous coincidence of news for Kriner and Shen (an unfortunate coincidence for most of the rest of us), the U.S. Census Bureau announced this week that our country achieved record-breaking poverty rates in 2009. Nearly 44 million Americans-- that's more than 14% of the population-- are now living below the poverty line. Just to connect the dots here, that means it's significantly more likely that the brother, sister, son or daughter of someone you know, or your own, will be one of the "poor" people dying in battle. (Unless they're gay, that is.) One might think this would incline more Americans to oppose our military engagements abroad, as the inequality gap presses itself with more economic and existential force on a greater percentage of our population. But, apparently, one would be wrong in thinking that.

Andrew Bacevich (Professor of History at Boston University) offers a compelling agument for how we might reduce the casualty gap described by Kriner and Shen: namely, funding our wars on a strictly pay-as-you-go basis. Bacevich writes:

Consider the following back-of-the-envelope calculations. Since 9/11, the Pentagon budget has more than doubled to approximately $700 billion per year. Let's peg current war costs at $400 billion annually (almost certainly a lowball estimate). There are approximately 150 million single or jointly filing taxpayers in this country. Reduce that number by the 30 million veterans who have already given at the office, as it were, and the per capita cost of ongoing US wars comes to more than $3,300 per annum. Add that as a surcharge to every American's tax bill (or subtract that amount from the annual payout to Social Security recipients), and the "democratic brake" will bring American wars to a screeching halt.

Sadly, the likelihood of Bacevich's suggestion being implemented, or even taken seriously, is practically nil. Why? Because combatting the inqueality gap in this country is a Poor Man's War, and the poor are too busy fighing-- and dying-- in wars that are neither of their design nor in their interest.

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