July 4, marks the day when our patriot ancestors officially declared themselves independent from Great Britain. On that day in 1776, Americans were engaged in a fierce struggle to earn the right to exist as a nation. Eleven score and eleven years later, we are fighting another war with huge ramifications. President Bush reminds us on about a weekly basis that we are involved in a titanic struggle between liberty loving America and radical Islam. And he is right. But since this is such a momentous conflict, why isn't he asking all Americans to share the burdens of war equally?
The soldiers in Iraq have done a tremendous job, braving blistering temperatures, and facing down suicide bombers. At the same time these soldiers are busy fighting, Americans simply are not doing their part back home. In fact, members of the upper classes of society are sacrificing even less than they were in peace time. In 2001, President Bush cut taxes by $1.6 trillion. At least half of these benefited the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers. The tax cuts have coincided with rising economic inequality that sees some corporate executives making as much money in a single day as their employees do in a year.
Ironically, the very soldiers defending the lifestyles of rich Americans disproportionately come from sectors of society that have not benefited from the Bush economy. Racial minorities are overrepresented in the military; African-Americans for example are 22% of those on active duty even though they comprise only 12% of the population. A study by the National Priorities Project found that the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, while 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan. For its part, the military has faced allegations of using overly aggressive tactics to recruit soldiers from depressed economic situations.
This contrasts with previous US war efforts, which have more readily involved all classes of society. During World War II for example, Americans accepted rationing of various items, and the scions of the well-to-do, such as George H.W Bush enthusiastically signed up to fight for their country. Finally, I can't imagine Franklin Roosevelt telling Americans to help the war effort against the Axis powers by going shopping, much less giving tax cuts to billionaires who don't need them.
In this war however, life goes on as usual. In 2005, Americans bought 141.6 billion gallons of gasoline, thus financing both sides of the war on terror. Energy consumption has reached record levels in recent years. The Bush tax cuts have been renewed, even when America is running a record budget deficit. There is simply no way we can afford all these things and be serious about fighting a war of this magnitude.
The war on terror is a very real conflict that we cannot afford to lose. We are fighting to preserve the American nation purchased with the blood of patriots all those years ago. Winning it will require a great commitment of resources, and the efforts of all Americans. If we truly love our country and what it stands for, then all of us, including investment bankers and lawyers must be willing to sacrifice. After all, that is the way the founding generation did it.