Monday, April 15, 2013

It's Tax Day: A Lament

It’s April 15, the deadline in the United States for the filing of individual tax returns and the annual settling of accounts between the citizenry and its government.

At heart, I am a tax protestor.  Not because I don’t want to pay nor because I quibble with the stewardship of our monies (both are true of me but not my primary motivator when it comes to federal taxes).

Rather, I am a pacifist work-in-progress (daily failing to live up to my own ideal).  Thus do I begrudge the military dollars we as a nation spend.

When the war waged against the people of Iraq was in high gear, AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) had a white paper that noted the amount of the US federal budget dedicated to military spending: 42 cents of every tax dollar.

Today I received an e-mail from Peace Action, which states in part, “As we file our taxes, fifty-seven cents of every dollar spent in the annual discretionary budget feeds the Pentagon.”

It may be a question of wording.  I certainly hope so.  I hope that the already large proportion of federal tax dollars dedicated to the military has not increased in the last ten years.

Logic would dictate that it’s far cheaper to not be engaged in war than to be.  And the US maintains that it is no longer engaged in war in Iraq and is winding down its involvement in Afghanistan.

If this is true, why would the Pentagon require yet more of the federal pie, both in raw dollars and in the percentage of the total?

Presumably, the replacement of the materials of war has been an on-going effort since 2002, so it’s not as if we must start from scratch to replace tanks and planes and bullets expended in Iraq and Afghanistan, for surely most of that work has already been done.

I suspect that what is happening is an ever-increasing remit to the military: in addition to the protection of our borders and the nefarious protection of ‘our interests’ abroad, the big money is going to things like drones, satellite surveillance, spy planes, cyber war, and whatever else anyone employed there can imagine.

Who is left to quantify the cost-benefit of the spending of these monies?

Decades ago, as he left office (shame on him for not doing something about it when he actually had the power to), then President Eisenhower warned the nation to beware of the power of the military-industrial complex.  It was an important warning and one that we as a people have continued to ignore.

It’s difficult to cut back on military bases and civilian contracts to the military sector not only because of the felt need for protection but also because the people of the nation have come to have a vested interest in their continuation by way of jobs and aid to local economies.

Prior to WWII, we were largely a nation that ramped up production of military hardware as and when needed for direct conflict rather than in anticipation thereof.  This approach helped significantly to minimize our felt need for what these industries provide.

But now, if my job is dependent upon this industry, of course I will perceive the industry as ‘essential’.  It’s almost impossible to argue against my own economic interests.  And it’s equally hard to hear any challenge on the moral front to these activities when that’s how I make my living.

Military production is a moral as well as economic compromise.  And it is costly.

And thus I am left to wonder at my more conservative Christian friends, who all too often in my view, rush to the naming of personal sin as the root cause of attacks against and the sufferings of us as a nation, but are troublingly silent in naming our collective sins, such as the sins of national hubris or pride, our collective violation of the commandments against killing another, coveting what another has, stealing (or taking by force, which is the same thing, really) from another, and failing to tell the truth, all of which we do through the offices of our military adventures around the world.

It’s tax day and I am a coward.  Thus like most of us, I will pay Caesar more than what Caesar is owed, because I am not prepared to go to prison not to.

It is tax day and my hands and my conscience too are bloody.

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