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Reflections on Memorial Day past

It was all there — the speeches, the tributes, the salutes, the editorials and the tears.

It was all there — the speeches, the tributes, the salutes, the editorials and the tears.

There is only one thing missing from the above accolades: We do forget, and two days later the American public is again almost totally disengaged from the wars we are now fighting.

Very honestly, I get somewhat frustrated when I see these innocuous little bumper stickers: “Support our Troops.” It’s not that I am anti-military (actually I am an honorably discharged veteran myself, Capt., USAF). The point is that the raging war in Afghanistan and the now-diminshed Iraqi action are hardly “wars” at all to most Americans. So, putting on a bumper sticker is just about the most involvement most of us have on these tragic, expensive and possibly specious ventures. 

At 78, I have seen my share of  Memorial Days relating to the war du jour. Those relating to World War II legitimately and sincerely made those veterans heroes. The Korean War (my service era) was characterized as a “police action” and was less effusive. The Vietnam vets sadly were sometimes even derided. And today Iraqi and Afghanistan warriors are very simply “out of sight and out of mind” to the American public. They are the forgotten.

Tiny portion of Americans carry the burden
Since we invaded Iraq, and entered Afghanistan, it is estimated that 1.6 million troops have served in these two wars — literally ½ of 1 percent of our nation’s population have carried this entire burden. Most of us are only casually or even remotely involved, merely clucking sadly when reading in the obituary pages about the young soldiers who died.

Indeed, among this tiny group who have carried virtually all the pain and suffering, tens of thousands have returned for multiple tours, much to the destruction of their families and civilian careers. In World War II we beat two powerful foes in about four years; we have been slogging along in Iraq and Afghanistan for 10, with only the vaguest references to an end game. Bumper strips are nice, but more is needed from patriotic Americans.

Among the most urgent is getting Americans to finally start paying for these wars. That act alone would not only create an awareness of the issue, but would share the burden among all of us. It would also bring to the surface the need to revisit the value, return on investment, and efficacy of remaining in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In both places, much of the populace and many of the leaders do not even want us to stay. In Afghanistan, our goals are spurious. Is a body count of the Taliban (as it was in Vietnam) the stated goal? Is our military there to persuade the populace that democracy is right for them? Are we trying to defeat an “ideology” with arms? Or, on the 50th year of President Eisenhower’s farewell address, are we being led by the objectives of the military/industrial complex, rather than a well-thought-out national security policy? Whatever the goals, they are surely worthy of discussion, and such discussions have been deferred.

A 10 percent surtax
Additionally, I would propose a 10 percent surtax that is dedicated solely to funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a small added tax, it would remain progressive and reduce the deficit. The 10 percent “Support the Troops Tax” would raise about $140 billion — an amount almost exactly the same as the expenditures for the war(s). In 1944 and 1945, the top tax rate for the highest income tier ($200,000) was a whopping 94 percent to pay for the war. Amazingly, few complained. If Congress and the administration believe in the importance of these wars, they should make provisions to pay for them, just as we have done in the past.

The imposition of a “Support the Troops Tax” would have many benefits, and should gain the favor of both liberals, who want to revisit the administration’s strategy of continuing the wars, and conservatives, who favor a reduction of the deficits and “pay as you go” policies.

Today, most Americans are disconnected from the violence and suffering shouldered by the small minority of our nation’s fighting men, women and families who are carrying the entire brunt of sacrifice. A tiny bumper sticker and patriotic Memorial Day speeches are inadequate; more is needed from all Americans. A “Support the Troops Tax” would at least be a move in the right direction.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.