Rings of War


Think of a war as a violent center of a circle with concentric rings of people surrounding it. At the center are the soldiers who have to fight the war. In the next ring are the people whose loved ones are doing the fighting. In the third ring, at a safe distance, are the politicians who started the war.

The fourth ring includes journalists, to whom the war is just another story. They get paid to write and talk about something, and a war is a long-lasting topic.

The fifth ring includes the self-anointed experts, who love to do sound bites on television and participate in panel discussions.

The sixth ring includes the arms industry, which, wisely, keeps a low profile. Arms merchants, after all, view the war as a permanent holiday sale. The longer it lasts, the more profits they make. There is a distinct advantage in products that self-destruct with one-time use, such as bullets, missiles, bombs and artillery rounds. Even the big-ticket items like vehicles don’t last too long.

The seventh and final ring of people includes the majority of Americans, who have no direct interest in the war. They are not in the military, they have no loved ones in the military, and they don’t work in the arms industry.

To these people, a war in a distant place is like a television show that they can watch in the comfort of their living room. If they get bored, they can make it go away with a flick of their remote control. The war has no effect on their lives, which go on as if there were no war — as indeed there isn’t, so far as they are concerned.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem with undeclared foreign wars. The great majority of Americans are excluded from participation. Politicians start wars, and politicians are the only ones who can end them. The fewer people involved in the war, the less pressure there will be on the politicians to end it. That leaves them free to posture on either side of the issue without actually doing anything.

President Bush has no interest in ending the war. Before the terrorist attack in 2001, he was at odds and ends and didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do. But now he enjoys being a war president. It’s given him a role to play. He’s not going to give that up.

Congress, of course, could stop the war by cutting off the funds. That is one of the great checks and balances the founders wrote into the Constitution. Congress has 100 percent of the responsibility for and control of all federal expenditures. There is nothing the executive branch can do about it.

The soldiers can’t declare peace. The people of Iraq can’t declare peace. Only the American politicians can end this war, and they can’t end it by sending more Americans to the killing fields. That ploy didn’t work in Vietnam, and it won’t work in Iraq.

So, if you want to spare lives, bombard your representatives with letters urging them to end the war now. In the future, we should insist on a declaration of war with a 10 percent surtax on income and a 10 percent war tax on goods and services, both to expire with the cessation of hostilities.

That would force everyone, even those in the seventh ring, to participate in the war and give everyone an incentive to end it. A pay-as-you-fight war would be whole lot less tolerable to most Americans. As long as we force soldiers to bleed, we should bleed financially.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.