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America is accustomed to war

After 16 years, U.S. still waging war in Afghanistan

Melvin B. Miller
America is accustomed to war
“Will there ever be peace on earth?”

Is America at war? Most people would hesitate to answer this question. News reports about U.S. combat with ISIS in the Middle East create a sense of military conflict that is nonetheless remote. When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, the United States was not militarily involved until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day Congress voted to declare war on Japan, and three days later, they declared war against Germany.

Americans had no doubt that the nation was at war. The Selective Service System was established in September 1940 and the draft was initiated to recruit the necessary contingent of soldiers and sailors. The whole nation was placed on wartime footing. America’s industrial capacity was restructured to produce combat material. Stay-at-home moms went to work in munitions factories. Products needed by the military were rationed for limited personal consumer use.

The cost of the war was about $296 billion, an extraordinarily expensive undertaking. In the equivalent of 2011 dollars the cost would be $4.104 trillion. There were substantial efforts to assure the military commitment was superior to consumer production. Price controls prevented inflation, a great risk with full employment salaries competing for limited consumer goods. Regulations controlled excessive pricing for military equipment.

Those who were able to profiteer during World War II were ultimately caught by the tax code. Any income above $200,000 was taxed at 94 percent in 1944. The number of those paying taxes grew from 7 percent in 1940 to 64 percent by 1944. Federal policy was both to control inflation and to pay for the war.

Patriotism of Americans during World War II was so great that the government was able to sell the public war bonds to finance the war effort. This also took consumer funds out of circulation to help control inflation. The bonds sold at 75 percent of their face value to be redeemed in 10 years with an interest rate of a mere 2.9 percent.

With the World War II armistice, world leaders hoped for the end of wars, especially with the development of nuclear weapons, but lasting peace is still not imminent. Five years after World War II (1941-1945) came the Korean War (1950-1953), and 12 years later the Vietnam War (1965-1975), then Desert Storm (1990-1991), the Persian Gulf War.

In all of those wars, except for Pearl Harbor, the damage was inflicted on foreign soil. Then came the New York Twin Towers attack on Sept. 11, 2001. This was a new development. The attack was not by a foreign nation, but by terrorists from several Middle Eastern countries. The U.S. Congress could hardly declare war against individual terrorists.

Consequently, Congress approved an authorization for the use of military forces in Afghanistan, that had provided refuge for the terrorists. So U.S. forces have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 in the longest military encounter in American history, but technically America is not at war.

Americans have now become immune to the prevalence of war. The U.S. military budget is greater than the total of the next 11 nations that spend the largest sums on the military: China, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Russia, India, France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Brazil and Australia. It appears that we live at a time of “wars and rumors of wars.”