With tax season here, it’s natural to think about where your money goes and whether it is well spent. Spoiler alert: Much of it isn’t.
Last year, Nora joined the women of our church on a spiritual retreat to a Mennonite center in Lancaster County, PA. It’s a time of fellowship, rest, and diving deeper into the Word.
She came back with literature from the center that talked about war tax resistance. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it piqued my curiosity, especially since the U.S. military is in such a growth spurt.
With the election of Donald Trump, the U.S. military has received a real boost:
- Increase in budget to $716B in 2019, up $82B from 2017
- Expansion of military to space
I don’t know how serious the ‘Space Force’ effort is. Trump cares a lot about appearances and attention (at heart, he’s a reality TV guy who cares most about ratings), so the space thing might just be a logo and PR for a while.
To more $$$ and star wars, add one more thing: the U.S.’s withdrawal from arms control agreements like Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF), due to alleged Russian cheating. This means an unshackling of future restraint on additional munitions stockpiling.
Do We Need a Massive Military?
A strong military is necessary. I’d love it if we spent $0 on missiles and everyone held hands and sang in harmony, but it’s not practical.
History shows us why. Peace-loving people (or just weak ones) eventually end up overrun and assimilated (see: Native Americans). Leaders who pursue accommodation and appeasement (see: UK’s Neville Chamberlain from 1937-’40) end up getting taken advantage of.
On the flip side, turbo aggressiveness hasn’t been that successful in the long run either (see: Napoleon, Hitler, etc.).
The middle way of deterrence and mutually assured destruction through nuclear weaponry, seems to be a good compromise. (Plus a little offense against militant Islam). But how much is enough to guarantee deterrence, without going overboard, wasting resources and lives?
Wars Drive Big Tax Increases
Taxes levied for war really took off on October 3, 1917, when the U.S. Congress passed the War Revenue Act, six months after declaring war on Germany in World War I. Four years prior, the 16th Amendment gave Congress the new power to levy an income tax.
Under the 1917 act, a taxpayer with an income of $40,000 was subject to a 16% tax rate, while one who earned $1.5 million faced a rate of 67%. U.S. tax revenue increased from $809 million in 1917 to a whopping $3.6 billion in 1918.
World War II saw an even bigger boost in war taxes. Passed shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the Revenue Act of 1942 raised top rates to 88% on incomes over $200,000. By 1944, the bottom rate had more than doubled to 23%, and the top rate reached an all-time high of 94%!
Tax rates remained high for decades following the war. It wasn’t until President Reagan took office in 1981 that the top rate dropped below 70%. Today’s top rate of 37% is low by historical standards. Military spending, which reached 42% of Gross Domestic Product in 1942, has fallen to just 6% today.
Still, the dollars funneled to U.S. military spending is huge. As of 2017, the average American taxpayer had paid nearly $7,500 to fund the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria since the 9/11 attacks.
(Some outlets report that U.S. defense spending exceeds the rest of the world combined, but I doubt it. China and Russia have ballpark capabilities, and there is a strong incentive for them to misreport their spending totals.)
Not only is the money pit gaping, but the collateral damage is as well.
In 1945, in an effort to end the war, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing tens of thousands of citizens. Just three days later, many tens of thousands more died when a similar bomb was detonated over Nagasaki.
Nagasaki was the site of Japan’s largest Christian community, which had lived undercover. In 1873 the persecution ended, and some 20,000 Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians) emerged. These Christians built the St. Mary’s (Urakami) Cathedral which became a landmark in their city and the largest Christian church in Asia. In 200 years of harsh rule, the imperial government could not discourage this community, but an American bomber vaporized it in seconds.
Was the atomic bombing of Nagasaki necessary? Probably not, although I’m sure the decision climate was different in 1945.
Tune back in next week for the 2nd half of this post.