The Silence of the Governed Lubricates the Machinery of Killing

When a country — particularly a democracy — goes to war, the consent of the governed lubricates the machinery of killing. Silence is a key form of co-operation, but the war-making system does not insist on quietude or agreement. Mere self-restraint will suffice.…

There remains a kind of spectator relationship to military actions being implemented in our names. We’re apt to crave the insulation that news outlets offer. We tell ourselves that our personal lives are difficult enough without getting too upset about world events. And the conventional war wisdom of American political life has made it predictable that most journalists and politicians cannot resist accommodating themselves to expediency by the time the first missiles are fired. Conformist behavior — in sharp contrast to authentic conscience — is notably plastic.…

Conscience is not on the military’s radar screen, and it’s not on our television screen. But government officials and media messages do not define the limits and possibilities of conscience. We do.

from “War Made Easy: From Vietnam to Iraq” by Norman Solomon

Demonstrators have started standing outside of military processing stations to remind recruits that they still have a chance to get out. Here are some pre-dawn photos of demonstrators holding up signs reading such things as: “Need a Ride Home? We can help!” and “Don’t sign anything! Take your contract home to read it.”

Can you stand another parable about the futility of “Peace Tax Fund” proposals? Recently, Ruth Benn of NWTRCC, accompanied by many supporters, gave some eloquent testimony in favor of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill before the New York City Council’s Committee on State and Federal Legislation.

It made me sad, because as I’ve mentioned here before, I think that the “Peace Tax” proposals are worse than useless — they’re actually counter-productive and if enacted would do significant harm to the conscientious objection movement. I think that the war tax resistance movement suffers from its support of such legislation — both because this takes time and energy from meaningful pursuits and because this advertises the superficiality of the “conscientious” objection of some of its members.

It astonishes me to see followers of Thoreau behaving as though they really believed that such an empty piece of legislation could actually provide any genuine moral cover. But there are many people in war tax resistance circles who would gladly open their checkbooks and fork over money to the war makers if they could do so under the cover of a “peace tax” bill.

Maybe another parable will help illustrate why I think this is foolish:

Rex has a problem. Like many teenagers, Rex loves fast food, and there’s nothing he’d rather do after a long day of algebra and such than hit Micky Dees on the way home and get a big mac, fries and a coke.

But when his parents split up Rex’s allowance was one of the things that suffered. His mom was always the stingy one, and gives him only five dollars a week, which is almost enough to feed his habit once, since a big mac costs $3, and fries and cokes are $1.50 apiece.

His dad is more generous with the money, typically, and used to give Rex $40 per week in allowance. But shortly after the divorce he got mixed up in some sort of California religion and has sworn off meat eating entirely. He knows that his son spends his allowance money on big macs, so has cut Rex off. “It’s important that the money I earn and spend not go to end the lives of innocent cows, or whatever animals they use to make those big macs. I’m sure you understand, Rex.”

Which Rex doesn’t. But when whining doesn’t work, Rex comes up with a proposal: He’ll promise not to spend any of his father’s allowance money on meat — swearing any oath his father demands — if only he can get that allowance.

His father relents, and Rex now has $45 dollars to spend every month on his fast food cravings: $5 that he can spend on anything he wants, and $40 that he can spend on anything but meat.

Rex troops off to Mickey Dees with $40 in his left pocket and $5 in his right. He orders his big mac, fries and coke, and pulls three dollars from each pocket to pay the bill:

meat moneynon-meat money
($2 left over)($37 left over)
$3 = big mac$3 = fries & coke

But then he stops. He quickly realizes that this only leaves him with two dollars in his “meat pocket” which isn’t enough to buy a big mac until he gets another five dollars from his mom next week, so he’s not much better off than before, except that he can have all the fries and cokes he wants.

But what he really wants is big macs.

A big mac, as you may know if you remember the commercials, is composed of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions, on a sesame-seed bun. Which is a 2:6 ratio of meat ingredients to non-meat ingredients, meaning that 25% of the ingredients in a big mac are meat. That suggests, to Rex anyway, that only 25% of the cost of a big mac should have to be paid from his meat pocket.

meat moneynon-meat money
($4.25 left over)($34.75 left over)
$0.75 = 2 all-beef patties$5.25 = everything else

That’s more like it! By only dipping in to his “meat money” at the rate of $0.75 per big mac, he can have his favorite meal almost every day of the week. It would cost him $0.75 × 7 = $5.25 to do it every day. Rex is only twenty-five cents away from his goal of daily big macs! How can he do it?

As Sunday comes and Rex’s meat money drops down to fifty cents, an idea comes to Rex. He borrows a quarter from one of his classmates, promising to pay it back later in the day with a nickle interest. So at the end of the week, here’s how he’s spent his money on seven of his favorite meals:

meat moneynon-meat moneyborrowed money
(nothing left)($2.95 left over)(paid back with interest)
$5.00 on meat$36.75 on meals$0.25 on meat
.30 on loans

Rex is happy: he gets his favorite fast food every day instead of only once a week. His dad is happy: none of his dad’s allowance money was spent on meat. The only unhappy ones are the cows, which Rex is eating several times as fast as before.

The Washington Post has a rare article on common-sense frugality: “Javanomics 101”

It features a student, Kirsten Daniels, who is putting herself through school on student loans “that left her $115,000 in debt… which she will take a decade to repay with interest.” Daniels is studying hard, in Starbucks, with a three-dollar coffee.

According to the helpful Save and Surf when you stop buying Coffee! calculator, Kirsten’s three-dollar-a-day Starbucks-on-credit habit is going to end up costing thousands of dollars by the time she pays it off (compared to what she would have spent making her own coffee at home).