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Paid to Fight, Paid More to Die

February 11, 2005

Welfare/warfare states such as today's America are distinguished by the ever-tightening grip the collective exercises over the course of their citizens' lives, as the expression goes, from the cradle to the grave.

Such governments are also distinguished, of course, by their propensity to expend not only the interests and energies of their people in the pursuit of the goals of the governing class, but their very lives as well, as when hundreds of thousands of young men and women are put first in uniform and then in harm's way to fight wars and—win or lose—extend their masters' imperial reach at the cost of their blood.

The death toll, however, is harder to hide than the material waste and destruction, much of which is conveniently hidden in some distant part of the world where few American taxpayers venture in any case.

How, then, to mollify the complainers who point out the tragic, not to say pointless, loss of husbands, mothers, brothers and daughters?

An easy, direct way, it would seem, would be to give those surviving wives, fathers, sisters and sons money. Indeed, to quiet the American people in general about their senseless slaughter, just give them their own money back, taken in taxes, then selectively bestowed back again in death benefits.

The Bush Administration has seized this very idea and run with it in a proposal embedded in the 2006 budget package, mandating a payout of $250,000 to the beneficiary of every soldier, sailor, or airman who dies in any combat zone of the present or future, presenting to a grateful nation the prospect of a potentially endless bonanza of mortal heroism as America prosecutes its endless war to spread democracy.

Now, it won't just be Islamist suicide bombers whose families are limned and paid off for the death of their fighters—American warriors, too, will have a rather similar emolument, which for the economically disadvantaged families so overrepresented in the ranks of the armed forces may bulk quite as large economically as do those received by the survivors of their adversaries. If it works for Islam, maybe it will work for democracy as well.

Aside from improving the outcome (for some) of a battlefield death, the payout would offer for economically disadvantaged families something resembling a lottery play. Admittedly, most recruits from such families would be likely to fail the entrance requirements for today's high-tech military, but for those families able to get a recruit into uniform, the prospect of coming into a quarter of a million all at once would arise where previously there had been no such prospect under any imaginable circumstances. Recruiters may expect increased flows, even if not of the very most desirable sort of candidates.

So, aside from quieting the survivors of our more valorous, or unluckier, fighters, do we want to provide greater rewards to those who are actually doing the work, while they are doing it? Many Americans do, even some of those who are troubled by increasing government spending for any purpose, let alone war.

But if Americans expressed this gratitude in the form of a simple pay raise, say in the amount of the premiums for $250,000 in life insurance for a person engaged in what certainly is a dangerous occupation, might that not benefit some of them a bit more, not to mention ascribing to them the wit to pursue their own best interests as they may see it themselves?

It would cost the government no more to give servicepeople the additional choices that a pay raise in the amount of the premium would give, and it could increase their own enjoyment of the here and now in any way they choose, including buying the insurance to protect their dependants.

But ten minutes' experience with the welfare/warfare state will yield the instant understanding that this is moving in the wrong direction, from the government's point of view. Despite the fact that most servicemen and –women who serve in combat zones are of the younger sort, relatively few of whom as yet even have spouses, much less children, the US Government wants to make sure that this expenditure of its hard-extracted tax revenues goes to placate the bereft who, after all, still vote even after their loved ones have lost their franchise along with their lives.

No, men and women in (and near) the trenches will have to find some deserving person in their families, or elsewhere, to name as their SGLI (Servicemen's Group Life Insurance) beneficiaries. In the navy, particularly, it isn't unusual to find that the beneficiary is a present or former shipmate with whom the insured formed bonds of close friendship. In other cases, it's a high-school sweetheart who the serviceman at least hopes is waiting patiently at home to marry Johnny when he or she comes marching home again.

All this, of course, merely proves that those who risk their lives in the service of the leviathan state in fact command no more regard among the governing class than do the millions of other subjects who remain behind the lines producing ammunition, paying taxes and, of course, raising up still more children to render unto Caesar.

The valiant also must be controlled from their cradles to their graves. And beyond.

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N. Joseph Potts studies economics at his home in South Florida. He served as a Disbursing Officer in the US Navy during the Viet Nam War, and occasionally handled designations of insurance beneficiary by his shipmates. [email] Comment on the Blog.


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