A father’s message

An essay sent to me by a reader, presented in its entirety.

The picture sits on top of my tv. A handsome young man, in a Marine Corps dress uniform, hat (cover, they call it in the military) tucked under his left arm, his right arm, right hand with white glove, encircling a stunning young woman. When the photo was taken at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in 2002, my son Ben was enrolled at the University of Maryland while serving as a member of the Marine Corps Reserves. A little more than one year earlier,
he had been at his reserve unit at Anacostia Barracks in Washington, D.C., on the morning of September 11, 2001, and saw the smoke rising across the Potomac in the West from the Pentagon crash site. After the tragedy of September 11th, he expected to be called up any day.

Days went by, then weeks, then months, but his reserve unit wasn’t called up. Eventually Ben realized that he would have to go on with his life, his classes at the University, and his training for the Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney, supposedly ensconced in an undisclosed location for purposes of National Security, twice visited a billionaire’s plantation here in South Georgia to hunt quail (not Dan).

During Christmas break in 2001-2002, Ben went to NBC school- no, not television-Nuclear Biological Chemical warfare school- to learn how to protect himself and his fellow Marines from weapons of mass destruction, if such a thing is possible. In the Spring of 2002 he went to a U. S. military survival school in Southern California to learn how to deal with therigors of a hostile environment.

And President Bush and Congressional Republicans proposed eliminating the tax on the estates of millionaires and billionaires, ostensibly to help save small family owned businesses and family farms from being sold to pay the tax. Since the surplus from the Clinton Administration had miraculously turned into a hundred sixty billion dollar deficit in less than 24 months, I wondered why they didn’t just exempt small family businesses and family farms instead of eliminating the tax entirely, throwing out billions of dollars in revenue -and deepening the deficit.

From June through August of 2002, Ben went to Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia. While his classmates at Maryland were enjoying their summer vacations, my son was helping train college ROTC students from around the country who would become Marine Corps Officers upon their graduation. Although Ben was technically also a student, he had already been through boot camp at Parris Island two years earlier- he was selected from the 500 recruits
to be the Company Honor Graduate- and the instructors at OCS relied on him and others like him to help train his fellow officer candidates in drill and other essentials to becoming a Marine.

In the summer of 2002, the Bush administration continued its public opposition to increasing fuel economy standards (CAFE) to reduce our dependence on oil from the Mideast, and argued that SUV’s and pickup trucks shouldn’t be subject to the same CAFE standards as cars. Vice President Cheney fought the public release of records of his Enron executive laden committee to set a National Energy Policy. Documents coming out of the collapsing, bankrupt Enron Corporation revealed that the company had helped manufacture a false energy shortage in California the year before in an effort to jack up prices and increase profits.

Last month Ben’s unit was called up to active duty. Ben had four months and a few courses to go to get his B. A. degree in History and Government. He had a smart and beautiful girlfriend who was planning to go to graduate school. He was looking forward to becoming a Second Lieutenant upon graduation, buying a new car (he’s been driving the 12 year old sedan I loaned him after he got out of boot camp in 2000), and starting his life as a productive adult. All of that is on hold now. He spent a month on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean with several hundred other Marines, headed to the Middle East. He and his girlfriend agreed to break up because they had no idea when- or if- they would see each other again. He withdrew from college. He’s a sergeant, and will remain an enlisted man past the May 2003 date when he would have received his commission. (He’s okay with that- and it bodes well for his future in the military that he will have had a significant opportunity to follow orders before he’s asked to issue them.) And he had to say goodbye to his family and friends as he gave up his normal life as a college senior. As I wrote those words, he was crammed into the troop ship, sharing a room with a dozen of his fellow Marines, bunks stacked four high. The one time I was able to speak to him, he told me that he would be spending the next few weeks on board helping train his comrades for the dangers and hardships they will face in the months to follow.

Back here on the mainland President Bush called for tax relief for the rich who have to pay a single tax on the corporate dividends they receive. The President told us that it was unfair to tax the same dollar twice, once from the corporate end, once from the stockholder’s end. Infigure I’ll probably save about $150 on my taxes next year if the proposal is passed. President Bush and Vice President Cheney will probably save about $500,000 in taxes on the dividends from their blind trusts.

Meanwhile, as for Ben, who has given up his girlfriend, his family, his education, his commission, his friends, the comforts of home- each dollar of his pay- like every wage earner’s pay- is taxed four times: once for federal taxes, once for Social Security, once for Medicare, and once for State taxes. And he pays taxes on the taxes- he doesn’t get a credit for the part already taken for federal taxes when he pays his Social Security tax, and so forth.

It’s funny- not the laughing kind- how our political leaders have no compunction about calling on ordinary Americans in the military and their families to make sacrifices of all we hold dear- including, God forbid, the ultimate sacrifice. But ask the wealthiest among us to pay taxes on their estates and their stock dividends to reduce the deficit or pay a decent wage to the members of our military sent overseas to protect us? Not a chance.