FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #83: “Those who don’t pay taxes will always approve higher tax rates on those who do.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2011

The Allies were Commanded by an American because they had the Greatest Skin in the Game

During World War II, SHAEF stood for the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. This was the top command of the Allies fighting on the Western Front during World War II. In the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The Soviet Union fought on the Eastern Front. Neither front was subordinate to the other in the command structure.

The supreme allied commander of SHAEF was General Eisenhower. An American. Why? Well the Nazis conquered France early in the war. Thanks to blitzkrieg. Which the Allies weren’t ready yet to battle. So the SHAEF commander wasn’t French. But the British were in the war from the beginning. They and their commonwealth put some 11 million into the field of battle. And suffered about a million killed and wounded. But the SHAEF commander wasn’t British either. Even though we couldn’t have defeated Nazi Germany without the British.

No, the SHAEF commander was an American because they put some 16 million into the field of battle. So excluding the Soviets, the Americans had the greatest skin in the game. Literally. And figuratively. It was the American Arsenal of Democracy that furnished the implements of war. Financed by the American taxpayer. Via bonds. Rationing. And inflation.

Those who Risk their Wealth should have a Say in How it is Risked

There were a lot of service flags hanging in American windows during World War II. And far too many of them had gold stars on them. One gold star represented the loss of a son or daughter in the war. There were about 417,000 gold stars in American windows. Not quite as many as the approximately 580,000 British dead. And a long way from the approximately 8,600,000 Soviet dead. But as America entered the war, the sheer numbers of man and material America provided made it America’s war. Which is why there was an American commanding SHAEF. Because even though Nazi Germany didn’t attack America, it was her blood and treasure leading the war against Nazi Germany.

So an American general would lead the Allies. Because the Americans had the most skin in the game. They were now bearing the greatest costs for the war. So they had the ultimate say in how the Allies waged war. I mean, no one would expect a Belgian general to command those 16 million Americans. No offense to the Belgians. I mean, I like their waffles and all. It’s just that Belgium wasn’t America. They didn’t have the resources. Nor the distance from the Third Reich.

Risk and wealth. Those who risk their wealth should have a say in how it is risked. Because it takes wealth (blood and treasure) to wage war. And this goes back to the birth of limited government. The Magna Carta. When the feudal barons of England met King John on the fields of Runnymede. And said, “Look, yeah you’re king and all but that doesn’t give you the right to do as you bloody well please.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. You see, the king was being rather oppressive. And fighting a lot of wars. Costly wars. And the funny thing about kings? They don’t have wealth. They get it from the landowners. The landed aristocracy. Those feudal barons. The men and material to fight wars, and the money to pay for them, came from them. So these barons were saying, “In the future, you clear things with us first, okay?” And constitutional monarchy was born.

Thanks to the Magna Carta those Paying the Taxes would have a Say in How the King Spent those Taxes

In the days of feudalism we defined wealth by land holdings. Because back then the most important industry was growing food. To prevent famine. And you needed land to grow food. So wealth concentrated to the land owners. The landed aristocracy. Who provided the food for the realm. Soldiers. And taxes.

Thanks to the Magna Carta, things changed. Those paying the taxes would have a say in how the king spent those taxes. He couldn’t wage endless war anymore. Or spend it all on royal accouterments. No. From then on, spending would have to be responsible. We take it for granted in the West today. And call it taxation with representation. But it was a BIG deal back then. And mostly only in England. France had an absolute monarchy. And the king did whatever he bloody well pleased. And you see how well that turned out for King Louis XVI. Ask Marie Antoinette. Of course you can’t. Because they were both executed by the people during the French Revolution.

The British took their representative government to the New World. And after the American Revolution, that was one of the British things the Americans kept. At the heart of the American populace was a hatred of taxation. And arbitrary rule. So they kept a tight grip on the government. And their wealth. There were no kings in the new United States of America. But there was still government. And a strong distrust of government power. So they were going to write their constitutions very carefully. And restrict the vote only to those who had skin in the game. Land owners. Who were paying the taxes.

Figuring out how to Amass Power despite the Inconvenience of Elections

Of course this changed over time. Nowadays, people who pay no taxes whatsoever can vote. We’ve come a long way from Runnymede. And returned a lot of power to government. In America, about half of all people pay no federal income tax. Yet they can vote. And they do. For the party that promises them more free stuff. By taxing ‘the rich’ to pay for it. And you know what these non-taxpayers say? “Raise tax rates? Absolutely. I mean, what do I care? It’s not like I’m paying them.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can see the problem.

They have no skin in the game. And the only reason they don’t is because ‘the rich’ have been keeping them down. At least that’s what they believe. Because those in power told them this. So they can keep raising taxes. And keep increasing the power of government.

It’s nothing new. There are those who just want power. Kings often took power by force. When it was clear that the rich barons were more important to the king than the king was to them, though, things changed. There were limits on absolute power. So those who coveted power had to be creative. And figure out how to amass power despite the inconvenience of elections.

Politics Today: Buy Votes with State Benefits and scare the Bejesus out of Old People

The answer was the welfare state. And class warfare. Buy votes. And demonize ‘the rich’. Get the people dependent on government. And anytime there is political opposition, tell the people that the opposition wants to cut your state benefits. To scare the people into voting for you.

We call Social Security and Medicare third-rail issues in America. Because if you threaten to cut them (i.e., touch them), you will die politically. As you would die if you touched the electrified third rail in the subway. Because the recipients of those programs live in fear of losing their benefits. And will always vote for the candidate who promises not to cut them.

And this is how you amass power when saddled with the inconvenience of elections. Buy votes with state benefits. And scare the bejesus out of old people. Telling them the political opposition wants to take your benefits away. Attack the rich. And tax them. To pay for the ever bloating welfare state.

And if at least half of the people pay no taxes, you’re golden. Because when that many people have no skin in the game, you can get away with just about anything you want.


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LESSONS LEARNED #15: “Most people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2010

NO ONE LIKES bad news.  That’s why when someone says, “I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” most people want to hear the bad news first.  Get the sting over.  Then hear the good news to help get over the sting of the bad.

People are so adverse to bad news they’ll even look for ways to ignore it as long as they can.  They’ll believe lies if the lies keep their pleasant little world pleasant.  Almost to any cost.  In 1944, the Germans were beaten.  There was a chance some soldiers would be home before Christmas.  So when some scattered reports came of movements on the German front towards the Eifel Region just east of the Ardennes, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) discounted them.  Explained them away as nothing.  Because the Germans didn’t launch winter offensives.

Until 1944, that is.  The Schnee Eifel battle, at the beginning of the center prong of a 3-prong attack, was the greatest American defeat in 1944/1945 Europe.  But this was only one of many battles known as the Battle of the Bulge.  This German winter offensive through the Ardennes was the biggest American battle of World War II.  And bloodiest.  In all, the Germans killed about 20,000 American soldiers.  Some after they surrendered.  Kampfgruppe Peiper spearheaded the Sixth SS Panzer Division.  Joachim Peiper would eventually lead this force through the Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy.  And into infamy.  The Malmedy Massacre wasn’t the only war crime, though.  There were others.

In the movie Patton, General Patton predicted this German offensive.  And there was some truth in that.  Third Army DID predict this.  But it was his chief of intelligence, Colonel Oscar Koch, who figured this out.  Patton’s battlefield successes were the result of strong intelligence.  And Colonel Koch gave him some of the best intelligence available on the Western Front.  In November 1944, he gathered the intelligence, analyzed it and predicted a time and place.  Of course, SHAEF discounted his findings.  They were sure the Germans were beaten.  Besides, the Germans didn’t launch winter offensives.

THE BATTLE OF the Bulge was only a small part of World War II, the biggest and meanest war in the history of mankind.  Nations mobilized their military, economic, industrial, and scientific forces to wage total war.  Civilians died, too.  En masse.  Whether by bombing of enemy cities or by organized genocide in occupied lands, civilians felt the horrors of war as they never had before.

So how did such a horrific war come to be?  It’s complicated.  Did it have to be as bad as it was?  No.  At least, France could have stopped Hitler earlier.  Before his military buildup.  But to understand this story, you have to go back in time. 

THE GREAT WAR, World War I, was the culmination of a series of disputes over European power and control of the Balkans.

The Crimean War of 1853–1856, the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 stirred the pot up in the Balkans.  The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 established a new unified Germany as the dominant power of Europe as Great Britain and France were in decline (and ceded the Loraine-Alsace region from France to Germany).  And the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 exploited the Balkan tempest.

Weaker nations formed treaties with stronger nations.  Entangling treaties.  Imperial interests in the Balkans of both the great and not so great powers further fermented the Balkan tempest.  Minority rule of the majority led to nationalist rebellion.  To quench this rebellion, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Serbia.

This is a very cursory history but you get the picture.  There was a lot of anger.  And a lot of wrongs to right.  And territory to regain.  Or to simply gain.  And then on Sunday, the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Sarajevo.  There a Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated him.  And then all of those entangling treaties kicked in and a world was at war.

IT WAS THE bloodiest and costliest war to date.  No one thought it would be, though.  You see, they learned a lot from the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  Which was swift and conclusive.  Unfortunately, they learned little from the American Civil War (1861-1865).  For 4 bloody years the Americans demonstrated warfare where technology was ahead of military tactics.  And World War I was to look more like the American Civil War than the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  Long.  And bloody.  A war of attrition where you don’t necessarily win a decisive battle.  The other side just runs out of soldiers to kill.

World War I (1914 to 1918) saw horrific killing fields.  Artillery bombardments that would last for days.  Attacks through barbed wire into raking machine-gun fire.  Poison gas.  The death toll was staggering.  Great Britain and her Imperial forces lost over a million killed, over 2 million maimed and wounded.  France lost slightly more killed and almost twice in maimed and wounded.  Civilians were not untouched by war, either.  Blockade starved civilian populations.

The War devastated and impoverished these two countries.  They won the war, but only barely.  The entry of America was just too much.  More soldiers and material.  The killing could go on indefinitely.  So all sides sued for peace.  With the Americans on the Allied side, though, they were in a position to dictate the terms of the peace.  And boy did they.

THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES was punitive.  In the run up to war, there were really no innocents.  But to the victors go the spoils.  Official blame for the war fell on Germany.  She lost territory (France got back the Loraine-Alsace region) and all her colonies.  And she had to pay reparations.  The Germans were pissed. 

The Allies hoped to mitigate their war losses by German tribute.  But it was too much.  Even a member of the British delegation at Versailles, economist John Maynard Keynes, thought so.  In an effort to restore Great Britain and France as the dominant European powers, the allies probably went too far.  The economic burdens on Germany were too great.  Then hyper-inflation met Great Depression.  Angry socialists, communists and nationalists tore the nation asunder.  Until a uniter came along.  Adolf Hitler.

HITLER ROSE TO power legally.  Then he consolidated his power ruthlessly.  He renounced the Versailles Treaty.  And did a lot of things that showed his ultimate intentions.  Including writing a book years earlier about his ultimate intentions.  Mein Kampf.  Which was pretty detailed.  To anyone who read it. 

One of his first provocative acts was to place a negligible military force into the Rhineland in 1936.  The German High Command was a little skittish about this idea for they did not believe they had sufficient strength to successfully fight off a French response.  The French had superior numbers in military power.  But they were financially weak.  They had poured a fortune into the line of fortresses known as the Maginot Line.  They could not afford all out war with Germany, too, and they thought a military conflict in the Rhineland may lead to that.  And after going through the horrors of the Great War, they had no desire to do it again.  Whether it was a question of could or would is still debated.  But had they, one wonders how such action would have altered the course of history.

Hitler continued in a string of actions, explaining away each as harmless with no higher purpose.  Great Britain and France were growing uneasy but accepted his statements.  They wanted to believe.  They would do just about anything to avoid a return to war.  Even give away another sovereign nation’s land.

THE SUDETENLAND WAS an area along the Czechoslovakia side of their border with Germany with German inhabitants.  Hitler wanted to reincorporate them into the German state.  He promised this would be his last territorial acquisition.  And, at Munich in September of 1938, Great Britain and France took him at his word.  With Czechoslovakia not even present at this conference, they concluded the pact that ceded the Sudetenland to Germany.  All’s well that ends well.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London with a copy of the Munich Pact.  He would give a speech declaring they got “peace for our time.”  But they didn’t.  Hitler soon took the rest of Czechoslovakia.  With his two flanks protected, Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and launched the world into war.  Again.  Only this time, it would be worse.

IT IS HARD to blame France and Great Britain’s reluctance to return to war with Germany after the devastation of World War I.  And those who do usually do so with the advantage of hindsight.  However, we know what the costs added up to in stopping Adolf Hitler in 1945.  And few would say that all out war with Germany in 1936 would have cost more.

Here’s the ugly truth.  The truth can be ugly.  And we hide from it at our own peril.


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