The Common Good

Why the Tea Party Movement Should be Anti-War

What is the Tea Party position on war?

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While we witness crowds gathering in the name of the Boston Tea Party protest against taxes, I wonder if people in the crowd remember why Great Britain levied so many taxes on goods consumed by people in the American colonies. The answer: war.

The Seven Years War (1756-1763) was an 18th century world war. It was the first conflict waged across the globe. France, Austria, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia were allied against Prussia, Hanover, and Great Britain. The war became primarily a contest between France and England over colonial territory outside of Europe. The French-Indian War was the North American theater of the conflict.

This struggle would decide whether the upper Ohio River Valley was part of the British Empire or whether it would belong to France. The population was largely British, but France controlled the trade. The war went badly for Britain until 1757 when William Pitt, the Elder, poured more resources into the war. Britain's financial power, food supplies, and navel power defeated an economically weak France. North America east of the Mississippi River became uncontested British territory.

However, it was a Pyrrhic victory. The war nearly doubled Britain's national debt. To pay the debt, it levied taxes. The tax on tea along with laws that gave a near monopoly on selling tea to the East India Company led to the Boston Tea Party. The perceived monopoly caused American business people to form an alliance with the radical Sons of Liberty who wanted American independence. Britain sent troops to North America to support its colonial administrators and to keep order in the face of a nascent rebellion.

If today's Tea Party activists want to be true to the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, then their concerns ought to reach beyond anti-taxes , anti-government, anti-deficit, anti-health reform, anti-Obama rhetoric. Our current national debt exists in large part because of our wars. The Bush administration decided that an appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks was a "war on terror" that required the United States to send its forces into Afghanistan and Iraq. Congress did not raise taxes to pay for the war.

Further, government deregulation of the nation's financial sector led to an economic crisis that required government spending to keep a weak economy from falling into depression. Is there a Tea Party activist who would trade a severe recession for a depression? Meanwhile, some hedge fund managers are making billions of dollars in profits even in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. People who are interested in bringing down the federal deficit ought to advocate more taxes upon such profits.

If history teaches us anything, it teaches that wars cost lives and cause a nation's treasury to hemorrhage. While we fight wars, a nation still needs to provide basic services and a social safety net. The Tea Party people ought to add anti-war to all the other things they are against.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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