Be a Hero: Spend Money And Don’t Mention the War

George W. Bush says he won’t raise taxes to pay for his war. “I strongly oppose that. If that’s the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I’m not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy,” he explained. “And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life’s moving on, that they’re able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table.”

By those standards, Mr. Bush’s war has been a success for some New Yorkers. E. Stanley O’Neal, Merrill Lynch’s chief executive, did his best, in conformity with the President’s wishes, to put more money on the table by having been paid $48 million last year, up from $37 million the year before, a sum so small it might have caused the President distress.

Another man who will be able to report to the President that he has been able to make enough of a living to put more money on the table and pay any college tuition which might be owing is Lloyd C. Blankfein of the Goldman Sachs Group, who brought home $53 million last year. All together, Wall Street’s five biggest outfits were able to relieve President Bush’s mind by telling him that their top people were paid $60 billion in 2006. Doubtless the President, as soon as he was apprised of the news, flashed the joyful tidings to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. No piece of news could be better calculated to stimulate our soldiers and Marines to fight harder and make greater sacrifices for the cause for which they and Messrs. O’Neal and Blankfein, each in their own way, struggle in common.

In accordance with Mr. Bush’s wish that most of us move on from the war and give it as little thought as possible, even as a few of us fight it, a man named Stephen A. Schwarzman will celebrate his 60th birthday on Feb. 13. Mr. Schwarzman is a billionaire who, in deference to the President’s urgings, has been spending the years since the two airplanes were driven into the World Trade Center making money hand over fist. If you are going to sacrifice for your country, there are few more deeply satisfying ways of doing it.

To mark his six lucrative decades on earth, Mr. Schwarzman is renting the Park Avenue society armory, where he and some 1,500 guests will do what rich people do on such occasions. The featured entertainer performing for the occasion will, it is said, be paid $1 million for his night’s work. If the other expenditures are commensurate, Mr. Schwarzman will have laid out $15 million before his head hits the pillow that night, content that, as his President wishes, his “life’s moving on”—and right nicely, one cannot forbear to add.

The big money has no reason to see this war come to an end. The war profiteers, of course, have a direct interest in its continuing for as close to forever as they can make it last. Whether or not the birthday boy is adding to his already uncountable hoard by skimming off the top of the war is not known. The Blackstone Group, the private-equity and hedge-fund operation that the happy celebrant runs, keeps its affairs to itself. Answerable to no public body, no one, outside of its closed doors, can say if it is directly in the merchant-of-death business, or if it is the indirect beneficiary of the “fantastic economy” which the President brags of having given the country as he has fumbled away lives and limbs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 9/11, it is estimated that Mr. Schwarzman has enriched himself by some $2 billion.

Others saw what the President calls “the terrible images of violence on TV every night” and, though it may be unpatriotic, their response was not to “put more money on the table,” but to protest. On Jan. 27, tens of thousands of non-money-makers rallied in front of the national Capitol to object to the war.

The march was big. It could have been as large as 100,000 people. In fun-loving America, the land where people are urged not to think about the war being waged in their name, 100,000 is not so many. More than that will turn out on a Saturday afternoon to watch an Ohio State football game.

The turnout was much smaller than the huge throngs that marched through the streets last autumn demanding that illegal immigrants be immunized and the entry barriers to the United States be lowered. There was big corporate money, Schwarzman-type money, behind that less-than-spontaneous outpouring of low-wage, non-union, Spanish-speaking workers. Putting a million people on the streets costs money, a lot of money for buses and signs and organizers, gasoline money and compensation for taking the day off, and yet more money for telephones, office space and backup staff.

The numbers taking part in the anti-war rally didn’t come close to the illegal-immigrant marchers, nor was it anything like the size of the gigantic anti–Vietnam War rallies of a generation ago. They had the organizational apparatus of the civil-rights movement behind them, as well as union and religious backing—sources that have either shriveled or vanished entirely.

Today’s peace marchers have little but themselves to rely on, even though doing so means ignoring the President’s enjoinder to fight terrorism by emulating Mr. Schwarzman. Until this last march, it seemed as though most anti-war protesters were gray-headed veterans of the last attempt to stop the war machine. In contrast, observers at this rally say that as many as half of the protesters were young people.

Besides revulsion for what has been done to Iraq and its people, it’s possible that the talk of reinstituting conscription or starting up some kind of universal, compulsory national-service program is motivating some young people. If they don’t have reason enough to take to the streets yet, Mr. Bush may soon provide them with another reason for marching around the White House: As the threats and growls directed toward Iran grow, the possibility also grows that Mr. Bush is thinking of becoming the first President to lose three wars at the same time.

Put such thoughts aside. Through shot and shell, death and disfigurement, there is the birthday boy and, with him, the promise of more money to be gotten and more parties to be thrown. If at the end of his days Mr. Schwarzman is not laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with our nation’s other heroes, patriotism no longer knows its own name.